Supporters will gather Wednesday, Feb. 21, at a fundraiser dinner to benefit longtime Cambria resident Rocky Fordyce, who was the recipient of a double-lung transplant operation on New Year’s Day.
The spaghetti meal — available from 4 to 7 p.m. — will be prepared by volunteers from Sons of the American Legion and the Women’s Auxiliary at the Cambria Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St. Diners can eat in the Legion Hall downstairs or take their pasta, salad and garlic bread to go.
The cost is $10 per person, but in typical Cambria fashion, many participants will pay more per plate to help their friend of many years.
Tickets are available at the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, the school district office at 1350 Main St., and at the grammar, middle and high school offices.
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Tala Romero, who has known Fordyce since high school, is helping to coordinate the event designed to feed 500 or more. She’s hoping some Cambria bakers will donate homemade snacks, cookies, seasoned nuts and other goodies to be divvied up into zipper-lock bags and sold to attendees for a buck each.
Contact Romero at 805-610-4179 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Romero and Heidi Holmes-Nagy are among Fordyce’s friends who are organizing the fundraiser and his future care.
Money raised at the dinner, at the Rabobank donations account “For the Benefit of Rocky Fordyce,” and online at http://bit.ly/2o20Wab will help pay rapidly mounting expenses not covered by insurance.
“Rocky said he’s so grateful for all the support and caring everyone has shown through his illness,” Holmes-Nagy wrote in a Feb. 11 email.
She and Romero’s chef husband, Joe Romero, have known Fordyce since seventh grade. Holmes-Nagy holds his medical power of attorney.
She said, “Rocky was raised in Cambria and lived with his dad and brother in the same house on Park Hill until he graduated from Coast Union High School in 1978.”
He “has always been a kind and generous person, and everyone in our class called him their friend,” Holmes-Nagy explained. Rocky “was a great athlete in high school, excelling in football and baseball, and continued being involved in sports after he graduated.”
Tala Romero called Fordyce “kind, caring and a very special friend. Those types of friends are keepers.”
In the early 1980s, Fordyce went to work in the maintenance department at Coast Unified School District. During “the more than 35 years he worked at the school district,” Holmes-Nagy said, he “also coached girls softball, girls basketball, girls soccer, baseball and football.”
Fordyce “was at Coast so long that he’d begun to coach the children of his early students!” Holmes-Nagy said. “He was a mentor to many, a great coach and a great supporter of the kids.”
He also worked as a Hearst Castle tour bus driver for more than 20 years, and recently launched a barbecuing business.
Fordyce has been an active member of the Sons of the American Legion and volunteered often at events for that group and at many benefits held for locals in need.
At French Hospital Medical Center in September, “Rocky was diagnosed with pneumonia,” put on oxygen, given some antibiotics, and after about a week, was sent home, Holmes-Nagy said. But he “never regained his strength.”
On Dec. 4, Fordyce developed chills and a fever, and went back to French. Four days later, he was sent by ambulance to the intensive care unit at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center (UCSF), where doctors diagnosed interstitial lung disease, a serious, progressive disorder that restricts the patient’s ability to breathe.
Surgeons performed a tracheotomy, so Fordyce was no longer able to talk and required artificial breathing support.
He went on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO machine), which provides prolonged cardiac and respiratory support outside of the body for a patient whose heart and lungs can no longer sustain life.
Holmes-Nagy said, “ECMO seems to be the last bastion of hope prior to transplant for those who are critically ill,” which is what his doctor said Fordyce was.
Physicians said his prognosis was poor unless he had a lung transplant.
Holmes-Nagy said the “amazing, professional team at UCSF,” imposed stringent protocols for Fordyce, his family and caregivers to follow to make sure the potential transplant patient would have the best outcome and the best possible chance for recovery.
Fordyce also went through a daunting battery of tests to prove he was a good candidate for the surgery. Fortunately, he’d never been a smoker, Holmes-Nagy said.
But before he could be approved as a transplant candidate, “Rocky needed a support team for the six weeks” after he’s released from the hospital, she said. During that time, he must live within 30 miles of UCSF and will require constant care.
Timing was crucial, as Fordyce’s condition was deteriorating rapidly. The hospital needed confirmation soon that the support team was lined up and ready to be trained.
In late December, 11 friends held an emergency meeting. All were willing to care for Fordyce, but the hospital strongly recommended that three friends volunteer to be his caregivers, each one for two weeks in the ultra-clean housing that will cost more than $10,000 for the six weeks.
Those three caregivers want to remain anonymous, according to Romero. The other team members will provide food, moral and other support and care.
With arrangements confirmed, Fordyce went on the transplant list on Dec. 29. At 12:27 a.m. New Year’s Day, the hospital sought and got permission from Holmes-Nagy to transplant, having found replacement lungs.
She said, “The next morning, Rocky was in surgery for over 10 hours,” and within the next week, doctors operated on Fordyce three more times.
In her Feb. 11 email, Holmes-Nagy wrote that Fordyce was “finally released from ICU this week,” but “is still at UCSF doing all kinds of therapy. He’s talking now, and he really wants to eat solid food, but he’s having swallowing issues that the doctors are working on. An apple fritter is first on his list!”
Once Fordyce is released from the hospital, “he will go to a rehab for at least two weeks,” Holmes-Nagy said, followed by his six-week recuperation with his caregiver friends and lots of backup from the rest of the team.
“Rocky has been an amazing patient,” she said, “and he’s worked so hard with the teams of people who are caring for him,” which she said includes “the best transplant surgeons in the world. They have been so honest and caring,” advocating often for their patient. “His nurses are like his family, and when you visit or call, you see the determination in their eyes as they support him through all he is going through. The case manager and his social workers really pushed to make this happen, knowing what the right thing to do was, and ‘herding’ our crazy group of Rocky's friends.”
Many of those friends from high school and beyond, Fordyce’s students and colleagues have visited him in the hospital.
“This has been an amazing journey,” Holmes-Nagy concluded, proving to her and Fordyce “that the world really does have wonderful people in it.”