Jimmy Keith knew something was terribly wrong when he had trouble breathing in the summer of 2011.
“It was like I hit a wall, and I just slowed down after that," said Keith, a former certified golf course superintendent at Saint Charles Country Club outside of Chicago for 17 years. “I started putting on weight. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was.”
By the time he was properly diagnosed with the rare genetic disease Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency in 2014, he had lost his job and was only breathing at 45 percent of his lung capacity.
Alpha-1 strikes those of northern European decent, and Keith is a perfect target, having Scottish and Irish lineage. It usually surfaces in the very young or early in adult life as liver or lung disease.
Looking back, the 46-year-old Keith recalls having pneumonia a couple of times in his 20s and 30s, and he would get sick with flu-like symptoms up to eight times a year. His weight ballooned to 310 pounds because he had become so inactive.
“I wasn’t able to do a whole lot,” said Keith, who recently drove from Chicago to Miami to attend an Alpha-1 National Education Conference to learn more about improving his quality of life. “Part of me didn’t want to know what was wrong, but I knew if I didn’t find out I wasn’t ever going to be able to walk my daughter down the aisle and hold hands with my grandchildren