Louisville pastor facing terminal illness granted wish to meet President Trump
Pastor Mike Olsen tells all who will listen to make every breath count, and in this case, it meant telling President Trump.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Anyone who looks at pastor Mike Olsen is hard pressed to forget the man who smiles from ear to ear while carrying life's challenges at his side.
The leader of Iona Community Church goes nowhere without an oxygen tank, shoring up the breaths that have been stolen away from him by Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a terminal lung disease.
To raise awareness for the debilitating disease, his dying wish was to go the White House, so President Trump could see him face to face.
"That's what I wanted. I wanted (Trump) to see my face," Olsen said. "Remember me when you go to make a vote, when you go sign something. I'm a real person, and this is a disease that is devastating to so many people."
Olsen's dream came true last Thursday when he scored five minutes in the Oval Office with the Commander in Chief.
"I said, 'I'm trying to raise awareness for this disease,' and I said, 'it's so important I get the word out about this,'" Olsen recalled.
Doctors say IPF kills as many people as breast cancer each year, more than 30,000 patients, with no known cause and no known cure. The disease shuts down the lungs with a build-up of scar tissue, and most people don't know about it until it's impacting them or a loved one falls gravely ill.
"My lungs are shriveling up. They're dying," Olsen said. "It's like a crushing feeling in my rib cage."
The invite to the White House marked the latest stop in Olsen's effort to raise awareness about IPF and raise money for research to find a cure. Doctors gave the 56-year-old two years to live in 2014, and he's already outlived the diagnosis by more than a year. But his health has entered steep decline.
"I'm retaining CO2 and what that means is my lungs have gotten so bad now I can't push the oxygen out," Olsen said. "I'm just little pastor from Kentucky, but I'm trying to make a difference, and hopefully I am."
Olsen's on a lung transplant waiting list with Jewish Hospital in Louisville. For him, new lungs are not cure but they give IPF patients more time, sometimes as much as ten years.
Fate aligned for the ailing preacher to reach the president. He befriended Vice President Mike Pence when Pence stopped in Versailles, Kentucky, earlier this month. Olson explained how he's waiting for a double lung transplant and his mission to spread the word about IPF. Moved by the efforts, Pence set up a VIP tour of the White House and the meeting with the president.
And there was another hurdle cleared thanks to a complete stranger, Wendall Day. Olsen was too sick to fly, but he shared news of his "bucket list" invite to the White House on social media. Day, a veteran, recently started Family Fun R.V. Rentals in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. He offered to chauffeur Olsen to DC in an RV for free.
"We never know what we're going to face in life. That's the least I can do," Day said. "If I was in that kind of place I'd want someone to help me out too."
The new friends and their wives turned a five-minute meeting into a five-day round-trip from Louisville to our nation's Capitol.
"Despite what you see on the news, he's very kind and warm," Olsen said of President Trump. "He took time out of world affairs and really listened to me."
Olsen tells all who will listen to make every breath count.
"Evaluate your life and realize when you get up in the morning, it's a gift," he said.
He knows, because he counts every breath like it's his last.
A show called "Rock and Road to Dublin" is playing at the Louisville Palace Theater on at 8 p.m. Saturday, and a portion of all ticket sales will be donated to Olsen's transplant crowdfunding account. When you purchase tickets, use the promo code "Dublin5" to donate.
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