GAS — Steve Robb always has been the picture of health — a wiry physique from 30 years of working with his hands, 25 years at Iola’s power plant and the last five as city superintendent in Gas.
He never missed a day of work, until just after the first of the year when what he thought was a bad cold had him visit his doctor, who prescribed antibiotics.
A few days later, with his condition worsening, Robb, 55, was admitted to Allen County Regional Hospital. Soon thereafter he was lifeflighted to Overland Park Regional Medical Center with respiratory problems initially diagnosed as pneumonia.
He immediately was put on a ventilator, spent six days in intensive care and was at the medical center for two weeks.
The eventual diagnosis was mucormycosis, a relatively rare disease.
The road to recovery, he soon learned, was going to be long and trying — and it isn’t over yet.
THE ROBBS have health insurance and Gas council members have found ways to keep Robb on the payroll, mainly by permitting other employees to share sick leave.
Wife Becky, a paraprofessional at Lincoln Elementary, hasn’t worked since her husband was lifeflighted to the Kansas City hospital.
Daily expenses have mounted along with medical bills, while income has flagged.
Friends will have a fundraiser for the Robbs Saturday at the Iola Elks Lodge, 202 S. Jefferson. Biscuits, sausage gravy, coffee and juice will be served from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. for $5 a plate. Also, an account for the Robbs has been set up at Iola’s Community National Bank, 120 E. Madison Ave.
TODAY, ROBB is receiving treatments every other day at ACRH, after a second two weeks at the Overland Park facility and time at the University of Kansas Medical Center .
“When I walked into KU, I told the doctor to do something, that I was dying,” Robb said Monday afternoon from his home on the south side of Gas.
“I was getting no better and by then I’d lost 40 pounds,” down to 140 from less than two months earlier.
Prior to his time at KU Med, Robb had been treated with antibiotics for pneumonia as well as anti-fungal drugs, after his white blood count continued to run off the charts and biopsies indicated a fungus might be the culprit.
But it was at KU Med where his progressively worsening condition was attributed to mucormycosis, a lung disease in fact caused by fungal infection.
“Usually it’s associated with a wound being infected by water and mud, after a hurricane or a tornado like the one at Joplin,” Becky said.
Robb had not been involved with such weather events, but he is out and about in his job. Even so, he said the cause of his disease hasn’t been determined and doctors say it’s not until recovery is complete they may be able to establish its origin.
Signs of recovery include a weight gain of about 10 pounds, his oxygen treatments have been reduced to occasional and he has rebuilt some strength.
“It’s nice to see him putting weight back on,” Becky said. “There for quite a while he was losing weight every day.”
When the mucormycosis first was diagnosed, Robb was taking oxygen treatments every 12 hours. When his kidneys hinted at problems, the treatments were scaled back to once a day. Today they are on a 48-hour cycle.
“I have a checkup scheduled at KU (Med) on April 1,” Robb said.
Altogether, Robb has been hospitalized 33 days since the first of the year, said Becky. A true trial for someone who had never been hospitalized previously.
It’s also caused the family to miss out on the simple joys of life.
“We have missed seeing our grandson,” Becky said, referring to four-year-old Quinn Robb, son of Travis and Sarah Robb, who live in Chanute. “We usually have him here a couple of times a week, but haven’t since Steve’s gotten sick.”
Advantage is having their other son, Jason, living at home while he works for the Southeast Kansas Library System and completes an online a master’s degree in library science from Emporia State University.