Bob Anderson's mid-50s career opportunity, the way he and his wife now view it, turned into a breath-stealing nightmare.
In 2009, Anderson left his job as fiscal services director with Carson City schools to become deputy commissioner at the Nevada Division of Insurance.
"It was a nice appointment," he said.
But not for long.
In a short time, he was sick and short of breath with lung disease that prompted his recent inclusion on the prospective lung transplant list at the University of California, San Francisco.
The operation, when it comes, will prove costly. Public employee insurance will foot much, but not all, of the bill. The Andersons need at least $20,000 for their share, but they have raised some $10,000 and have a fundraising website at www.indiegogo.com/transplantforbob for more.
The couple said the lung problem stemmed from working in a leased state building at 788 Fairview St., where dead pigeons and pigeon waste problems got into the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system.
"He got sick early on," said Anderson's wife, Kari. In mid-2010, less than 10 months after his appointment, Anderson obtained catastrophic leave.
"He had to fight for that," she said.
Part of the nightmare, she added, is loss of a good salary for the family's primary breadwinner. She works at St. Teresa of Avila Roman Catholic Church in Carson City.
Other problems were the need to downsize from a Victorian home in Mound House to one half its size in Carson City and to deal with expenses with no workmen's compensation.
To date, they said, care costs mounted to $150,000 to save Anderson's life with steroid medication and to make the transplant list.
"I've seen 14 doctors, 14 specialists," said Anderson.
Kari Anderson said high doses of steroid medication saved her husband's life but also caused emotional stress, and Anderson is on an oxygen tank to aid breathing.
Dr. Charles Held, one of the physicians Anderson saw, said he thought pigeon problems were the cause.
"I thought it was directly related," he said, but a doctor with a competing view testified otherwise.
Ray Badger, Anderson's attorney at his first workers' compensation hearing, said Anderson's initial doctors thought the pigeon cause was plausible, but the claim wasn't allowed.
Anderson's lungs function at about 30 percent, according to the couple, and may get worse. The transplant operation could come within six months or so after making the transplant list last summer.
Denial for workers' compensation came, according to Anderson, because he must prove the building's pigeons definitely caused his problem rather than something else.
"He was forced into disability retirement because he couldn't get workmen's compensation," said his wife.
The couple said others who worked in the building are having similar workers' compensation trouble, while a state spokesperson said 30 cases have been closed with some outlay for medical costs.
Lesley Henrie of the state's Department of Administration said $115,286.47 was paid out in some 30 cases with $81,661.10 recovered from a third party for a net cost of $33,645.37.
The costs were paid by the state's insurer, Chartis/AIG, according to Henrie.
The Andersons added those are medical payouts rather than workers' compensation, adding the state sees the problem as stemming from chemical spray to mitigate the pigeon problem rather than being directly pigeon-related.
The Anderson couple's hopes now rest with a post-transplant biopsy, which they believe may prove the pigeons did, indeed, cause his lung ailment.
Nightmare or not, the Andersons are thankful his insurance will cover much of the medical treatment and for various other things.
"Thank God I was able to keep my insurance with the Public Employees Benefit Program," said the 57-year-old. "I'm blessed with a great family, wonderful friends, support and prayers. That's a gift."
And he voiced a major wish attached to the lung transplant's success: "I just want to breathe free air again."
YOU CAN HELP
Go to www.indiegogo.com/transplantforbob