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Meet ADA Day Speaker Andy Rausch

by Joe Reinecker

Every year SKIL holds an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Day event in their homebase of Parsons, Kansas, and this year will be no different. The event will be held on Thursday, July 28, 2018 in downtown Parsons. There will once again be activities for the children, performers, and free food.

Each year a guest speaker appears at the event. This year's guest will be long-time SKIL employee Andy Rausch, who recently had a heart transplant.

Rausch has worked in the field, assisting people with disabilities for the better part of the last 25 years. He has worked for a number of organizations during that time, ultimately finding a lasting home at SKIL, where he first came to work in 1995. He would be diagnosed with heart disease that same year.

“They told me I needed a heart transplant,” Rausch recalls. “But then my heart got better for a time. In the back of my mind I always knew I'd need the transplant someday.” He lived a normal life, working as a published author and assisting the disabled for many years after that.

Everything changed in 2014 when Rausch became extremely ill. He was weak and couldn't breathe properly. He was then transplanted with an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assistive Device) to keep his heart beating. The device allowed him to continue living, but it made him too weak to perform the physical activities necessary to properly do his job. He went back to work for a while, but ultimately found himself in a position where he had to step away for a bit.

“The LVAD was great,” Rausch explains. “Without it, I would have been dead. But it slowed me down a lot.”

Having worked most of his adult life assisting the disabled, he was now disabled himself. This gave him a multi-layered perspective on the plight of the disabled. “It was a very humbling experience, to be sure,” he says.

In 2015, Rausch suffered blood clots in the machine, causing him to be put into an induced coma for several weeks while he was implanted with a second LVAD. After the coma, Rausch's quality of living declined severely. Despite these setbacks, he continued to work in a limited capacity in public relations at SKIL. He also advocated for the rights of the poor and disabled, attending political marches and protests. “Those were extremely difficult,” Rausch explains. “I wanted to be there very badly, but I was really too weak to be doing those things. But I did them anyway. In hindsight, that probably set me back a little bit.”

On April 11, 2018, Rausch was rushed to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, where he received his new heart. The surgery was a difficult one and the surgeon would later say he was surprised Rausch had still been alive given the condition his heart had been in when he arrived at the hospital.

Now on the road to recovery, Rausch hopes to continue working with SKIL in some sort of office capacity. Once he's feeling better, he also hopes to play an instrumental role in fully resurrecting an ADAPT (Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit) branch in Parsons.