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Friends step up to axe medical bills for Klemencic family

By Josh Staloch


GREEN BAY – Earlier this year, 24-year-old Rutger Klemencic – completely healthy by all accounts at the time – suddenly fell ill.

Within a week of his initial symptoms, Klemencic was on life support, fighting a virus that was attacking his heart. 

Three weeks into his time on life support, a heart transplant was scheduled with a donor heart that became available at UW Health University Hospital in Madison.

But after transport to the hospital, the donor organ was deemed not viable for transplant.

By noon the next day, however, another donor heart had been delivered to the facility and the transplant procedure, miraculously, was a success.

Now, only a couple of months later, Klemencic’s system has acclimated to his new heart and he is well on his way back to full strength.

Klemencic said he’s getting closer to 100% every day.

“My legs aren’t great yet but once I get them back into shape, I’ll be ready to go back to work again and live a normal life,” he said. “They didn’t give me a new heart to live in a box. I’m not going to waste it. Someone passed away and gave me this gift and I truly appreciate it.”

While the news of a bright prognosis and, hopefully, a healthy future means the world to everyone who has followed Klemenic’s story so far, the astronomical hospital bills that resulted from the treatment threaten the Klemencic family’s financial future.

The community steps up

Don Mueller used to coach Klemencic when he was a young athlete.

Along with other friends of the Klemencic family, Mueller set out to organize a fundraiser, which was held Sunday, July 31, at Razor Axe Throwing on Velp Ave.

The parking lot in front of Razor Axe Throwing on Velp Ave. was a lively scene on Sunday, July 31 as the business played host to a fundraiser for Rutger Klemencic, who is recovering from a heart transplant procedure. Josh Staloch Photo

“This was the best thing we could think of to do,” Mueller said. “The Klemencic family is going through a heart transplant for a 24-year old kid who never did anything wrong except get a virus.”

The fundraiser spilled out into the parking lot and turned into a celebration.

Food was provided by Chef Rachelle of Blue Suede Foods and prizes were raffled all day long. 

“Darin (Lemerond, co-owner) and the guys at Razor have just been absolutely fantastic about giving us their place for the day as we try to raise as much money as we can to help them out with all of their medical bills. Whatever they need, we’re going to try to help.”

The money raised at the event will no doubt help, along with the more than $40,000 raised so far by a Gofundme page started by Samantha Rissling.

Indescribably grateful

Klemenic’s mother, Michelle, who recently underwent a major procedure to hopefully remedy a very serious medical issue of her own, said she has been overjoyed by the progress her son has made. 

“He has kind of excelled, went above and beyond what a lot of organ transplant recipients go through as far as the timeline,” she said. “We almost lost him. This fundraiser today means a lot to us. The outreach and support of the community and all of our friends and family has been amazing. We’re so blessed to have Rutger here with us and we’re also very blessed to have such wonderful friends and family.”

What’s next

Mueller said all reports show the new heart itself is doing well but Klemenic is dealing with nerve damage from his three weeks on life support and on an intra-aortic balloon pump, which is designed to help boost blood flow in a weak heart.

Klemencic’s mom was pleased to add that seven biopsies have been performed so far since the transplant, and doctors say Klemencic is free of major complications.

Klemencic said the overwhelming support his family has received from the community has really made a difference.

“This is very cool, I appreciate everyone who has helped. And to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time, I just really appreciate it.” 

At this point, Klemencic, a carpenter by trade, said what he wants to do most is get back to work. 

“I miss working with tools and with wood,” he said before finishing with a smile and a plug for his employer, Pat, who was of course on hand for the fundraiser. “I miss working for Drury Designs, the best construction company in the world.”

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