Leotis “Tyrone” Chestnut is mentally ready. He’s just waiting for the call.
A retired master deputy with the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office, Chestnut suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is on a national transplant list to receive two lungs. Once he receives the call that lungs are available, he will undergo surgery at the University of Virginia Health System’s University Hospital.
Chestnut had to go on medical leave and retire after he was diagnosed in 2011.
“I’ll never forget it; it was Valentine’s Day 2011 when I got really sick with a bad nose bleed that wouldn’t stop and had trouble breathing,” said Chestnut, 59. “Once I got to the hospital, my oxygen levels kept dropping.”
He was diagnosed with COPD and had to depend on an oxygen tank to breathe. Chestnut had to give up the job he loved dearly.
“I miss the children the most,” he said of his 18 years with the sheriff’s office.
A certified school resource officer, he enjoyed working at many of the local schools and getting to know children and staff.
Prior to working as a sheriff’s deputy, Chestnut worked for the Reidsville Police Department.
Police work was not his first profession, though.
“My first career was working for an auto body and paint dealership, but then a friend took me on a ride-along with the Reidsville Police Department, and I was hooked,” Chestnut said. “It was always my dream to be a police officer.”
A smoker for most of his life, Chestnut also suffers from asthma and said he tells anyone who will listen, “Do not smoke! Look at me now!”
“Now, I have to depend on an oxygen tank 24/7, take steroid shots almost every day, depending on how I feel, and go to pulmonary rehabilitation two days a week,” he said.
In stage 4 of the disease, which has no cure, Chestnut is hopeful that he will soon have a new lease on life.
Chestnut said his goal is to outlive his father who died at 58 from leukemia. He also had an uncle who had COPD.
Friends of Chestnut, including Rochelle Tucker, who grew up with him, recently organized a fundraiser to help the family with costs associated with the surgery. They held a “A Breath of Fresh Air” benefit concert June 1 and raised $4,550. Tucker and Chestnut attend the same church, Zion Baptist in Reidsville.
“His daddy and my daddy served together as deacons in our church, and I am now his (Chestnut’s) minister of music,” Tucker said. “It was a no-brainer to help; he is my brother, and I am going to do all that I can to be a blessing to him and his family.”
The transplant will cost almost $600,000, and though Chestnut and his wife, Karen, have good insurance, there are still many uncovered costs that add up quickly — co-pays, medicines, transportation back and forth to the University of Virginia, food and lodging. Karen will have to move to Charlottesville to live for two to three months when her husband has his surgery.
A Lungs for Tyrone account also has been established at First National Bank in Reidsville to offer financial assistance.
Chestnut said he has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from his church, friends and the community.
“It’s a true blessing to have folks who think that much of you,” he said.
Chestnut admitted that he is not used to being unable to support his family.
“I hate to ask anyone to do anything,” he said.
But, for the past few years, he has had to swallow his pride and accept help from those who love and respect him.
“He used to take boxes of food to people and constantly checked on people who needed help,” said Karen Chestnut. “He is very giving and respected in the community.”
Once he receives his new lungs, Chestnut looks forward to spending time with his wife, adult children and grandchildren, as well as restoring and “fooling around” with old cars.
He has a ‘57 Chevy he is trying to finish, and some friends recently gave him a ‘71 Oldsmobile Cutlass to restore.
“I can’t wait to get back to the things I love doing, maybe even working as a detective helping with cold cases,” Chestnut said. “I want to be here for my kids and grands.”