INDIANAPOLIS — Brandon Lee Vinson is Indiana’s youngest sworn firefighter. He’s also ensconced in the fight of his life against a relentless opponent called cystic fibrosis.
But the firefighting community is banding together, hoping that with outside help, they can drum up some additional funds so the 8-year-old will be able to have a lung transplant.
A Battle for Brandon chili dinner is scheduled for 5 p.m. to midnight Nov. 3 at the American Legion Post 64, 601 S. Holt Road, Indianapolis, by a host of fellow firefighters. Tickets are $25.
“Basically what (cystic fibrosis) does is it affects his lungs and digestive tract and the mucus is thicker than anyone else that’s healthy,” explained Brandon’s father, Greg Vinson, who works at Indianapolis Fire Department Station 64 and lives just outside of Avon. “He’s constantly on antibiotics, takes three breathing treatments a day on top of the vest treatment, which is a vest that comes over his shoulders, and he does that for 30 minutes three times a day and it breaks up all the mucus. The goal is to get it out of his lungs to cough it up.”
Cystic fibrosis is a terminal illness, but Vinson says Brandon’s prognosis is significantly better if he can get a lung transplant. In 1959, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the life expectancy in children was six months at average. As recently as 2008, that number has spiked to 37.4 years, according to the Textbook of Clinical Pediatrics.
Derek Huff, who started the local branch of the Axe Men, a motorcycle club restricted to International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) career firefighters, said, “The reason we came up with (the chili dinner idea) was that Brandon has been a part of our lives for awhile.”
In January, Brandon was sworn in as an honorary firefighter by the Indiana House of Representatives and the IAFF Local 416. Having taken such an interest in his father’s profession, as well as having a love for motorcycles, he was named a member of the Axe Men as well.
“Greg informed us that he was going to go ahead and get approved for the lung transplant, and we knew insurance would cover most of it, but it’s out of state,” Huff said. “I said, ‘look, they’re going to go back and forth out of town for a lot of this surgery and that’s going to be some expense. As a club, we should do a fundraiser to help offset what the insurance won’t cover.’”
Cystic fibrosis comes when both parents have, for lack of a better term, a defective gene.
“I’d never really heard of it until Brandon was diagnosed with it,” Vinson said. “Back then they weren’t really testing for it. They do a lot of testing for it now when a woman gets pregnant, but not then.”
He said his son was diagnosed when he was only 3 weeks old.
“If he doesn’t reject the lungs, I think the prognosis is better,” he said. “When he was 3 I asked the doctors about a lung transplant, but they didn’t really want to talk about it. They approached us this last time about getting it set up.”
Because fewer children need organ transplants than adults, Vinson said the expected wait is less, but in the mean time, Brandon is still battling. He recently had surgery to have a port taken out.
“Every time you see Brandon, he has a smile on his face,” he said.
Vinson says he cannot thank his fellow firefighters enough for what they’ve done.
“I don’t like asking for help,” he said. “Firefighting in itself is a brotherhood in many ways and for the Axe Men to do what they’re doing, I can’t explain how grateful I am. I’ve had calls already and people are calling and wanting tickets. Guys that have never even met Brandon before have asked me about him. It’s the best job in the world.”
Huff agreed, adding, “Firefighting is a true brotherhood, unlike any other out there. Brandon always asks about the fire house. He loves the cycles. He’s always asking about what’s going on in the club.”
The Axe Men was a club that formed in Detroit, Mich., back in 1988.
“The day he was sworn in as a firefighter, it just kind of hit me,” Huff said. “I’m thinking to myself, he’s a sworn IAFF member, so realistically he can be a member of the Axe Men. I founded the Indy chapter and for him to be a part of it is absolutely amazing. I want to raise as much as we can. I would hope in the $5,000 range for the evening, but anything’s going to help the family and that’s what it’s about.”
Just the facts
WHAT: Battle for Brandon chili dinner
WHEN: 5 p.m. to midnight Nov. 3
WHERE: American Legion Post 64, 601 S. Holt Road, Indianapolis