Charleston man starting international non-profit after life-changing diagnosis

Source: Live 5
Updated: May. 29, 2021 at 11:36 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - After being diagnosed with a serious lung condition which could shorten his life span, a Charleston man wants to make the most of the time he has left by starting a non-profit in Central America aimed at giving children the nutrition they need.

In January, James Ryan had a harder and harder time breathing.

“I had real bad respiratory issues and they thought I had contacted pneumonia,” Ryan said.

But at the height of the pandemic, doctors at Roper St. Francis Healthcare first ruled out Covid-19 and other common conditions, then worked for months to figure out what Ryan had.

“But certainly, just the strain on the healthcare system and the challenges in general in getting somebody with even a different lung problem evaluated, is hard,” thoracic surgeon Dr. Adam Mace said.

They eventually diagnosed Ryan with pulmonary fibrosis which in severe cases can lead to a lung transplant.

“Scarring occurs diffusely throughout the lungs. It impacts the lungs ability to expand fully and it significantly impacts the patient’s ability to breathe well and do activity,” Mace said.

Ryan said it’s a “life-changing” situation that made him start a longtime dream of helping children in Central America.

“Both of my lungs have fibrosis so it’s spread that much so I said I’m not just going to sit around. I’ve got to do something with my life,” Ryan said. “When I’m safe enough, if there’s a lung transplant down the road then great, but right now, I want to go back and feed some children in Belize.”

Ryan lived in Belize for six years and realized large health disparities in school-age kids. In just a few months, he and two friends have started the process of creating the “Belize Experiment,” a charity that will feed dozens of children daily at the Santa Elena Baptist Primary School.

“We’ve got it laid out so there’s going to be 100 children for breakfast, 100 children for lunch. On the website you’ll be able to see that we already have a building fund,” Ryan said.

Partner Kip Plummer left his stable job to pursue the dream.

“He (James) said ‘I want to do it, can you help me?’ And a couple days later I thought about it and I made a career change and I told him, you have my full support, let’s make this happen,” Plummer said.

The team hopes to begin meal distributions this summer and construction of an outdoor cafeteria this year. People interested in the project can get more information here.

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