Baldwin man switches from wheelchair to working within the large race

A wheelchair sits folded up by the front door.

It’s a constant reminder.

“There was a time when I relied on it because I was too heavy and difficult to walk,” said Bruce Altemus, 69. “I was too big and too sick to do much. I never want to go back to this state. That’s why I keep it where I can see it. ”

Altemus, who could barely stand two years ago, plans to run 5.1 miles on Sunday.

He is registered for the 3 mile course of the Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race.

“That’s a goal I’ve set myself,” said Altemus, who lives in Baldwin. “I’m looking forward to it. If you’d seen me before, you’d never have thought I could walk a few steps, let alone three miles.”

He chose the Big Race because it’s an annual tradition in Pittsburgh. It also takes place in person (as well as virtually).

The 5K begins at 8 a.m. in Oakland at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Atwood Streets. The course is mostly downhill and ends at Point State Park, Downtown.

Altemus could not have thought of the run two years ago. He wasn’t eating right or exercising. He weighed 300 pounds. His legs were so swollen that it was difficult to stand.

A visit to the emergency room found that he had congestive heart failure, non-alcoholic cirrhosis, and early-stage kidney failure.

He changed his lifestyle and lost 120 pounds. He was placed on the national waiting list for a new liver transplant.

He was given a liver on April 26, 2019 at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side of Pittsburgh. He wrote a thank you letter to the donor’s family.

Altemus was grateful for the second chance in life, and as part of his rehabilitation, he vowed to get out of the wheelchair and walk. At first he couldn’t make it 50 feet without getting tired.

Now he’s running 10 miles a week and walking four miles – 10,000 to 12,000 steps a day – in the parking lot of the nursing home where he lives – Atria South Hills. The nursing home provides T-shirts to support the Altemus team.

Funds raised through Altemus’ team through GoFundMe will go to Hat’s off to Ron, a nonprofit that provides financial aid to lung and liver transplant patients at Allegheny General Hospital.

“When I cross the finish line, that will be one of my goals and then I’ll set another goal,” said Altemus. “I’m definitely not going to set any speed records. You need to train your mind and body. I tell people all the time, don’t stop. The transplant team gave me a second chance in life. I almost died.”

Altemus said his family’s support – his 45-year-old wife Andrea, 70, and their children – kept him alive. He and Andrea moved from Johnstown to Pittsburgh five years ago when she suffered a stroke to leave their son Aaron Altemus and wife Alison, as well as their daughter Sara Waechter and husband JD. could be close

Aaron Altemus and JD Waechter and their friend Shane Putorek will run with Bruce Altemus on Sunday.

Courtesy Allegheny Health Network

Dr. Rachel Tindall, (left) abdominal transplant surgeon and transplant coordinator Michelle Nagy, who competed in a previous 5K race. You will run in the Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race with a patient, Bruce Altemus of Baldwin, in the 5K event on September 26th.

Seeing Altemus transform was wonderful, said Dr. Rachel Tindall, an abdominal transplant surgeon for Allegheny Health Network who performed the Altemus transplant.

She said he was “really sick” when she first saw him. Without the transplant, he would not have survived much longer.

“He ran and ran and looked great the last time I saw him,” said Tindall, who plans to run with Altemus. “I’ll be right next to him. Running is a wonderful activity and he has such a good attitude. ”

Altemus said he didn’t take anything for granted. He wants to be around to hang out with his two granddaughters and his grandson, who is expected in November.

Allegheny General transplant team members plan to walk too. Michelle Nagy, transplant coordinator, and her husband are walking. Nagy’s mother had a liver transplant. Eileen Pistelli, another transplant coordinator, will accompany the course.

Tindall said she told Altemus that the recovery was more of a marathon, not a sprint.

Or, in Altemus’ case, maybe more like a 5.1 mile run.

“Running in the Great Race is personal to me,” says Altemus, who keeps a size 52 belt that he used to wear to motivate himself. “I don’t want to go backwards.”

Altemus often plays melodies in the nursing home. He loads the wheelchair with records and some devices and takes it to the room where he will be making music.

“This is the perfect use for the wheelchair,” said Altemus. “I keep it to carry my music and equipment, but also to remember where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. So when I’m done as a disc jockey, I’ll fold the wheelchair and put it next to the door. ”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062,, or on Twitter.

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