Raising ‘Hell:’ Celebrity chef cooks to help aunt breathe easy

Posted at 9:56 PM, Oct 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-02 22:25:54-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- The price of a double lung transplant is ongoing and costs a lot more than money. For one West Michigan woman, she's getting some help from her family and even total strangers.

Karen Ettinger of Grand Rapids received a double lung transplant in 2012, but the costs didn't end there. She's taking more than 20 pills per day so her body doesn't reject the lungs. On Sunday night, her niece, who was a finalist on the show Hell's Kitchen, hosted a benefit dinner to help raise money for her aunt.

Ettinger spent years living with a genetic form of emphysema called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, only going as far as her 50-foot oxygen tank tube would let her go.

"I was on total oxygen, I was in a wheel chair, I wasn't very ambulatory," said Ettinger. "I was more or less tethered to my oxygen tube. My lungs in Lehman's terms were eating themselves up."

Four years later, Ettinger says she's a new woman.

"I love myself and in essence I've been reborn," said Ettinger.

Ettinger is now able to garden, go fishing and play with her grandson.

"A lot of times I'm on the verge of tears," said Ettinger. "It's very, very overwhelming. There's really no words to explain it. My gratefulness and thankfulness is beyond words."

That gratefulness extended into Sunday night, as her family held a benefit at the Elks Club in Grand Rapids put on by her own niece, Kristin Barone. Barone was a finalist on season 15 of Hell's Kitchen. She'll be moving to Las Vegas next week to work in Gordon Ramsay's Pub in Caesar's Palace.

"I think it's the best way that I can help her," said Barone. "It means a lot that I can share that with her."

Barone hosted a five course meal on Sunday, complete with a silent auction to raise money for her aunt.

"To be able to see her do things that she hadn't done in years because she was tied to an oxygen tank is mind blowing," said Barone.

While the money raised will help her aunt, Barone hopes the event itself will help raise awareness and encourage others to become organ donors.

"The gift of life is precious," said Ettinger. "Every day is precious. Live life to the fullest and don't take a moment for granted. You never know. Organ donation truly does save lives."

The family had a goal of raising $5,000 from the benefit, which they expect to do. If they raise the money, the National Foundation for Transplants is going to step in and donate as well. If you'd like to donate, click here.