RUSSELL — Aaron Steinert describes 2017 as a whirlwind. The youngest Russell County commissioner ever elected, Steinert, 38, is finishing his first year in public office.
But his journey took an unexpected turn shortly after assuming his place on the three-person commission earlier this year.
“It was really kind of out of the blue,” Steinert said. “I was sitting, talking with my dad one evening … and it was getting to where after every sentence, I couldn’t hardly breathe. It finally got bad enough I went to the emergency room. The doctor told me I had pneumonia.”
He soon knew it was not pneumonia, as his symptoms continued after treatment. Another doctor realized something was wrong with Steinert’s heart due to significantly elevated BNP levels in his bloodwork.
He was told someone his age should have a BNP below 100; his level had spiked to approximately 5,000 by the time he was admitted to the hospital about a week later.
Steinert was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy, and had a defibrillator installed approximately six months ago. It’s likely due, in part, to genetics. He said his mother has a similar condition but did not show symptoms until she was older.
He also has a reduced ejection fraction, meaning a lower than normal percentage of blood is leaving his heart.
At this point, Steinert said he’s just hoping for answers and effective treatment. He said it also came as a shock the genetic condition was not identified sooner, despite serving eight years in the military and rigorous health testing.
“It never really threw up any red flags until it finally got to where my heart was pumping so slow it wasn’t pumping fluids out,” he said. “I was literally drowning on the inside.”
He might need a heart transplant at some point, though his medical team is hoping to try less drastic treatment options first, he said. He is traveling regularly to Kansas City for specialist visits.
Then, about three weeks ago, Steinert also was diagnosed with skin cancer. It’s been a tough road, but he said the support of the Russell County community has made it easier.
“It’s been absolutely amazing,” he said. “I went down to pay my car insurance the other day, and they’re like, ‘Nope. It’s already been paid.’ ”
At least two groups also are planning fundraisers to help offset medical costs for Steinert, who runs his own electric, plumbing and HVAC company and has a young daughter to care for.
Krispy Kreme donuts will be sold starting at 7:30 a.m. Friday at the corner of U.S. Highway 281 and Old U.S. Highway 40. Proceeds will benefit Steinert, and the event is organized by local charity Post Rock Family Services.
“We talked about how we can’t imagine if that was something our families would be going through,” said Holly Decker, a board member of Post Rock Family Services. “We know him personally and saw that there was a need, and we wanted to do something.”
A second community fundraiser is planned for New Year’s Eve at BL&T Auto Sales and Tire Shop, 1205 W. Wichita Ave. Doors open at 6 p.m., and tickets are $25 per person or $45 per couple. The event includes live music from Sister Whiskey, a Traeger grill raffle and breakfast.
The help is greatly appreciated, Steinert said, noting his medical bills already total approximately a $250,000.
“It’s amazing how quick it goes,” he said.
Steinert, who said he does not qualify for disability, continues to work as much as he can and serve on the commission.
“With the commission, I absolutely love doing that. I’m the youngest county commissioner ever elected in Russell,” he said. “This first year has been a whirlwind of learning new things.”