Ronnie Werstler is on a one-man crusade, traveling the country in order to raise money and awareness for cystic fibrosis (C.F.). Werstler, a third degree blackbelt, is doing so by breaking two-by-fours with his bare hands for $100 donations. So far, his campaign has taken him to 48 states. He has appeared on "Lawman" with Steven Segal, as well as on "Good Morning America" with Diane Sawyer. He has also broken boards outside of Oprah Winfrey's studios in Chicago, landing him on the front page of the Sun-Times. On Tuesday, his quest brought him to St. Marys for a demonstration at Dave's Saw Shop on Linwood Avenue, where he performed alongside shop owner Dick Cooney before a crowd of onlookers.
Werstler, using only his hands, and Cooney, using a chainsaw, competed to see who could halve 15 two-by-fours first. Beforehand, Cooney said, "It's a great cause. This should be fun."
While Cooney finished cutting his 15 two-by-fours first, Werstler kept going, undeterred. Afterwards, Cooney presented Werstler with a check made out to his foundation, Caring Now for Kids.
Werstler founded the organization after his son Brandon was diagnosed with C.F. He says his organization differs from others in that the focus is on providing immediate treatment rather than just research.
"You need research and treatment, but no one has ever started a foundation for treatment," Werstler said.
The organization's catchphrase, "Got Lungs?," is in reference to the double lung transplant often needed by those with C.F., the very operation Werstler is hoping to provide through his fundraising efforts.
"Each day 3.5 kids die in America from C.F. It costs around $250,000 for the surgery, plus the cost of anti-rejection medicine," Werstler said. "That's why I keep going to get help and let people know that these kids are dying every day because of a lack of money."
C.F. is a genetic disease which causes the body to produce abnormally thick and sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and causes life-threatening infections. These viscous secretions also obstruct the pancreas, stopping digestive enzymes from reaching the intestines to help break down and absorb food.