Local Car Buff Dan Brancolini Flourishing After Double Lung Transplant
Dan Brancolini is a bit of a Renaissance man. Through the years he has reinvented himself time and again. He grew up in a Pennsylvania steel town that had the largest Coca-Cola production plant in the world. During his youth he played jazz saxophone with various bands. After attending art school, he got into advertising for 15 years. When that opportunity fizzled, he managed shoe stores in Ohio and Indiana. He switched gears again and became a trucker, then later was hired by Walmart to open some superstores in the area, including one in Brownsburg.
He was working as a training manager in 2012 when he started feeling tired and foggy-headed. He also began to notice that every time he climbed a flight of stairs, he was breathless.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” says Brancolini, who was only 58 at the time. “I thought I was just getting old.”
Then one day after unloading a produce truck at work, he passed out. After a doctor chalked up the fainting spell to exhaustion, he went back to work, but a week later he woke up feeling terrible. A second trip to the doctor revealed that he had dropped 10 pounds in a week, which was abnormal. After a full workup of labs and tests, he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that he suspected was a result of having grown up near steel mills. Doctors said they didn’t know the cause.
“I was told that I needed a transplant or else I only had three to five years to live, but first I had to lose a bunch of weight to qualify for the transplant,” says Brancolini, who changed his diet and began exercising regularly.
Ultimately he dropped 100 pounds over the course of five years. In November of 2017 he finally qualified for the transplant. It couldn’t come quick enough, as he had gotten to the point where he was wearing an oxygen mask 24/7.
“I had to drag around two tanks of oxygen with me at all times,” Brancolini says. Not only was he limited in what he could do, but he was also self-conscious about being stared at every time he was in public.
He didn’t know how long he’d be waiting for new lungs, though he was told to be prepared to go on a “dry run,” during which he would get a call to go to the hospital but ultimately get sent back home if something didn’t pan out or match up. As luck would have it, his phone rang a week and a half later. When he heard the words, “We’ve got a set of lungs for you,” time stood still. He went to the hospital, still anticipating a “dry run.”
He recalls lying in the operating room, shivering and hooked up to a bunch of tubes, while nurses and doctors stood around waiting for the lungs to be delivered. He was told that if they got the green light, the red phone on the wall would ring. A few moments later, it did.
“The doctor answered and I heard him say, ‘It’s a go,’” Brancolini says. “That’s the last thing I remember until waking up in the ICU.”
He ended up having complications with his kidneys and had to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s in the hospital. When he finally got home, the first thing he did was call the oxygen company to come pick up his tanks and machine.
“That felt good,” he says.
Though he was past the hard part, the following year he was mostly sequestered in his home in order to give his new lungs time to adjust.
“I love working outside, but I couldn’t mow the grass because my lungs were super sensitive,” he says. “That first year I hardly saw anybody.”
It was a pretty lonely existence, but during that time he found solace in going out to his garage and staring at his beloved car, an ultra-rare 1964 Ford Falcon Sprint convertible that he paid $100 for in 1978 when he was 24 years old. Throughout his life he regularly updated, upgraded and maintained the award-winning piece of Americana. Watching the Falcon sit untouched for five years while he struggled with his health was heartbreaking.
Once he could be around people, he reintroduced himself to car culture by attending the Indianapolis World of Wheels, the largest indoor car show in Indiana. That’s where he met Bobby Williams, owner of Legacy Motorsports in Plainfield. Not surprisingly, the two men talked cars. Williams was impressed with Brancolini’s sweet ride and invited his new friend to stop by his shop. Brancolini took him up on his offer and after dropping by nearly every day for three months, Williams offered him a job.
Affectionately known as Falcon Dan, he’s the president of the Hoosier chapter of the Falcon Club of America. When he joined the club in 1979, there were 135 members. Today, membership exceeds 12,000.
“Car people are different from any other group,” Brancolini says. “They are like a band of brothers and sisters in the way they help one another out. For example, if you’re on the road and you see a guy with a hot rod or custom car broken down, you pull over and ask how you can help. It’s one big family.”
This is why proceeds for most car shows benefit great causes. For instance, Brancolini will be involved with Cruisin’ for a Cure, an annual fundraiser for breast cancer in Hummel Park on April 23. He also has a friend who is putting on a show in May to support a family who lost their father.
“In the car culture we help people,” says Brancolini, who notes that his car club hosts two shows per year to raise money for local food banks. One is in July at the Avon American Legion, and the other is in September at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Thrilled to have a new lease on life, Brancolini has a few bucket-list items he plans to check off. Topping that list is traveling to Italy and meeting family, as he is of Italian descent. He’d also like to hop in his convertible with his wife Jan and travel west on Route 66. He still has his sax and would love to assemble a band to play some oldies.
“My health scare showed me that our time on this earth is limited, so make every day count,” he says. “Don’t take life for granted, and tell people you love them.”