Woogie: A Sturgis Rally Miracle

FROM BIRTH THE ODDS WERE STACKED AGAINST ELIJAH. Being born in the sparsely populated Black Hills to native American parents living below the poverty line is hard enough, but Elijah was diagnosed with renal disease, and his prognosis was not good.

Elijah’s biological parents were unable give him the care he needed, so he was placed with the Oglala Sioux – Standing Rock Tribe and the search began for someone to keep him comfortable until he passed away. No one believed Elijah would live long enough to see his first birthday.

But Lady Luck took a shine to Woogie and in February, 2006 he found his way into the home of Matt and Becky Bruer of Sturgis South Dakota.

Matt and Becky run Sturgis Web.  If you’ve surfed the  websites of Black Hills Harley-Davidson, The Knuckle, Sturgis Harley-Davidson, Buffalo Chip Campground, Full Throttle Saloon or scores of others, you’ve seen Matt’s work.  He’s a web programmer and site designer.

In addition, Matt owns the No Name Campground.  Located 3 miles from Sturgis, No Name is one of the few “quiet” campgrounds that cater to the Sturgis tourists who actually enjoy getting a good night’s sleep.  “We’ve been dubbed the geriatric campground” says Matt “because we have a curfew to keep the noise down so everyone can rest.”

For anyone who wants to party, Matt provides buses to town that run continuously every hour all the way up to 3 am.  Matt says his cabins and RV sites are booked 2 years in advance.

Matt and Becky are also parents to 14 children, 9 of them foster children.  They were the first family designated as a therapeutic foster home with the Black Hills Children’s Society, which means they are given children with special physical and physiological needs.

When Woogie came to the Bruer’s home he was given three months to live. The couple was told to try and keep him comfortable during his last few months of life.  But as she held the tiny dark haired boy something stirred inside Becky Bruer’s soul and she refused to accept his death warrant.  She was determined to fight for him.

The first step was to get him on peritoneal dialysis.  It wasn’t a long term solution because everyone knew Woogie would need a kidney to survive.  Statistics show that 50% of dialysis patients die within 3 months and 90% in a year. But it was a start.

The closest specialty hospital in the nation for infants with this disorder was the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital over 600 miles away. Her initial 5 week trip to Minneapolis with Elijah gave her the proper training required to perform the daily peritoneal dialysis he needed to survive. Once a month Becky and Woogie made the long 18 hour round trip for his check-up.

The daily dialysis treatment helped stabilize Woogie but without a kidney the Bruers knew all too well what the eventual outcome would be.

To be considered a candidate for transplant, an infant has to reach 18 lbs.  Kidneys are scarce and until Woogie gained weight, he would not be considered, so Matt rigged a tiny nutrition supply backpack with a feeding tube that ran through Woogie’s nose into his stomach.  Matt says “We literally fed him 24 hours a day.”

Gradually as his general health improved he began to add weight. Then on August 1st, 2006, right before the Sturgis rally started, having reached that magic weight of 18 pounds the Bruer’s got the letter saying Woogie had been added to the transplant waiting list.

Another hurdle had been cleared, but  Woogie wasn’t home free.  “The letter said not to get our hopes up because the wait (for a kidney) can be upwards of two years” said Matt.

Transplants are given first to those who are the most critical and have been on the list the longest.  The Bruers settled in for a long wait, hopeful that a kidney would be found.

Three days later with the rally set to kick off and half the campground full and the other half expected in the next couple of days, the Bruers get the call that a kidney was available.

They were ecstatic!

Then reality set in.  They’re told its 12 hours away in Minnesota and because it’s a harvested kidney (from an adult donor) they have 8 hours to get Woogie to the operating table.    “It’s 7pm and the last commercial flight out of the small regional airport at Rapid City has already left.” Says Matt, “And there’s no way we can drive there in time.”

Matt, Becky and the family are devastated.   With his family in tears, Matt knew, even though it might be the only chance for Woogie, he was going to have to call the hospital and give up the kidney,

Tom and Deb Collins, campers at the "No Name Campground"

Tom and Deb Collins were campers at the No Name campground and had overheard what was going on with Woogie.  The couple knew they had to find a way to help.

Tom approached Matt and said,  “hold on a minute…do you have an American Express Card?”  When Matt said he did, Tom said, “Let me hold it for a second.”  He takes the card and Matt’s phone and disappears for 20 minutes. When he returns he tells Matt, “I just rented an airplane for you and it’s sitting on the tarmac in Rapid City!”

Matt asked, “How did you pay for it?”

Tom replied, “I put it on your American Express Card!”

Matt stood staring at the biker.  All he could think to say was, “I gotta pay for that in 30 days!”

Tom and Deb told him not to worry about that, but to take care of Woogie.

While Deb Collins helped get the family ready to make the trip, Tom Collins approached the bikers in the campground and passed around his hat.  When it got back around to him, the cash was literally overflowing.  Those tough as nail bikers with hearts of gold had raised $5,000, more than enough to pay for the plane charter.

On September 5th 2010, Woogie celebrated his 5th birthday, and besides the medicines he’ll have to take for the rest of his life, the little Sturgis miracle baby has grown into a normal rambunctious five year old.

Over the past four years The Bruers have made a monthly trip with Woogie to Minnesota  and he’s been in the hospital 13 times with 2 additional surgeries.  Doctors have made numerous adjustments in his medications.  He takes 13 different pills twice a day.

To help pay for the surgery and ongoing medical bills and medicine, the Bruers set up an organization called Elijah’s Allies and the website elijahsallies.com tells his story.  Matt says the biker community has been so good to his family and now Woogie has 500 surrogate parents, all past campers or people who have helped in some way over the years.

Matt says he still gets an occasional phone call asking him “how’s my boy?”

“The bottom line” says Matt, “bikers get a lot of bad publicity for  their partying and wild behavior sometimes, but the truth is these guys dug deep into their hearts and wallets that day and helped save a little boy’s life.  No other reason than to help a child, and to me that says it all.”

If you want to help,  financial contributions are tax deductible and will go directly into a fund account and will only be used for his healthcare expenses the fund is handled by Elijah’s B.H.C.H. Social Worker Dusty Petz and Matt & Becky Bruer, the account is at: Wells Fargo Bank  1040 Main Street, Sturgis, SD, 57785 Account Name: Elijah’s Allies.