EDWARDS — Joe Peplinski has a huge heart, which is ironic because it’s his heart that’s creating his mounting medical bills.
Peplinski teaches second grade at the Eagle County Charter Academy, and the Vail Valley Charitable Fund is running a benefit on Saturday to help him knock down that mountain of medical bills.
The heart attack he suffered Sept. 1 is the latest in his family’s troubles.
“It’s been a rough five years,” Peplinski said.
There’s the 10-day stay in the hospital for pneumonia that turned into epidemia over his left lung. Doctors had to peel it from his lung.
He’s had shoulder surgeries, eye surgeries and 18-20 trips to Denver for medical attention.
His family has insurance, but they surpassed their coverage limits in four of the past five years.
On Sept. 1, he woke up feeling like he had a bad case of heartburn. Bad, but not enough to knock him down.
He mowed the yard, took the family to the Vail Rotary Club’s rubber duck races in Vail Village and the family went to their nephew’s birthday. Before long though, he was doubled over in pain and was in a Flight for Life helicopter headed for Denver.
He’s helping himself all he can.
When he finishes his workday as a second grade teacher at the charter academy, he runs the after school program. Three years ago he launched a summer camp for kids, Camp Deep End. They do reading and math, then hop on a bus and tour the area in search of fun and education. They always find both.
“I work 11 hours a day, five days a week in the summer, and it’s hard, but it’s a good job and I’m glad to have it,” he said.
Peplinski was born here and has been teaching in the valley 11 years. He was actually born in Glenwood Springs because the Vail hospital wasn’t big enough.
His first teaching job was in the elementary school he attended as a kid. Some of his teachers were still teaching there when he started.
“I had a hard time calling them by their names, instead of Mrs. and Mister,” Peplinski said.
In fact, he and his sister Kerry were students at Rumpelstiltskin preschool, and now their children attend the school.
That heart attack on Sept. 1, though, hammered them. He missed several weeks of work, as his medical bills continued to grow.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.