In July 2000 at University Hospital in Denver I had a lung biopsy. Immediately after the surgery the surgeon said my wife, Barbara, “Have you considered a lung transplant?” We had not given one thought to a transplant.
I began having a non-productive cough in 1995. In the fall of 1999 I was checked out for shortness of breath with asthma, apnea and other things ruled out. My local pulmonologist suspected idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis which a CT scan at Barnes Hospital (St. Louis) confirmed. However, my doctor wasn’t sure what treatment to pursue.
I went to National Jewish Research Center, a top respiratory hospital in Denver. They agreed with the diagnosis of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. Idiopathic means the cause is unknown. Pulmonary refers to the lungs. Fibrosis means scarring. IPF, as it is called, is a progressive scarring and deterioration of the lungs leaving the victim unable to breathe. My doctor said, “You don’t have cancer, but you have something just as bad. You have a life expectancy of about three years.”
More than 128,000 Americans suffer from this disease with about 48,000 diagnosed annually. Each year 40,000 die of IPF, the same number as die of breast cancer. Despite these facts, little is known about IPF. It has no known cause or means of prevention or FDA-approved treatment—outside of a lung transplant.
I started taking prednisone and cytoxan and began pulmonary rehab in August 2000. After talking with a lung transplant recipient at rehab, I agreed to be tested to see if I could get on the waiting list for a lung transplant. After a week of evaluation at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis in December 2000 I was placed on the waiting list. To be a recipient one must meet strict requirements including a good support group.
My health continued to decline. I began using supplemental oxygen and gave myself interferron gamma shots three times a week for three years. I continued my college teaching but with an assistant teacher. I had to sit to lecture. I was constantly coughing and had shortness of breath. My skin was pale and pasty. I ran out of energy easily. My college, Ozark Christian College, made sure our health insurance covered me.
In 2003 my condition stabilized temporarily. So for a while I was on the inactive transplant list. In the fall of 2003, my pulmonary function declined significantly and my doctors at Barnes said I needed to get back on the active list and prepare for the transplant. In April 2004 three weeks before the end of the spring semester, we moved to an apartment in St. Louis near the hospital to be available for the transplant and wait for a match. A match is based on blood type and height.
Two months later, on June 15, 2004, I received a double lung transplant, number 840 at Barnes Jewish Hospital. Barnes has an outstanding transplant program and has performed more lung transplants than any other center. We moved back to our home in Carl Junction, MO in October. I had several setbacks during the first year, including one surgery, a couple minor rejections, and three or four hospitalizations. The next year was difficult with Barbara having several surgeries and chemo as she dealt with breast cancer.
Since August 2000 I have faithfully exercised three times a week in pulmonary rehab at St. Johns Hospital, Joplin, MO (except for the time in St. Louis). Exercising regularly in rehab has contributed greatly to my general good health. Since I am immunosuppressed and susceptible to infection and rejection, I take about twenty-five pills every day. After recovering from the transplant, I taught in the classroom in the 2005-6 school year and retired from the classroom teaching in June 2006.
In retirement I had two goals: spend more time with family, especially grandchildren, and write articles and books. Since the transplant I have written and had published three books and twenty three articles. I tell our story in the first chapter of Where Is God When We Suffer: What the Bible Teaches about Suffering (College Press, 2007). I have had more time with family. My wife and I have enjoyed our Bible club with our four grandchildren. I regularly teach a Sunday School class and our care group and speak occasionally.
June 15, 2009 was an exciting day for me because it was the fifth year anniversary of my transplant. When I received the transplant, I was told that five years was the average life expectancy after transplant.
Those who saw me before my transplant and now remark about the dramatic difference. Just before the transplant I was so bad my family thought I wasn’t going to make it. My primary care doctor said he wishes he had a video of the before and after, just to show the great change.
At this Thanksgiving season I want to express my gratitude. I would not be alive today if I had not received the transplant. I am thankful for every day of life as a special gift of God. He gave me a new lease on life. I am deeply grateful to God, to the donor family, to the medical team, to my family especially my wife and friends and the many who prayed regularly for me.
I want to make the most of every day. I am grateful to have been alive to help Barbara through her health challenges with breast cancer and for this extended time together. We are both thankful to be alive and doing well today.