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“I’ve been there before.” — How Matthew Schlatter is using his gifted lungs for good as a paramedic

In his seventh year working as a primary care paramedic, Matthew relates on a personal level to a lot of his patients.
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​The 28-year-old says, “I’ve been able to explain certain treatments from a firsthand experience and I believe this helps to ease their anxiety.” 

Born in Victoria, Matthew battled cystic fibrosis — a genetic disorder that affects the lungs, pancreas and other organs — for years and had a lot of unanswered questions about his health. This led to a fascination and endless pursuit to learn more about medicine and healthcare. While he originally planned to study medicine, a colleague opened his eyes to the world of paramedicine. He fell in love with the program and never looked back.

Matthew says he was terrified and excited for his first day on the job with BC Emergency Health Services in 2017. He started his career in Gold River on Vancouver Island and was met with a warm team who eased him into his job. It felt natural for Matthew to put his work and patients first, forgetting he had his own health issues. 


"I've been there. I get it. I've lived it."

Admittedly, Matthew was in denial of how sick he had become until a wake-up call while on the job in 2018.

"We successfully treated a patient who was in respiratory failure and when we were at the local clinic, the physician and nurse took one look at me and noticed my lips were blue due to lack of oxygen", Matthew recalls. "I realized this was my "normal" and that I had become all too used to living on less than enough oxygen in my blood. I was oblivious as to just how sick I was."

Shortly after, Matthew transferred to Ladysmith to work closer to home in hopes that his condition would improve but unfortunately things took a turn for the worse. He was on home oxygen and incredibly unwell but forced himself to work in some capacity, stepping away from the front lines and taking on the role of an information analyst instead.

For the first time in his life, he could feel his body giving out on him as he struggled to walk 10 feet to the bathroom, had no appetite, and only enough energy for sponge baths. His family and friends took turns taking care of him on his mother's couch and he eventually wound up being rushed to the Royal Jubilee Hospital for his pre-transplant work up.


Matthew was then air ambulanced to Vancouver General Hospital, brought straight to the ICU, and was told he had 48 hours to live. He was miraculously saved by an organ donor.

"I had my transplant within days of my arrival after an incredibly short time on the wait list. The stars aligned, and everything worked in my favour. I feel very fortunate." 
Back on his feet and back to work

Matthew returned to work as a paramedic just under a year post-transplant. "My recovery felt easy, and I finally had a body that could outperform my mind", he says. "I had an amazing support network of family and friends, great physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, care aids, porters, and others who played an integral role in the success of my transplant and recovery. My family and friends helped to motivate me to walk around T12 at VGH, then around the block, then a hike, and beyond — I couldn't be luckier." 

Planning for a long-term future, without limitations, is now possible. Post-transplant life has come with new medications but gone are the days of daily nebulizers, a chronic cough, the constant struggle to gain weight and physical limitations. Matthew can now do all the things he loves, like traveling, exercising and most importantly, his career saving lives.


"I've cared for transplant recipients of other organs, and even one patient awaiting a lung transplant. It was a really special moment I shared with them. No one quite understands the journey unless you've been through it."

Matthew says his experience also provides a different perspective on those difficult calls at work. He emphasizes, "We do everything in our power to save our patients, but when all our efforts are exhausted, I hold on to a different kind of hope. There is the potential for them to save the lives of up to eight individuals through the gift of organ donation, and that brings me peace."

Grateful to be alive

Matthew recently moved to Vancouver to advance his career and now spends his extra time on adventures such as kitesurfing, snowboarding, hiking, camping and backpacking.

He credits his extensive support system, including his extended family and friends, for being part of his transplant journey. He says it may have been more of an emotional toll for some of them than it was for him. "The support they provided me made my life with a chronic illness as normal as possible and I want to thank each of them for that," he shares.


But ultimately, Matthew says it's his donor and their family that have made all of this possible, and he is grateful.

"I wouldn't be here without my donor, that is a gift I received that I can never repay and will always be thankful for. I would want their family to know that I'm putting my new lease on life to good use, I'm trying to help others through my career and live life to the fullest every day. I would love to meet the family if the opportunity ever presented itself." 


We celebrate Matthew and his incredible achievements post-transplant in honour of Paramedic Services Week (May 19-25) and Cystic Fibrosis Month.

There are currently 25 British Columbians waiting for a gift of new lungs. While 90% of British Columbians support organ donation, only one in three are registered. Are you a registered organ donor?

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