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Matthew’s Story – How a new set of lungs helped fulfill a dream career

Uncertainty is what 25-year-old double-lung recipient Matthew Schlatter said was the most difficult aspect of his transplant journey.
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​“Before my transplant, I was extremely sick and I don’t think anyone was very optimistic that I would survive,” Schlatter said. “My health deteriorated rapidly, and the normally planned-out transplant surgery became an emergency surgery. I was convinced I wouldn’t survive and I had mentally accepted my own demise.”

Schlatter grew up in Victoria, enjoying outdoor activities like snowboarding, kite-surfing, hiking and sailing. The young man also battled cystic fibrosis throughout his life, an inherited disease that damages vital organs with thick mucus buildup, particularly affecting his lungs.

While cystic fibrosis did prevent him from taking part in some of his athletic pastimes, the disease did not stop Schlatter from achieving a dream career.

“Growing up, I was so intertwined with the medical system, due to my cystic fibrosis, that I knew that was the field I wanted to pursue,” Schlatter explained. “I worked as a lifeguard towards the end of high school for a few years and the natural progression for myself was to become a paramedic.”

Schlatter said he started work with BC Emergency Health Services in February 2017, but after one year with the service, the paramedic needed to take time off due to severe shortness of breath.

“I received a double lung transplant in March 2019, at the age of 23,” Schlatter recalled. “This changed me drastically.”

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Not only is Schlatter back at work, but hobbies such as hiking and pushing his physical limits through sport have become a focal point in his life.

“I love pushing myself to my body’s limits, hiking as many mountains as I can. I’m hiking mountains, which I once viewed as impossible. I also no longer waste time in life and have a new appreciation for the little things,” he said.

Schlatter calls his health post-transplant the best it’s been since he was 12 years old. It’s as if he now has zero physical limitations – a feeling he is unable to put into words.

“Returning as a paramedic has been incredible,” he added. “I feel my insight from being a patient is invaluable, both in knowledge gained and empathy. It’s also a great feeling to give back.”

Schlatter said he’s received amazing care over the past years and wouldn’t trade his ability to once again help others for anything.
The 25-year-old is quick to acknowledge the fact that, without an organ donor, he wouldn’t be here today.

The transplant experience has led him to help others promote organ donation, and to see the world a little differently than he might have if not for his cystic fibrosis battle.

“First, I’d like to say become a donor. Once you’ve passed, you no longer need your body and you may just save someone’s life,” he said.

“The second thing is don’t waste time. As young people, we often hear our parents saying life is short. This didn’t resonate with me until just before my transplant when I thought I would die. If you want to do something then do it today; don’t wait until tomorrow.”

Schlatter is now a BC Transplant volunteer and hopes to raise awareness by showing people what is possible post-transplant.

“I’m always pushing my physical limits, and I hope in some way, this can inspire others,” Schlatter said.

Written by: Ryan Uytdewilligen, BC Transplant Volunteer

BC Transplant
 
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