I was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2010, although I was told the disease had been gradually developing in my lungs since about 2000.
During these years, I found myself very gradually getting increasingly out of breath, first with heavy exertion, then with lighter and lighter exercise.
While on a holiday in New Zealand, I developed a very serious cough and could barely get my breath after a bout of severe retching. When we returned home, I went to my doctor had an X-Ray, and voila, the tell-tale signs of white fibrosis were revealed: formidable, disturbing, inexorable.
My father died of pulmonary fibrosis in 2002, so I was prepared for the worst. I had watched him get progressively weaker and frailer. His oxygen had to be increased until he was not able to live at home. He spent about seven weeks in hospital, and I was with him at the end. He lapsed into unconsciousness, gasped for a few hours, and then died. I knew what I was in for.
I met with the transplant clinic staff and put through a battery of tests. I had my heart checked, my inoculations brought up to date, my breathing analyzed, and my lung biopsied, just to name a few. Because I had been unable to exercise for so long, I had gained a huge amount of weight. I was told to lose about 100 pounds, which I did over a period of ten months despite being on oxygen and prednisone. It is amazing what you can do when your life is at stake.
Finally in August 2013, I was put on the list by the team at Vancouver General Hospital. From Vancouver, we went to Victoria to see my daughter get married. I was able to walk with her for a short distance without my oxygen because the wedding was on the beach.
Seventeen days later, in September 2013, I received a call from VGH. Lungs had come available. At first attempts were made to arrange flights to Vancouver, but in the end, my wife and I jumped in the car and drove down. I was the 13th lung transplant that year, and when I awoke in ICU, I discovered I was in bed 13. It was quite a coincidence.
I spent seventeen days in the hospital: two days in ICU, two days in the step-down unit, and the rest in a single room with a sensational view of Vancouver. There were many tubes and attachments for the first several days. Gradually, these tubes were removed and on day fourteen, with no attachments of any kind, I went downstairs and walked outside for a few moments. It was amazing.
Of course we had to live in Vancouver for three months, and we found a small condo in False Creek. I walked every day and went to the hospital twice, then once, a week. We returned home for a few days so I could celebrate my mother's 97th birthday. She was thrilled to see me looking so well. She died about 10 months later, so I was happy she was able to see me post-surgery. My wife and I returned home for good just before the New Year.
I feel extremely lucky to have been given a second chance at life. As a kind of ironic coda to the whole story, I have been in contact with a local man who needs a lung transplant. I happened to tell his wife my strange series of 13's and she was stunned. It turns out she was born on Friday the 13th and they were married on September 13.
Who says thirteen is an unlucky number?