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Ryan Burke: Breathing new life into his gifted lungs

Lions Bay resident Ryan Burke is thankful he gets to celebrate the start of a new year with a brand new set of gifted lungs, especially when he reflects on the previous holiday season.
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In December 2022, the now 27-year-old was stuck at home, hooked up to a machine 24/7 for an ongoing infusion of medication to control his late-stage idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension. Ryan’s blood vessels in the lungs were narrowed or blocked, slowing blood flow through his lungs, making his heart work harder. At the same time, his father was dealing with his own health issues.

“Over the Christmas holidays, my father was slowly recovering from a stem cell transplant following heavy chemotherapy to treat his cancer diagnoses. He had to stay close to the hospital with my mom,” Ryan recalls. “Meanwhile, my condition was certainly worsening, and I held very little to no hope towards my recovery.”

An unexpected diagnosis
Ryan’s journey started in the fall of 2021 when he was having trouble breathing while at work. When he received his diagnosis, he was told the cause of his pulmonary hypertension was unknown, and there is no cure.

“My work as a carpenter involves lifting and installing heavy materials, so I had to immediately stop working to start aggressive treatment. I was hoping I could just take medications to allow more blood flow to my lungs, at least for a few years, but unfortunately, it didn’t work. I wasn’t getting better. I was placed on the transplant wait list,” shares Ryan. 

In April of 2023, Ryan received a call that would change his life. It initially came with shock and a wave of emotions, plus relief. He was nervous, but not fearful.

“On the drive down to Vancouver General Hospital from Lions Bay, I was able to calm myself down,” says Ryan. “Looking out at the ocean and listening to music, I really felt gratitude.”
The operation went smoothly and at 26 years old, he became a double-lung transplant recipient. 

“I never thought I would come out of it, but immediately after my transplant, I could breathe again. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t short of breath walking to the end of the hall.”

Gratitude for the gift of life

Ryan says life post-transplant is better than he could have imagined. He’s more motivated than ever to spend more time getting outside and being active. 

“I’m so grateful to all the healthcare workers involved in my transplant journey - from my surgeon Dr. John Yee to the incredible therapy team who led workouts with me over Zoom,” Ryan comments. “Because of them, I was able to get back to things I love doing. Just three months after my transplant, I was hiking trails around my house, skiing and paddle boarding.”

And last month, he and his family were able to celebrate the holidays together.
“We all had an overwhelming sense of appreciation for our shared good health,” smiles Ryan. “Spending social time with our close family and friends, who were so happy see us healthy and well. It was very special for me to hike and ski with my sister, like we always have.”

Organ donation and transplant takes a village
More than 150 people are involved in one case, from organ donation to transplant. Ryan says his care team pre- and post-transplant gave him the strength he needed to get through tough times, especially when he thought he had no fight left in him. 
“It is unbelievable what we can overcome with the help of dedicated individuals, and the advancements in science and technology. You are never truly alone and there will always be people out there who are willing to give you the boost and strength you need to overcome immeasurable odds,” Ryan shares. “There are miracles every day and absolutely every person is worthy of experiencing them.” 

Ryan’s life-saving transplant was one of a record-breaking 77 lung transplants in 2023. Last year also saw a record number of 562 total transplants performed in British Columbia. 

“To my donor and donor family, I extend the highest possible degree of gratitude and empathy. Your generosity has saved my life. Your selfless decision to donate has spread relief and joy to me, as well as countless family members and friends. The positive impact that donor families give to all transplant recipients is incredible.” 

Thank you to organ donors and their families for choosing to give the gift of life during such a tragic moment in their own lives. Register as an organ donor at and talk to your loved ones about your decision. 

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