At 12:06 a.m. on Dec. 3, 2015, the much-anticipated phone call came. I knew what the call pertained to as soon as I saw the first digits on the phone’s screen. The caller identified himself as a nurse coordinator from Cleveland Clinic’s Transplant Center and then handed the phone over to the head of pulmonology, Dr. Robert Kotloff. The suspense combined with elation was exhausting!
I had been on the transplant list for almost two and a half months with a lung allocation score of 34.99, which is not considered very high. I have rare B-negative blood and my donor needed the same type. Yet doctors assured me I wouldn’t have to wait too long.
Dr. Kotloff told me exactly what I expected: I was being offered a right lung. The donor was considered high-risk because of a previous incarceration. As a former corrections officer, I refused to let this knowledge sway my decision to accept the incredible offer. I have always believed we are made equal.
Dr. Kotloff agreed, believing the donor was my perfect match. Neither of us had antibodies, we had similar body sizes, and we cross-matched successfully. I had a moment to discuss this opportunity with my wife, Rebecca, during which I restated to her everything Dr. Kotloff had said. Rebecca and I agreed that I should accept the offer.
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After telling Dr. Kotloff of our acceptance, he returned the phone to the nurse coordinator, who explained logistics and what would come next. Then, he suggested that I should try to get some rest. Yeah, good luck with that!
Excitement and jubilation soon turned to tears and an enormous release of emotions by both Rebecca and me. Many memories of the past year raced through my mind in that short period between the phone call and celebration. My idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis via video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) and contracting respiratory syncytial virus shortly after. Drastic increases in supplemental oxygen needs. The rigorous evaluation for transplant qualification and fighting to meet the vital requirement of an under-30 body mass index — I lost over 80 pounds!
The rest of the night consisted of me tossing, turning, and thinking about the upcoming procedure. I had questions for myself and God. What did I do to deserve this awful disease? Why was I chosen for a second chance at life? How did I get to this point in my life? Those questions haven’t been answered, but I believe everyone has their own fate to deal with, and this was mine.
I also could not stop thinking about the man who was about to give me the gift of life. I wondered how he died. Did he suffer? Was there a family who would grieve for him? What made him decide to be a donor? I think about him often even today, almost four years later. After all, this man gave me a second chance at life. I intend to write a letter to his family through the organ procurement organization, but I just don’t how to write it quite yet.
I promised my wife before she went back to bed that I would not call or text anyone until we had another contact from the nurse coordinator. At about 6 a.m., I could not contain myself any longer and began to send texts. I knew I could cut down on my texts if I sent them to a couple of people who would quickly disseminate the information. I was right! Before 7 a.m., I received over 150 congratulatory texts. Rebecca got many as well. The next couple of hours were spent calling, texting, and waiting on another call from my transplant team. The call did come, as did my life-saving surgery.
When I think of all that transpired during the last 12 months, I still find it hard to believe I made it. I could not have undergone this endeavor alone. My friends helped out, people at work made sure I always had oxygen, and my wonderful, beautiful, caring wife exceeded all expectations of what a loving caregiver should exhibit. Her support and strength drove me. The rest was in God’s hands.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.