Traveling by Air Again Following Lung Transplantation

Traveling by Air Again Following Lung Transplantation

Several months after my lung transplant in 2015, my transplant team OK’d me to travel by air. My wife and I were in the doctor’s office and gave each other a grin. We knew then that we could go back to our special place: Maui.

After careful consideration, we decided not to travel to Maui in the summer of 2016. Although we had the doctor’s permission, we didn’t think it was in my best interest to travel to such a faraway destination so soon after my transplant. The flight from Cleveland, Ohio, where we live, was over 10 hours, and I had a leg issue that has since been resolved. Instead, we took a long road trip to Kansas and Nashville, Tennessee — this time without being bound to an oxygen tank.

We started going to Maui in 2009, for our honeymoon. On that trip, we also visited the island of Oahu and Pearl Harbor. We had gone every year since, except during the summers of 2013 and 2015. In 2015, I was dependent on supplemental oxygen. Hawaii is a land of paradise. After several visits to Maui and doing all the sightseeing, we came to view Maui as if we lived there for the several weeks that we visited.

My wife and I decided that in the summer of 2017, we would resume our annual vacation to paradise. We always stay in the same condo complex in Honokowai, so when I called, the manager sounded pleased to hear my voice. She had heard about my medical situation and was happy we were making arrangements to return. The condo complex is a beautiful property situated on the turquoise waters of the Pacific. From our lānai to the sea wall was only 16 steps. What a wonderful view to wake up to every day. The nightly sunsets also are spectacular.

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air travel, Hawaii
(Photo by Mark Koziol)

One of our favorite activities in Maui is snorkeling. There are many places to snorkel, but we loved the ability to walk down to the beach and snorkel in front of the condo property. An abundance of colorful fish, turtles, and coral can be viewed. The idea of snorkeling intimidated me, so I bought a snorkeling face mask. The reviews I read were positive, and I thought breathing in the full mask would alleviate my anxiety toward snorkeling. I practiced in a friend’s pool with my regular snorkeling equipment and the face mask. The face mask gave me some problems, but my regular equipment was like before. I didn’t feel any anxiety when I was underwater, and I was able to breathe comfortably.

As our trip approached, a little anxiety began to set in due to the flight and the medicine I had to bring. I didn’t know what to expect while in-flight regarding my oxygen saturation. I had done some research about people who had received single transplants and had flown. The results were all over the board: Some suffered a drastic decrease in saturation, while others didn’t have a problem.

I also was worried about getting through Transportation Security Administration checks with my medicine. My doctor gave me a letter detailing my condition and the medicines I was required to take. I experienced a 10-point desaturation when I stood up while in flight, but otherwise, I did well. When I was sitting, my saturation was at a normal level. I didn’t have any problems getting through TSA with my medications, either.

When we landed in Maui, I felt I had just achieved a milestone. Before my transplant, my wife and I had talked about the last time we went to Maui. We hoped it wasn’t my last trip, and we made going back to Maui a goal of ours. It was such a happy feeling when we landed and the doors opened, and we could smell the sweet ocean breeze. There is no other smell like it.

We immediately resumed our normal routine in Maui, but on this trip, we invited another couple to stay with us. We enjoyed having them for a week and were sad to see them go. I snorkeled without any complications, but I was very conscientious of the sun’s rays. I protected myself unlike during previous visits.

We hope to go back to paradise next year. This summer, we will travel to Europe, where I am sure there will be hurdles to get past.

Have you flown post-transplant? Please share your experiences in the comments below. How long did you wait after transplant before you resumed air travel?

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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.

6 comments

  1. Bob O'Brien says:

    Mark, I am on Cape Cod and an IPF sufferer. I am a patient of an MD from BI Deaconess in Boston but have been tested and evaluated by the transplant team at Mass General in Boston. I have passed all the required testing but they consider me too stable at this time for listing👍🙂. They tell me I am a very healthy who has, unfortuneatly, a lousy set of lungs. I too love Maui and my wife and I will go back (There are now non-stop flights from Logan to Maui). I say this because if I continue to stay “healthy” in all the other areas, I will eventually wind up with a 2X transplant.
    Thanks for your update.

    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello Bob, thank you for reading and commenting on the column. I’m happy you can identify with the column. Let’s hope you can avoid a transplant and you stay healthy. You are very lucky to get a non stop from Boston. We usually stop in San Fran or LA. It is too bad you have those lousy set of lungs. Bob I was in the same situation you were, healthy with lousy set of lungs. I think this has helped me in my recovery. Bob keep active, do as much as you can and take one day at a time. Keep in contact Bob and best wishes!

  2. Jewel says:

    My husband and I were married in Maui almost 31 yrs ago. We planned to go back for our 30th last fall but my husband unexpectedly had a double bypass surgery last Aug.
    He is approved for a single transplant but not yet listed. We hope to be back in Hawaii in the future. Your story is inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello Jewel, thank you for sharing. Thank you also for reading and commenting on my column. I hope you make it there soon and I’m sorry what your husband is going through. Now it’s time for you and your husband to add another chapter to your story. Best wishes.
      Mark

  3. Anita Clos says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I too am post-transplant (3 years) and have traveled to Europe twice and Arizona since then. It was indeed a wonderful feeling to not take O2 along for the ride. We just took a quick trip to New Orleans (from Mich) and I had zero problems. The other, longer routes I learned to wear compression knee socks after the first long trip resulted in swollen feet and calves. Now no probs at all. Life is good. Great, in fact.

    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello Anita, thank you for reading and commenting on my column. Yes, it is wonderful to not have to lug oxygen tanks along wherever you go. Your story makes me feel happy, I love it when transplant patients are enjoying life. Keep traveling. Keep living. Keep enjoying life. My wife and are going to Europe this summer. I haven’t had to wear the socks, they have been mentioned but I may look into them because it is a long time on the plan. I haven’t had any problems but I guess I should prepare myself. Thank you Mark

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