Despite Breathing Issues, I’m Grateful for a Visit with My Niece

Despite Breathing Issues, I’m Grateful for a Visit with My Niece

In 2014, before I received an official diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, I attended the wedding of my niece, Stefania, in Breckenridge, Colorado.

The town’s elevation is 9,600 feet. Although my lung function at the time was 62 percent, my doctor gave me the all-clear to attend, but she prescribed me a portable oxygen concentrator (POC) to offset the effects of the high altitude and thin air.

After landing in Denver, we began the 80-mile drive through spectacular scenery to Breckenridge.

I was using my POC, but as soon as we arrived in Breckenridge, the device began to malfunction, leaving me without supplemental oxygen. Immediately, I felt the effects of the thin air.

Upon entering my hotel room, I began to feel lightheaded. My wife told me my lips had turned a shade of purple. I was dizzy and fell against the wall. But I refused to go to the hospital. Instead, I lay down on the bed for the next 24 hours. I told my wife to go out and enjoy the sights with my family.

When I finally got my bearings, I called the oxygen supply company and had them overnight a POC. I was pleasantly surprised to receive the device early the next morning, allowing me to spend the following days sightseeing and attending to wedding formalities.

At this point in my diagnosis, my siblings and other family members were unaware of my medical situation. When they saw me using the POC, they asked many questions. But I gave them vague answers as I hadn’t received a specific diagnosis. I knew that I had an interstitial lung disease (ILD), but over 200 separate diseases exist under the ILD umbrella.

Upon leaving Colorado, I looked at my wife and said, “Take a good look, because we are never coming back here.”

I was wrong. I am a Cleveland Browns fan and belong to a group of friends who take an annual road trip to watch our favorite football team play away games. This year, we decided on the Nov. 3 game in Denver.

I had a single-lung transplant in December 2015. My current lung function is 77 percent. I was sure that I could handle the altitude in Denver, as the elevation is 5,280 feet, which is considerably lower than Breckenridge’s 9,600 feet. My transplanted lung works exceptionally well, but my native lung continues to cause me problems.

Upon landing in Denver, it was clear that I had issues. My friends did everything they could to make my life easier, but the one thing they couldn’t do was breathe for me. I tried to limit my walking, and we took an Uber even for short distances. But I still felt exhausted and had intermittent coughing episodes.

Stefania lives in Arvada, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. I hadn’t seen her since the wedding. I thought this trip would be an excellent opportunity to meet her two daughters. I retired early on my first night in Denver as I wanted to be at full strength when visiting with Stefania and her family. My niece is into Colorado’s outdoor scene, and I had warned her jokingly, “No hiking or mountain biking on our visit.”

Stefania and I planned to spend most of Saturday before the game together. Unfortunately, her daughter Linden was ill, so I couldn’t be near the girls for extended periods. I wore my mask, but due to my immunosuppression, I still faced a high risk of getting sick. We visited the Red Rocks Amphitheater and Lookout Mountain. While we were driving, I could feel every inch of the higher elevation.

The Browns lost the game, and I had breathing problems, but I got to spend quality time with my niece and her family. Who knows how many more chances I will get to enjoy their company? I considered the trip to be a success overall as I got to create a memory with Stefania. And for that, I am incredibly grateful.


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.

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    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello Krystyna, thank you for reading and commenting on my column. You are totally correct. The thin Denver air is tough to get used to. The thin air was devastating to my body as I didn’t fully recover for 3-4 days after I returned to Cleveland. Thank you again.

  1. Carl Stecker says:

    On your recent Denver visit you mention breathing and coughing issues and attribute those to your remaining native lung. Did you have shortness of breath or oxygen saturation issues? What types of other problems with your native lung have arisen?
    I am 68 with IPF and have just been listed for transplant.I’m told that a single lung transplant is most likely, though both lungs are impaired.
    Thanks for any insight or resources!

    • Mark Koziol says:

      Hello Carl, thank you for reading my column. I did have saturation issues in Denver but I don’t in Cleveland, Ohio. I also had couple periods of SOB in Denver. With single lung transplants we are basically working with one lung. Anytime I get an unexplained cough or something it usually gets attributed to the native lung. Doctors think it’s not dying off as it should. I do everything I want to do. My saturation at rest is 97% and usually at exertion it goes to 92-94. I work hard to keep up my stamina. Do not worry about getting a single lung. You will be alright. You must exercise and mix it up with weights and cardio. I hope this helps. Feel free to ask anymore questions I will help you anyway I can. In some of my past columns I do mention working out. If you have time, please review some of them. Thanks again, mark.

      • Carl Stecker says:

        Thanks Mark, and good to hear that life has resumed to a more normal course.I especially was enthused to read about your climb in Athens as I hope to hike again.I visualize returning to the tennis court with my new lung(s), and if it is only a single, it will be OK. I was over 7000 feet this summer at Crater Lake and the POC did enable me to gander at it’s splendor for a limited time, but altitude is not our friend,and flying is no longer an option.
        I will receive,accept,heal and thrive with the right and perfect lung at the right and perfect time.

        • Mark Koziol says:

          Hello Carl, you have the perfect attitude and I have no doubt you will accomplish whatever you set out to do. You are correct high altitudes are not our friends. Please keep in touch, I also co- moderate the pf news forum if you would like to join up or maybe you already have. Best wishes, Mark.

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