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.
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