The following is a blog written by Mark Witcher, a COPDer awaiting a lung transplant in England. To follow him on his journey, visit his blog.
Lifelong asthma, smoking 20 cigarettes a day, working in smoky environments and a job grinding fibreglass have all contributed to my bad lungs. It has been a long journey to get to this point and the road was long but finally I arrived at a cul-de-sac.
The journey downhill started around Christmas time in 2005. I had a chest infection and was given a course of steroids to help my body recover while the antibiotics killed whatever bug I had caught. This was the plan, but it didn’t work.
I got through Christmas, but in the days that followed I became very ill and breathless. I had a case of severe pneumonia.
I was hallucinating and my oxygen saturation levels were in the low 70s, which shocked my doctor. I was given 100 percent oxygen during my treatment. I found out later I am a carbon dioxide retainer, which resulted in my body going into respiratory failure.
I ended up in ITU for three days. My family was called to hospital because the doctors thought I would die. After that, I never fully recovered my health. As a former nurse, I knew what a diagnosis of COPD meant, and I was scared.
My doctor then sent me to pulmonary rehabilitation, which was great and helped a great deal with my COPD. It got me in shape and kept my lung function up. I would recommend it to anyone. It also helped me with the fear that although it feels awful when you can’t breathe after exertion, it will pass.
This was the turning point where I started to manage my condition instead of letting it control me.
During Christmas of 2006 I had a large pneumothorax in my right lung, which caused it to collapse. This happened four times in the space of a month leading into January 2007.
I spent New Year’s Day in the hospital because my lung wouldn’t re-inflate. I was left in a wheelchair with a tube and a one-way valve hanging out of my chest for three months and using oxygen 24/7.
God was graceful, I recovered, the lung partly re-inflated just before my wife, also a nurse, was forced to give up her job to care for me. After discussions with my doctors I was assessed in January 2009 to find out if I would be suitable for a lung transplant.
Then I caught a persistent infection, pseudomonas, in my lung. It took months of oral, IV and inhaled antibiotics to eliminate. Now I get by with oxygen overnight, and tubing follows me around my house during the day.
Some days I am free of oxygen for a while, and some days I’m not. I use regular nebulizers, and hope for dry, warm days, which are rare in England, except in the summer.
September 7th 2009 is a day I will remember for the rest of my life. That day I was listed on the active transplant list at our Regional Transplant Centre Harefields Hospital for a double lung transplant.
I am still on the waiting list, and every time the phone rings, I jump, hoping for the call that will change my life.
I don’t sit around getting upset. Instead I campaign for organ donation, talk to people about transplantation and try to support others. People are the key to coping.
I would advise COPDers to seek out people who know what you are going though. I have a good friend with COPD whom I keep an email correspondence with. She has helped me though a lot of ups and downs. Thanks Sue! You know who you are! Family, friends and faith are what keep me going, one day at a time.