I was able to catch Jack Hollenbach while he was on his daily early morning stroll with his 3-year-old German Shepard, Hula.
“We walk 3.5 miles every morning. It’s something I never dreamed I’d be able to do a little while ago,” Hollenbach says.
Hollenbach says he first noticed something was wrong while on a fishing trip at Apache Lake, outside of Phoenix, AZ. Climbing up an embankment Hollenbach found himself out of breath. Between that time and being officially diagnosed with COPD, Hollenbach received a Bachelor’s Degree from DeVry University and began a new job working for W.W. Smith Construction in December 2005, which required him to get an annual physical.
In November 2006, Hollenbach went to the doctor for his annual physical. That’s when he was diagnosed with COPD.
“I kept thinking I was just getting older, and unfortunately, that’s what my mother thought, too. She died from COPD,” Hollenbach says. “She smoked for a couple years but nothing heavy. She had scarlet fever when she was younger and they attributed [her breathing problems] to that, rather than smoking. She quit 20 years before she was diagnosed. And I quit, but I didn’t show signs of COPD until after I quit smoking.”
Hollenbach says he went to work the next day with an oxygen tank in tow, which surprised his co-workers.
He says it was an immediate change and adjustment – going from feeling winded all the time to carrying oxygen all the time.
A year later, he suffered an exacerbation and was hospitalized. During his two-week stay, he lost 40 pounds and says he was so weak he couldn’t walk across a room without having to stop to catch his breath. It was at this time his doctor suggested a lung transplant for him.
Making a trip to the University of California, San Diego, Hollenbach became familiar with the transplant program, where he got evaluated.
“I still remember meeting Dr. [Gordon] Yung for the first time. Dr. Yung told me that the transplant was not a cure for my COPD, rather, we would be swapping one disease for another. If successful, I would be on medications for the rest of my life,” Hollenbach recalls.
On August 2, 2007, Hollenbach got the call from the hospital. Post-surgery, Hollenbach recalls waking up and taking his first breath with new lungs. He had received two operations in a 24-hour period.
Hollenbach says he wants to share his COPD story because he believes there is always hope for COPDers.
“All of a sudden with COPD you can’t do the simplest tasks that you thought you could do. It’s amazing how people take breathing for granted. It’s just something you do all the time,” Hollenbach says. “All of a sudden one morning you wake up and you can’t breathe, but there’s hope because there’s things that can be done.
Encountering a few bumps in the road since transplantation – he’s been hospitalized twice – Hollenbach says, “Life is good!”
“Always push yourself and try to do a little more everyday. Even when I was sick and feeling sorry for myself – it didn’t do me any good,” he says. “Really, it’s a matter of choice. You can lay down and let the disease beat you, or you can try to beat it by fighting back.”