Before he was diagnosed with emphysema in 2000, John W. lived an active life. He enjoyed fishing, playing softball, working in the yard, and much more. But over the years, the retired automotive and construction industry worker found it harder to breathe with his lung disease, a type of COPD.
“I was prescribed oxygen, but at first I didn’t use it unless I needed it,” he says. “But it then got to a point where I was carrying oxygen everywhere. I couldn’t even walk to the kitchen without needing oxygen.”
It also became increasingly difficult for John, now 65, to shower, dress, or even wash his hair by himself. His medications were not helping his breathing. And his pulmonologist in Delaware, where he and his wife Paula live, said there was nothing more they could do for him.
So in 2021, John asked his doctor for a referral to the Temple Lung Center, home to leading lung disease experts and advanced lung disease treatments. John got an appointment with Gerard J. Criner, MD, FACP, FACCP, Director of the Temple Lung Center.
A life-saving option
John had hoped he might be a candidate for a minimally invasive procedure called bronchoscopic lung volume reduction, which is a relatively new treatment for severe emphysema. After evaluating John, Dr. Criner determined that a single lung transplant was the best option for his stage 4, very severe lung disease.
At first John didn’t think he’d want to have such a major operation. But after discussing it with his family and learning more about the surgery from Dr. Criner, he decided to move forward with this life-saving treatment option at Temple, which performs more lung transplants than any other center in the nation.
“Dr. Criner is very knowledgeable, and everybody talks highly of him,” John says. “He’s calm, cool, and collected. When he talked to me, he showed me the X-ray of my lungs, and I understood it better than I ever did. He explained things to me. I’m glad I went to one of the best.”
After getting on the lung transplant waiting list in October 2021, John had to wait just 17 days before he received a healthy donor lung. He and Paula were at home watching TV one afternoon when someone from Temple’s transplant program called with the surprising news.
“We just never really thought it would happen, and certainly not that fast,” Paula says.
“It was exciting and scary at the same time,” John says.
John called their daughter, Kellie. Paula called their son-in-law, Mike. “Everybody rallied, and we were off to Temple,” John says. “It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get to Temple from where we live, and we had to be at the hospital within four hours of getting the call.”
John had single-lung transplant surgery at Temple on November 18, 2021 with thoracic surgeon Norihisa Shigemura, MD, PhD.
Going ‘nonstop’ without oxygen
Right after his surgery, John took his first deep breaths in years, which he says felt strange initially.
For Paula, “It was very emotional watching John take that first deep breath,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it.”
John was in the hospital just shy of three weeks. He says his nurses did a great job, including when it came to helping him manage his post-surgery pain.
“The nurses were there for me 24/7 — they were wonderful,” he says. “I want to thank them for all that they did. They were working 12-hour shifts, but I never heard them complain. Whenever I needed something, they were there and had a great attitude. I got close to a couple of the nurses because I saw them every day and night for three weeks. They did their jobs well.”