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Thursday, July 25, 2024

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Healthy, thanks to Lung Transplants

By Rick Racela

 Lewis, left Everitt chat in B-T Fitness CenterThey met at Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital’s cardio-pulmonary rehabilitation before Everitt had had his transplant.
Lewis, 56, of Rio Grande had had an earlier lung reduction, but after his illness returned, he had a double transplant at Temple University Hospital April 4, 2003.
“When I learned Chuck had had a transplant, I found he could answer my questions,” said Everitt, 66, of Wildwood Crest. “He was my information center, my mentor.”
Both had been smokers, Everitt for 25 years, but not for the most recent 20 years. He also worked in maintenance, painting and sanding cars.
“I smoked all my life since I was 12,” said Lewis. “Then I got smacked with this disease in  1997. It started out with emphysema, then severe COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Dis-ease).  I weighed 135 pounds. A good wind could blow me over.”
One day he was “walking down the street and I fell down and couldn’t get up and couldn’t move,” he said.
 His family physician sent him to a lung specialist and he was put on oxygen maintenance.  
“I was on two liters,” he said.  “By the time I got off it, I was on eight. I could never lay down; I felt like I was drowning.  If I could walk two feet, it would be a miracle, until they got a hold of me at Burdette Pulmonary Rehab. They got me on my feet so I could function.”
He was out of work, district manager for a chain of Hardees restaurants in the Philadelphia area, because “I couldn’t pass the physical.”
Local doctors told him “I had about two years to go.”  He went to Temple University Hospital where Dr. Gerald Criner recommended a lung reduction.  “You can live on two of your five lobs,” explained Lewis.
He had the surgery, which brought “big improvement. I could do without oxygen in the day-time. I could walk around, but nothing strenuous.”
But six months later, the disease started to progress again and Temple recommended a trans-plant.
“I talked it over with my family,” he said. “A transplant is a 50-50 thing. I ended up going for it. I waited for 16 months. I was getting worse and they moved me to the top of the list. They called me at 8 p.m. and told me to be there by 10. Was I scared? Oh yeah.”
The surgery — transplanting both lungs — took place April 4, 2003. The hospital recovery took 30 days.
“My oxygen level was 100 percent the day after surgery,” he said.  “They pulled out the breathing tube and I haven’t been on oxygen since.  Now I get 98 (percent) ever time.
“The day after I left (Temple),” he said, “I went back to Burdette for rehab.”
He’s at the Burdette fitness center three days a week.
Everitt, 65, lived in Bensalem, Pa., and was working six days a week as a maintenance super-visor for Sandmeyer Steel in  Philadelphia.
He had “a slight case of emphysema,” he said, but pneumonia put him in the hospital for six days.
After the hospital, he said, “the doctor told me my lungs were really bad and I would never go back to work. They saw my X-rays and the results of my PFTs (Pulmonary Function Tests) and knew I would never have enough air to do the type of work I had. I had to climb ladders, reach high.  Now it was impossible for me to walk up a little hill from my car to the building.
“I loved my job; I had worked there 37 years. I started using oxygen for sleeping and exertion and was accepted for Disability,” said Everitt.
“After I realized I wouldn’t work any more, I had a dream of settling down here (at the shore).  We came here in April 2000.  We bought a two-story on Park Boulevard; thank god we bought when we did,” he said.
“Every infection in my chest, I got worse. My doctor told me in early 2004, “It’s time for you to see Dr. Robert Kotloff at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Dr. Kotloff told me, ‘Walt, I put it to you this way:  Five years of struggling and breathing and getting worse, or I give you a lung and five years of good breathing.’  Anything was  better than what I had. My air volume was down to  20-25 percent of capacity.
“But it still took me six months to make up my mind, ” he said.  “The odds nationwide are 50 percent.”
Everitt qualified for the transplant and was put on a list. The hospital called him in September 2004, but “I got to the operating table and they told me the lung (for transplant) had emphy-sema, so they sent me home.”
He “got the call” at 4:30 a.m. Dec. 10, 2004.
“It was pouring rain,” he said. “It took me two hours to U. of Penn.  I was hyperventilating. I was afraid. I was in surgery three and a half hours and the next thing I knew it was 6:30 p.m. and I had no tubes, no oxygen, a small cut maybe five inches on my left side. The next day they had me on a treadmill walking for 40 minutes.”
He was in the hospital for 17 days, came home  Dec. 27.
“I’m feeling good,” said Everitt “I’m able to do the things I could do before: walk, up steps, no oxygen necessary, my prescriptions gradually dropped from 15 to four, which is about where I will be all the time.
“I run 95-97 percent (oxygen saturation) while exercising. Before, I was relaxed at 92 or 93 and down to the 80s if I exerted  myself.
“I love my new life,” said Everitt. “I can do the things I did years ago, walk on the boardwalk and beach with my wife. I wouldn’t go to the Phillies games because of the walk up the sta-dium.
“I’ve been able to go back to work a bit in security at the (Wildwoods) convention  center.  It’s a lot of walking. I couldn’t have done it before my surgery,” he said.
He’s actually been working three-four days a week recently.
 “A lot of people are struggling for lack of oxygen, but they don’t go to the doctor about it,” said Everitt.  “Anybody with a breathing problem, see your doctor.”
Everitt tried for months to learn the identify of the person who donated his lung, but the fam-ily requested anonymity.
It took Lewis two years to learn his donor’s name and meet with a family member who also did not want further attention.
“Every year,” said Lewis,  “I go to the veterans’ cemetery and lay two lilies on a grave that nobody takes care of.”
Contact Zelnik at jzelnik@cmcherald.com

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