Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, Lung Transplant

George Meney, 1000th lung transplant recipient, with his grandchildren

The Penn Lung Transplant Team has celebrated several exciting milestones, including 2018 being the busiest year ever with 110 lung transplants done through December 18, 2018. Since the program’s inception, Penn has performed a total of 1,270 lung transplants. We are fortunate to have George Meney, our 1000th lung transplant patient, share the story of his lung transplant journey with us.

The Beginning of My Battle to Breathe

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. If you had asked me 10 years ago what this life changing disease was, I would have looked at you blankly. Today my family and I are well aware of this debilitating disease. Unfortunately, there is no cure. 

When I started experiencing breathlessness seven years ago, I thought it was the result of aging. I had never smoked or drank a day in my life, and exercise has always been a priority for me; in fact, I started my 41-year career in public education as a physical education instructor and then went on to serve as a school administrator for 37 years.  

At first the breathlessness was manageable, but as time went on, it became increasingly hard to catch my breath. Simple tasks would leave my gasping for air. Exercising was challenging, but I attempted to continue with my daily workout routine. 

My family and I needed an answer to my battle to breathe each day. 

In 2012, my wife and I visited a pulmonologist, and I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. My life was shaken, but my faith was strong. I was scared; I didn’t want to die.

Breathing became more arduous each day.

I entered a trial drug study in 2015. Unfortunately, I was not able to tolerate the drug and discontinued participation.

My family, especially my wife, Michele, was my rock. When my son and daughter-in-law announced that I would become a grandfather in May 2016, I knew I needed to get on the lung transplant list so I would have a chance to see my grandchildren grow up.

Facing Transplant with the Help of Family and Faith

Thankfully, I was accepted for transplant at the University of Pennsylvania in the winter of 2016. I continued to exercise with oxygen as a I prepared for my eventual call.

In April 2016, at a routine outpatient check-up with my pulmonologist, Mary Porteous, MD, MSCE , I was shocked to learn that the team was not going to allow me to return home. I was told the amount of oxygen needed for my lungs to breathe could not be sustained on my home oxygen concentrator.

This news was a shock to my entire family. Fortunately, needing this much oxygen increased my  place on the transplant list. We prayed each day for the call.

My wife and family members drove from Newark, Delaware each day to visit. I wouldn’t have gotten through the hospital stint without their positivity, as breathing became harder each day. Something as simple as standing up became an arduous task.

My faith never faltered, though.

I spent almost two weeks at the Hospital of University of Pennsylvania before being transported to Good Shepherd Penn Partners, where I worked with rehabilitation specialists in order to maintain my fitness level. Fortunately, I was only there for a few days before I received the call.

New Lungs

On May 19, 2016, our prayers were answered. A set of lungs were available.   

We were well aware that the lungs may not be viable. We learned during the transplant process that many patients experience dry runs where they get ready for surgery only to learn the organ was not transplantable.

I was transferred back to Hospital of University of Pennsylvania from Good Shepherd that afternoon. My family arrived and I was prepped for surgery. At approximately 10 p.m. I was wheeled away to the operating room – the surgery was a go.

My family patiently waited overnight in the waiting room. They tell me it was a long night with very little sleep. Surgery began in the wee hours of the night around 1 a.m.

My family was greeted by my surgeon, Edward Cantu, MD, on May 20 around 9 a.m. with the news they had all been waiting for – the surgery was a success.

I spent the next several days in the intensive care unit attached to drains, a ventilator, a feeding tube and numerous IVs. The nurses and doctors that cared for me were phenomenal. The lung transplant team, especially Dr. Cantu, Dr. Porteous and nurse practitioner Eric Hobson* are THE BEST.

Breathing, for the First Time in Years

After several weeks of recovery, I was sent home to start life with my new lungs.

I was wheeled outside the hospital to head home, and for the first time in years I could breathe.

The first few days at home were overwhelming for our family, especially my wife. The number of pills required by a transplant patient is enough to make anyone’s head spin.

My wife has always been very organized, and the first thing she did was organize all of the pills. We eventually got the hang of our new life, and my wife is now a pro. She is the best caretaker and makes sure I never miss a dose of the more than 20 pills I take each day. I would not have been able to do this without her. Having a strong support system has been key for me.

Two and a half years later, I owe my life to my donor. I will forever be grateful to her and her family for giving me the gift of life.  If not for her, I would not be here today; after surgery, Dr. Cantu said, had I not had the transplant, I would have died within weeks.

Because of my donor, I can breathe. I have three beautiful grandsons and a granddaughter on the way in January. If not for the gift of life, I would not be here to see them grow up.

Each day is a blessing, and I will be eternally grateful. 

*Editor's note: Dr. Eric Hobson is no longer part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System

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