“My old lungs were a waste of space but since my transplant I have more energy and more time in the day. I am healthy and happy and looking forward to a long life.”
That’s how Jamie Stewart described his new zest for life after his transplant. In 2009, he competed in the World Transplant Games in Queensland and took his first overseas holiday to New Zealand.
Jamie was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) as a six-month-old baby. CF is a genetic disease that affects the lungs, pancreas and sometimes the liver. The pancreas does not produce enzymes needed to break food down so Jamie took medication for this. He had regular physiotherapy with his parents.
“Mum or Dad would sit in a chair and I would lie across their lap and they would do percussion across my back and chest so I could cough up all the mucus from my lungs. This mucus, that my body was not able to expel itself, was what eventually ruined my lungs.”
Despite this, Jamie played a lot of spot, including umpiring 10 to 15 basketball games a week. at 21, he completed software engineering at university, started working and played less sport. ” That was, I think, was one of the main contributing factors to my decline.”
In 2001, another setback – he had testicular cancer. “I never felt like I fully recovered. After the surgery and chemotherapy I went back to playing sport again but that’s when I started to notice being short of breath and couldn’t keep up as much. I remember one game of indoor beach volleyball in 2003 where I could hardly breathe and my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest.”
In 2007, he was admitted to hospital with a chest infection and pneumonia. “I was in hospital for three and a half weeks, out for five days and was readmitted the night of my 30th birthday. That was when I was listed for transplant. Doctors had talked about it a couple of years before but I hadn’t realised how sick I was and that the need for a transplant would be needed so quickly. I was thinking more like five years down the track.”
Initially scared by the thought of a transplant, Jamie was reassured by the team at Royal Perth Hospital. “After that I wasn’t worried and believed that whatever would happen would happen. I was getting to the point where my lifestyle was not that crash hot and at that point I was prepared to do whatever it took.”
His pager beeped one Saturday afternoon when Jamie was sitting in the backyard. He called the RPH Lung Unit Transplant Coordinator, who said there might be a set of compatible lungs available.
After his transplant, he spent 15 days in hospital. “One of the first things I remember was having a shower. I was sitting there with my head under the water and I could actually breathe. They also made me walk up stairs which was another thing I always avoided. I couldn’t get up one flight of steps without getting short of breath. But after my transplant I could go up and down a couple of times without having to stop. That was a buzz and was one of the ways I knew everything was ok.”
Since his transplant, Jamie has gained weight, taken up several sports, works at the Education Department and has more free time as he no longer has daily physio for CF treatment.
“I often think about the fact that I have someone else’s lungs in my chest, I think about that person weekly and am thankful for the gift. I sent a letter to my donor family and received a card back in 2008 and they are interested to know how I am going. They actually called two weeks after my transplant to see how I was going.
“What I am looking forward to now is to get married and have children.”