"I can breathe again"

Double lung transplant gives councilman new lease on life

©2003 Homer Index

by Mike Warner



No one can blame Homer Village Councilman Rex Anderson if he devours fresh air the same way a starved man might attack a big juicy steak.
For years the simple task of breathing was a constant struggle, but that has all changed now for the 57-year-old man, thanks to a double lung transplant.
Anderson underwent the procedure March 26 at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. He is recuperating at home and is once again enjoying what most people take for granted - breathing.
"I can breathe again," Anderson said, sporting a big smile. "The first thing I noticed was I can walk and talk at the same time. I can climb stairs again. My complexion is better and I have much more energy. I knew I would feel better, but I didn't think I'd feel this good."

Anderson was diagnosed with a respiratory disease - bronchiectasis - around 1970, shortly after being discharged from the armed services. The disease causes an enlargement or distortion of one or more of the bronchi, or main passages to the lungs.

He's not certain what brought on the bronchial problem. Perhaps, he noted, it was because he smoked between the ages of 14-26. In addition, he was exposed to a lot of second-hand smoke from his parents and ex-wife. Maybe driving a fuel truck contributed to the situation. Whatever the cause or causes, the ailment worsened until Anderson was forced to be on oxygen on a full-time basis.

"I kept getting repeated infections," Anderson pointed out. "Each time I go an infection, I lost more lung capacity because of scarring."

Anderson was originally being treated at U of M Hospital, but doctors there
limited his options.
"They said I was too old for a transplant and that I'd never get off the operating table," Anderson recalled.
Undaunted, Anderson and his two daughters, Andrea and Denise, continued to search for someone who would help. Finally they came across doctors at Henry Ford.

"They said I was a good candidate for a transplant," Anderson noted. He was put on a waiting list and two years later, on Wednesday, March 25, at about 5 p.m., he got a call from the hospital stating they had two lungs ready for him.

"I was pretty calm," Anderson admitted, not afraid of the dire warning issued by the U of M surgeons. "The doctors at Henry Ford didn't have the same concerns as the doctors at U of M. I had confidence in my doctors."

By 9 p.m. that night he was in pre-op. A seven-and-a-half hour operation

"The hardest part was getting my old lungs out because they were a sticky
mess," the councilman recalled. Anderson woke up at 9:30 Thursday morning. By 5:30 p.m. he was off the ventilator, and the next day he was taken off oxygen. An infection caused a temporary setback, but Anderson was soon on his way to a complete recovery - a recovery that was so quick it even surprised him.

"During rehab, I'd be walking and want to stop out of habit to catch my breath," he remarked. "They told me to keep going, that my oxygen was fine. I just needed my legs to catch up with the rest of my body."

While even the simple act of carrying on a conversation once left the Homer man out of breath, Anderson now delights in espousing the virtues of organ donation.
"People need to consider donating organs and giving blood," he said. "It really is the gift of life."

Anderson does not know the identity of his donor, but plans to write a letter of appreciation to the family through the Gift of Life program. "Someday I hope to find out who the family was and thank them in person," he said.

In the meantime, Anderson said his ordeal has strengthened an already deep faith. "It renews your faith in God," he noted. "I never doubted him before, but this was a big battle and He was there for me. I know I had a lot of people praying for me."


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