The Simple Thrills of Life
Roller coasters? Ira Morrow is not a fan. But last year, he did something that he never thought possible: He and Linda, his wife, took their two grandsons to Cedar Point, an amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio.
And although he stayed off the roller coasters, he got his thrill from walking around ensuring Carter, 4, and Dylan, 6, had a great time.
At 53, the retired Vermilion, Ohio, resident has almost reached the 19-month milestone of his lung transplant. He was 51 when he received a new right lung at Cleveland Clinic.
"Even walking had been a problem," Mr. Morrow recalls the time before his lung transplant. "Whenever I did anything physical, I literally couldn't breathe."
Searching for an Answer
His symptoms, including extreme pain in his chest and shortness of breath, started in 1997, but like many people, Mr. Morrow ignored them. He smoked, so he blamed his breathing problems on the cigarettes.
When his wife, a surgical technologist at Fairview Hospital, a Cleveland Clinic Health System hospital, insisted he see a doctor, he went - grudgingly - in April 1998. His family physician treated him for acute bronchitis, asthma and a chest cold, but nothing alleviated his breathing problems. Mr. Morrow even quit smoking in June 1998, but his symptoms persisted.
In October of that year, he saw Neil Chadwick, MD, a pulmonologist at Fairview Hospital, who diagnosed silicosis. Silicosis, an occupational lung disease caused by overexposure to crystalline silica dust, reduces the lungs' ability to extract oxygen from the air. Mr. Morrow had contracted the disease about 25 years earlier, when he worked as a sandblaster in the 70s. At the time, the dangers of inhaling the dust weren't known.
For about five years, Mr. Morrow received treatment with steroids and several inhalers.
Then in 2003, results from a pulmonary function test prompted Dr. Chadwick to refer Mr. Morrow to Jeffrey Chapman, MD, at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Chapman prescribed oxygen and pulmonary rehabilitation for three months.
"I was feeling so much better that I went back to work - against my wife's and doctor's wishes," Mr. Morrow admits. But after nine months, his symptoms worsened. And he returned to the doctor.
Lung Transplant as an Option
Dr. Chapman said it was time to consider transplantation, and he ordered testing to determine if Mr. Morrow was eligible for a lung transplant.
"I never consciously made the decision to have the transplant. I decided to have the tests, and if I wasn't supposed to have a transplant, the decision will be made for me," Mr. Morrow says. Although he had osteoporosis (brought on by the steroids), which sometimes indicates a patient may not be approved, he was given the go-ahead.
"I guess I was meant to have a transplant," he says. Mr. Morrow was placed on the waiting list on Nov. 15, 2004. On Jan. 5, 2005, at 1 a.m., the phone rang: A lung was available. Less than two months had passed.
Road to Recovery
Despite some pain and side effects from the procedure (he suffered from steroid myopathy, which left him unable to walk on his own for a week, he was discharged 12 days after the transplant - breathing freely, he says.
For 16 weeks afterward, Mr. Morrow needed home health care and antibiotics through IVs, as he contracted two infections from the donated lung: MRSA (a staph infection) and cytomegalovirus, both common viruses that may infect those with a weakened immune system.
But even though his road to recovery has been somewhat bumpy, he says it is worth every bump.
"The difference between my breathing before the transplant and breathing now is like night and day," he reveals. "It's a 100-percent turnaround. Now, I ride my bicycle almost every day."
Mrs. Morrow agrees. "He's enjoying life so much better," she says, indicating they even acquired a new member of the family recently: a shed-free schnoodle (schnauzer/poodle mix) named Brody.
Noting that he's a "work in progress," he visits Cleveland Clinic regularly for check-ups and blood work. "I credit them for my improved quality of life. They know what they are doing, so I listen."
Support of Loved Ones
Mr. Morrow does admit that a lung transplant requires a complete lifestyle change, for both the patient and the family.
For example, if his grandkids have colds, he doesn't visit them, and they are not allowed to come over. And he wears a mask to protect himself from germs when he picks them up from school. But he said his daughter, Erika, and her husband, J.R., understand his restrictions, and they are just happy he is feeling better.
"I couldn't have done it without the support of my entire family," Mr. Morrow says.
The high school sweethearts, married 31 years, also credit their strong faith in God and the support of their church family in helping them journey this long road successfully.
"We are so blessed," they both agree.