On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

Breathing Easy Again: A Lung Transplant Story

Douglas Dillner, 37, of Ark City, Kansas, was locked in a constant battle, for each breath he took and even his life.

Despite never being a smoker, he was diagnosed with airway fibrosis interstitial pneumonia in January 2018, which caused severe scarring of the airways going to his lungs. The condition left his lungs damaged, forcing him to gasp for each breath of air. He had to be on oxygen just to survive.

Due to this rare condition, doctors said Dillner needed a lung transplant to survive.

"It was a punch in the stomach," Dillner says. "The doctors told me that sometimes no options existed and that nothing would work, so when they said a transplant was an option, I felt mixed emotions. It was good that it could work, but I also knew someone would have to pass away, and another family would be grieving."

Dillner is no stranger to medical issues. He was born with a heart defect that caused him to undergo two heart surgeries during his first year of life. When he was 4, he had a nerve-damaging case of chicken pox, which left him with 30 to 40 percent hearing loss. In 2013 Dillner was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, which left him legally blind.

But when the airway fibrosis ruined his lungs, he faced his biggest challenge yet.

That’s when he and his wife Heather found The INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute in Oklahoma City. Dillner knew that despite the need to take anti-rejection medications for the rest of his life, he would be able to breath again with a transplant.

"When we checked into INTEGRIS, I said, 'If God wants me to make it, He will make it happen,'" he says. "Our faith kept us strong and everyone at INTEGRIS was so amazing." Still, the journey to his new lung had been long and agonizing.

Dillner

A Tough Journey

In early October, the Dillners were told that a lung had become available. Unfortunately, that lung was unusable. Following that, he had trouble maintaining his oxygen levels and became even sicker. Because he had to be intubated, he was temporarily taken off the transplant list.

"He was so sick," Heather says. "They thought he was going into heart failure and his liver was failing, too."

But less than two months later, Dillner was back on the transplant list and on Oct. 9 another donor lung became available. By the end of that very special day, Dillner was breathing with his new lung and feeling better than he had in many months.

"At first, being a transplant recipient was hard for me to accept. For me to receive a lung, someone else had to pass away. I felt bad and I did a lot of praying for the family because of the heartache they would go through. But if you can pass your organs on to someone else when you die, in a sense you are extending your own life in a wonderful way by allowing someone else to live."

"The person who donated the lung also saved a lot of other lives that day through organ donation," he says. "When I pass away, I think it would be a blessing and such comfort to my family to say that in my passing, I saved so many others."

Organ Donation

In 2018, more than 36,500 transplants brought renewed life to patients and their families and communities from more than 10,700 deceased and 6,800 living donors, according to Donate Life America. 

Today, more than 110,000 men, women, and children are still waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the nation’s organ transplant waiting list, but tragically, 8,000 people die each year because the organs they need are not donated in time. Have you registered to be an organ donor? In Oklahoma, it's quick, easy and free.

Living Organ Donor Information

Not all organ donors are deceased. Living donation is another way to save not just one life, but two lives. Transplant candidates receive the donation they need from a living donor, which frees up the next donation for someone else waiting on the deceased organ waiting list. Even better, kidney and liver patients can receive a living donor transplant more quickly, often in less than a year.

You do not have to be a blood relative (such as a sibling or parent) of a living donor to receive a donor organ. A living donor can be a close friend or spouse, or the donor can even be a stranger. In order to become a living donor, the person must be in good health, physically fit, free from chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure, free from psychiatric conditions, and between the ages of 18 to 60. Race and gender are not important considerations for becoming a living donor.

How to Register

Registering as an organ donor means your heart, liver, lung, intestine, kidney, pancreas, cornea and tissue can all be used to save someone’s else life. More than 145.5 million people, approximately 58 percent of the U.S. adult population, are registered organ, eye and tissue donors.

Oklahomans have three ways to join the Oklahoma LifeShare Donor Registry:

  1. ON YOUR LICENSE OR STATE ID CARD – When you get your driver’s license or state ID card, you will have an opportunity to say yes to organ, eye and tissue donation and you will have an opportunity to donate a dollar to the Oklahoma Donor Education Fund. If you have registered on your license or state ID card, you do not need to register any other way.
  2. ONLINE – If you have not registered on your driver’s license or state ID card, you can go online anytime and register in just minutes at www.LifeShareRegistry.org. Registering online gives you the ability to access your registry page and change your donation information.
  3. ON THE PHONE – You can call 800-826-LIFE (5433) and request that a donor registration form be sent to you. After you fill out the form and return it, your name and donation wishes will be added to the LifeShare Donor Registry.

"Now my life is amazing thanks to someone else’s choice to be a donor," Dillner says. "I have energy again to do the things I once loved. I can go back to church. I’m pretty much back to normal. Just daily tasks we all take for granted I can now do again. It’s still mind-blowing."

He proudly states, "Now I’ve signed up to be a donor, too."

To register as an organ, eye or tissue donor, visit RegisterMe.org or  www.LifeShareRegistry.org.

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