Lung transplant recipient Paul is back home for Christmas

Six months after receiving the lung transplant that saved his life, Paul Faalogo is home at Baylys Beach, and looking forward to Christmas.

“I had asthma all my life, and was in and out of hospital as a child,” says Paul, who self-managed his asthma as an adult.

Then in 2017, at 50 years old, Paul developed bronchiectasis – a chronic lung condition caused by his life-long health issues.

Following a bout of Influenza E and yet another chest infection, Paul’s health deteriorated rapidly and wife-to-be Tanya worried that Christmas 2017 might be his last. After several stays in local hospitals, and his constant need for portable oxygen, Paul was recommended for a lung transplant.

In June, within two months on the active transplant list, Paul got the phone call that changed everything. He immediately packed his bags and drove with Tanya from their Baylys Beach home to Auckland City Hospital. Auckland DHB delivers the National Heart and Lung Transplant Service, and within hours of arriving at hospital, Paul was in the operating room where his transplant team worked through the night – giving him a second chance at life.

After Paul’s operation, he was taken to the hospital’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU), where he received extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – a “miracle” form of life support that does the critical job of the heart and lungs while patients receive treatment. ECMO is not available anywhere else in New Zealand, and Auckland City Hospital can have up to five patients on ECMO at a time, which means the CVICU’s whānau room is often full of families supporting their loved ones as they fight for their lives.

While Paul remembers very little of his seven weeks in the CVICU, Tanya vividly remembers the many ups and downs they faced during that time. She also remembers the importance of the whānau room as a place for the family to escape, gather and relax. With a large extended family, Paul was never short of visitors – some travelling to the hospital every day to sit with him, hold his hand and encourage him.

“Paul had four more operations after his transplant, and there were times we thought he might not make it, but he kept hanging on. It was such a stressful time, and our family spent many hours and days nervously waiting in the whānau room, just hoping Paul would get better.

“Having family around was so important to Paul’s recovery. Everyone felt welcome to visit him and could relax in the whānau room when they weren’t at Paul’s bedside, which was difficult when he was so sick. We all just put our trust in the incredible hospital team and amazing technology, which saved Paul’s life.”

Tanya recalls the whānau room fondly, but she thinks of the families there over Christmas, going through such challenging times. “The more welcoming and comforting these spaces can be, the better for everyone. The rooms are such a big part of the experience, they’re like a ‘home away from home’, so it would be amazing for families to have better spaces to process what they’re going through and support each other.”

The Auckland Health Foundation, the new fundraising charity for Auckland DHB’s adult health services, has launched the Whānau Rooms Rejuvenation Project as one of its first priority projects to better meet the needs of families like Paul’s.

Auckland Health Foundation CEO Gwen Green says, “We believe whānau rooms should be welcoming, warm, comfortable and practical, and give loved ones the space they need in often challenging circumstances. This project, which aims to refurbish more than 40 Auckland DHB whānau rooms, is about giving families like Paul’s the best space possible to gather together or take time out.”

“Whether our supporters give to one of our priority projects or a specific DHB department, they decide where their money goes, which might be towards a specific whānau room or towards a life-saving piece of equipment in the CVICU. Ultimately, we want to work together to bring about healthcare advancements that fast-track recoveries, deliver better health outcomes, save more lives and support communities.”

The cost of rejuvenating each whānau room will vary based on the size of the room. The expected cost range is $20,000-$30,000 per room, which covers everything needed to make the rooms more welcoming spaces. Items within the room will cost from $100-$8,000 and everything can be funded separately.  Find a list of whānau rooms to be refurbished here.

Tanya adds, “Paul says he feels like he won the lottery, but it’s so much more than that. Without the care and treatment Paul received, we wouldn’t be here at beautiful Baylys Beach, and we are forever grateful. This Christmas we can look forward to precious time with our growing family. We are excited for what the future holds, not just for us, but for everyone.”

Watch Paul’s video here, find out more about the Whānau Rooms Rejuvenation Project here, and donate today here.