Lung transplant recipient Paul Faalogo feels like he’s won the lottery.
“It’s still sinking in how fortunate we are,” says Paul from his bed at Auckland City Hospital, with wife Tanya at his side.
“I had asthma all my life, was in and out of hospital as a child, and had to stay indoors while other kids played outside.”
As an adult, Paul self-managed his asthma; he played touch rugby, worked in physical jobs and lived life to the fullest. But in 2017, when Paul was 50 years old, he developed bronchiectasis – a chronic lung condition caused by his life-long health issues and untreated chest infections.
Following a bout of Influenza E and another chest infection, Paul’s health deteriorated rapidly. After several stays in local hospitals, and his constant need for portable oxygen, Paul was recommended as a lung transplant candidate.
Auckland DHB delivers the National Heart and Lung Transplant Service, and within two months on the active transplant list, Paul received the phone call. “I’d never had an operation before so it was a nerve-wrecking time, but it was fantastic; everyone made us feel so good that day.”
Within hours of arriving at Auckland City Hospital, Paul was in the operating room, where his transplant team worked through the night – giving Paul a second chance at life.
After Paul’s operation, he was taken to the hospital’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU), where he spent seven weeks and received extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a form of life support not available anywhere else in New Zealand. As the national centre for ECMO, Auckland City Hospital can have up to five patients on ECMO at a time, with the “miracle machine” doing the critical job of the heart and lungs while patients receive treatment.
Paul says, “We’re so lucky we have ECMO here, or all this would’ve been impossible. It’s been a rollercoaster, but I feel so lucky. I can’t put into words how grateful I am – ‘thank you’ doesn’t feel like enough.”
“I don’t remember my first month in the CVICU, but the nurses created a journal for me, which they wrote in after every shift – taking the time to share my journey and add photos and special messages. It’s amazing to reflect on what I’ve been through.
“Since moving to the ward, I’ve been walking, using the gym and having physio every day. I’m really enjoying it, and everyone is so encouraging and friendly.”
Once Paul is strong enough, he’ll go to Greenlane Clinical Centre’s Hearty Towers, where patients are prepared for heart and lung transplants, and where they return to rehabilitate.
Tanya can stay there with Paul until he’s ready to go home. “It’s a lovely place. They offer support groups for the whole family before, during and after the transplant, so we always know there’s help when we need it,” says Tanya.
“After a lifetime of illness, Paul can start living his new life, and we’re so grateful and excited.”
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