At first, Dirk McBride was afraid to go to sleep, afraid he would forget to breathe.
McBride, 25, of West Valley City, got a new pair of lungs in a precedent-setting operation Oct. 29 at Stanford Medical Center. The new lungs replaced an oxygen tube, the "pacifier" that served McBride as a round-the-clock lifeline for more than a year.Most people take breathing for granted. For people with cystic fibrosis, such as McBride, oxygen and pounding treatments make breathing possible.
"He had a hard time getting off his oxygen," said his wife, Lorelie McBride. "He was so dependent on it he was afraid."
Post operation, McBride brags about his stamina. "I can breathe. I can walk around. I can go up stairs. I don't have to have my leash on anymore," he said, of that same oxygen tube that he rigged so he could go water skiing.
Cystic fibrosis is a disease that causes the body's secretions to become thick. Those secretions, especially from the lungs, can become infected, causing irritation and scarring. The inherited disease is the No. 1 killer of children and young adults in this country, inflicting damage through a slow, chronic process.
Though the disease has no known cure, organ transplants such as McBride received offer hope for those who suffer from the terminal disease. Stanford is one of 10 institutions in the country that perform lung operations, as well as more traditional heart-lung surgeries.
Utah is considering starting such a program, according to Dr. Kay Walker, assistant director of the University of Utah Medical Center's Cystic Fibrosis Center. Heart-lung surgeries are traditionally easier operations to perform, she said. But because donor organs are at such a premium, the new operation works well for cystic fibrosis patients, who often have healthy hearts.
"It has literally saved his life, I can tell you," Walker said. "He still has cystic fibrosis manifested in many other organs of his body. His lungs are now clean, and they will not get cystic fibrosis changes again. They are normal for the rest of his life."
Until February, McBride will stay in an apartment near the hospital in California, on a strict schedule of antibiotics and physical therapy. He misses his wife, and his 7-year-old daughter, T'Ann, who are in Utah, but doctors are watching to make sure his body doesn't reject the new organs.
As a candidate for the transplant operation, McBride wore a beeper for four months. At 10 p.m. on a Sunday night, he got word that donor organs were available, and he and his wife flew to Northern California. He was on the operating table by 3 a.m. Monday, and his new lungs were installed by 9 a.m. The doctor said the organs were a good match, even without the heart. "The only way it would be closer was if it was a family member," Lorelie McBride said.
Before the operation, McBride could ride a stationary bicycle for just four minutes without oxygen. Afterwards, he could ride for more than a half-hour, with no oxygen and additional tension on the bike. He's gained weight and lost his hacky cough.
The young family's budget has been crippled by the medical costs. Finding insurance coverage was a nightmare.
The medical airflight cost $4,000 alone, plus an additional charge of $500 for an ambulance from the airport to the hospital. The family is accepting donations for the Dirk McBride Trust Fund, 7005 West 3980 South, West Valley City, UT 84120.