Climbing up a flight of stairs used to feel like conquering Mount Everest for Chris May.
|Chris May, of Waterville, a double-lung transplant recipient who just won a silver medal in badminton at the annual transplant games. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
But years later, the steps are no match for the Waterville resident. Following a double-lung transplant, May is as active as the guy next door and recently earned a silver medal in badminton at the Transplant Games of America in Grand Rapids, Mich.
It started when he was 13 and came down with pneumonia.
"I couldn't eat, I wasn't sleeping well," May said.
Soon after, he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a rare auto-immune disease, which, in his case, caused his spleen to enlarge to the size of a basketball.
Then, it went dormant.
"For 20 years, I was living a fairly normal life again," he said.
But the disease resurfaced, this time with even more of a vengeance.
May contracted pneumonia seven times in less than three years and his lung capacity was at 36 percent.
"I could no longer walk and talk, for example, which is easy for everybody."
As his condition worsened, May wondered how much longer he had and how many memories he would miss out with this three daughters, ages 14 and twins, age 10.
"I am calculating the age of my kids thinking am I even going to be able to meet their boyfriends, watch them graduate high school?
"Seeing them grow up were my dreams. I didn't want to see that get cut short."
In the winter of 2005, May was given some hope after a visit to the Cleveland Clinic.
There, he met with the hospital's transplant team who told him he was a perfect candidate for a double-lung transplant.
"I didn't even know they could do lungs," May said.
From there, it was test after test to determine if he was sick enough to receive the transplant, but healthy enough to survive it. He was placed on the transplant waiting list in 2006.
For three and a half years, he waited ...
"With every phone call I was picking up the phone, thinking it was Cleveland Clinic."
He kept busy while never straying too far from the phone.
"I also kept physically active because I wanted to stay healthy for the transplant."
The phone call finally came on Feb. 16, 2009 just after midnight. May had fallen asleep on the couch.
"When I heard the phone ring, I didn't know who it would be calling me this late at night.
"I answered the phone and they said, 'Chris, this is the Cleveland Clinic, your lungs are ready.'
"I thought I was dreaming. They repeated it again because I asked them if they were kidding."
From there, everything happened quickly.
By 8 a.m., May was in Cleveland with this family.
It was a 12-hour surgery to give him his new set of lungs.
"I woke up and I couldn't breath well, not as well as I thought I would be able to."
It turned out, May, then 39, had a blood clot and internal bleeding which meant a second surgery.
Waking up from his second surgery is something May remembers with clarity.
"I can remember my first breath," he said. "It was incredible to feel the lungs expand.
"I can't express the amount of pleasure I felt then that my new lungs were able to open up and breathe in air," he said. "To put it right up there, it was like watching the birth of you children."
After surgery, his recovery was speedy.
"By day five, I was practically speed-walking in the halls," May said. "They were really nervous I was going to run someone over with my IV pole."
May does not know who his donor is. However, he has written several letters, via Life Connection, to the donor's family.
"I just can't express how much gratitude I have for my unknown donor," May said.
May, a non-smoking 43-year-old, was later told by his doctors he would have lived only a few weeks longer if he had not received the transplant.
"I consider myself lucky, very blessed," he said.
Not everyone is as lucky as May. In the U.S., there are more than 114,000 people waiting for transplants. Each day, 18 of those people die waiting for an organ transplant.
"It's sad to see," May said.
Those wanting to join the Ohio Donor Registry can do so at www.DonateLifeOhio.org or at a local BMV when you obtain or renew your Ohio driver license or state identification.
Since his transplant, May has helped his daughter learn the game of basketball and watched his oldest daughter march in the Anthony Wayne band.
"The only thing I could think was, I wouldn't be here to see this if I hadn't had the transplant."
Even seeing his daughters bring home their report cards from school is something May no longer takes for granted.
"It's a blessing to be alive and to be able to be there for them whenever they need me. I can't thank my donor enough."
While he has to be careful around smokers, campfires and grills, May said he gets to live a "fairly normal life."
He now belongs to Life Connection of Ohio, which serves as a link between the organ donor and transplant recipient.
He also participated in the Transplant Games of America, first in 2010 and most recently in Grand Rapids, Mich., last month. The games bring together transplant recipients, donors and families.
There, he participated in bowling, volleyball and took home a silver medal in badminton.
"Whether you come in last place or first place at the Transplant Games they cheer just as loudly," May said.