Five years ago Daniel Fitzgibbon was painting a house when he felt short of breath.
The feeling wasn’t new to him — Fitzgibbon was a smoker who had also been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which leads to swollen and blocked lungs — but this felt different.
“I tried to pretend it was nothing and pushed along,” he says. “It was difficult but I pushed along.”
That turned out to be a bad idea.
Doctors later discovered three blood clots in his lungs. Those were removed, but nodules then developed in both lungs. They weren’t cancerous, but over time did enough damage that he now needs a double-lung transplant.
That type of surgery may sound unique, but in B.C. there have already been 18 double-lung transplants through May 1 according to BC Transplant.
As of May 1, 25 people were waiting for two new lungs. Fitzgibbon is one of them.
The 55-year-old Meadow Creek resident lives on a farm with his wife, Rachel Dugdale. There, Fitzgibbon has been unable to work since 2017 as his condition worsens. He now relies on Dugdale to provide their only income, feed and bath him.
“Farming, as you can imagine, doesn’t pay a lot,” he says.
Fitzgibbon has been told he will likely receive a call for surgery sometime before November. His wait is complicated by his B-positive blood type, which Canada Blood Services says only 7.5 per cent of Canadians have.
The couple have also, hesitantly, started a GoFundMe campaign. Fitzgibbon will have his surgery at Vancouver General Hospital. Because of possible complications, such as the body rejecting the lungs, he will need to live close to the hospital for three-to-six months.
Dugdale says they can’t afford to rent a place in Vancouver while also paying their mortgage in Meadow Creek.
“It’s hard because I know all of our neighbours work hard and to be to be asking for money is tricky, but it’s the double rent. …,” she says. “So it’s something we had to do with a GoFundMe page.”
When Fitzgibbon gets his new set of lungs, the likelihood he makes a full recover is good. BC Transplant says patient survival for double-lung transplants is 90.8 per cent through the first year, and 71.3 per cent over 10 years afterward.
“You start to think about this kind of major surgery, it’s deeply frightening,” says Dugdale. “But I think with the energy Dan has, it’s something we’re willing to take a risk on.”
Fitzgibbon is looking forward to being able to help Dugdale again. Every day he waits by the phone for a call that could save his life.
“I’d sure love the opportunity,” he says. “I’m only 55. These are the years to be working and creating your retirement set up.”
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