• Transplant

    Celebrating transplant: A new life of song and service

Editor's note: The following was written and submitted by David Bradshaw. He shares his journey from COVID, to transplant to gratitude for a second wind, including the part Mayo played in his journey.

Imagine sailing through life for 68 years — the picture of good health — without major illness, disease or hospital visits. That was my life ... until COVID-19 hit me in January 2021. What seemed like a bad case of flu morphed into pulmonary fibrosis lung disease — a sure death sentence, I thought, within two to four years.

My breathing became increasingly difficult. I required an oxygen tank with any exertion at all, even a short walk to the mailbox. I went from swimming 500 meters three times a week to a couch potato overnight. For months, I desperately hoped my case of COVID-19 might improve.

As I struggled to make sense of this new reality, I met with a local pulmonologist in Sarasota, Florida, who promptly referred me to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Within a week, I had hope. Mayo reached out with the news that I might be a candidate for a double-lung transplant. Four weeks later, I drove 220 miles to begin the arduous transplant approval process.

Upon arrival, I marveled at Mayo's ultramodern campus and relaxing interiors. Even more refreshing was the patient-centered culture that pervades the entire Mayo team — from front door valets to the nurses, doctors and surgeons — like a finely tuned engine hitting on all cylinders. I was able to stay at the Gabriel House of Care on campus, featured in the 2020 movie "2 Hearts," which is available to accommodate patients and families before, during and after a transplant.

The royal treatment and miracles

I spent 14 days in Jacksonville. My schedule was filled with lots of testing to determine if I was healthy enough for a transplant. It may be hard to imagine, but there was little or no waiting time for more than 40 appointments! I felt like I was treated like royalty during this time. As someone who loves music and creating, this model of efficiency later inspired me so much that I ended up writing and recording a song, "The Mayo Royal Treatment."

All of the pre-transplant care at Mayo Clinic was great, especially Dr. (Tathagat) Narula who convinced me that a transplant was my only viable option. After all the testing at Mayo, I was put on the UNOS list at both Mayo Clinic and Tampa General, due to its closer proximity to Sarasota.

On April 12, 2022, I received the OK to be placed on the transplant list, although I was told it would likely take months, a year or even longer to find my new lungs. Yet, within days, the miracles began.

Miracle 1: Just four days after being put on the transplant list, I received a phone call at 10 p.m. requesting I immediately come to the hospital (Tampa General Hospital) for transplant surgery. A matching set of lungs had been found! The urgency of taking this life-changing step of faith confronted me head-on as I, of course, said, "Yes!"

Miracle 2: After the surgery, my surgeon explained the various difficulties he had encountered. The normal time for this remarkable procedure is six to eight hours, but in my case, it lasted for 18 hours. During the surgery, I had flatlined for almost three minutes! Thankfully, I was resuscitated in time, to my family's relief.

Asked about what I had experienced during those three minutes, I explained that I was aware of a change of consciousness, despite the anesthesia, yet felt no fear. I experienced a unique sense of several things, including love, peace and safety. When my surgeon stopped by the next day, I asked him, "Did I die?" His response was classic, "Not on my watch!" He truly is my hero!

Within days, I began exercising my new heaven-sent lungs. Thanks to the prodding of my tough-loving post-transplant team, I was soon back to eating, drinking normally and up on my feet using a walker. What joy to finally be able to breathe again without supplemental oxygen! I was released from the hospital 18 days later on June 4, 2022.

Ever since, I have followed the doctor's strict orders regarding medications, diet and exercise to ensure that these precious new lungs last as long as possible. I wrote the donor family a thank-you letter expressing my gratefulness. And, of course, being impressed by the selfless gift, I recorded them a song, "How Can I Say Thanks?"

Thanksgiving every day!

The road to recovery over the past 18 months has been long but amazing. I don’t know how I can ever express my thanks to everyone who helped me — all the doctors, nurses, technicians, assistants, as well as my family, friends and, most of all, my donor.

Today I'm walking 2–4 miles a day, swimming laps again and biking. To celebrate my one-year anniversary, I had a custom T-shirt made as a visible expression of my gratitude.

As a retired writer, I wrote my own autobiography and now feel called to teach a writing class at a local Sarasota college. I also serve as a hospice volunteer and prison minister.

In between all my activities, I love spending time with my family, which includes four daughters, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren — all born in the last year!

Following my transplant, I also began volunteering as a United Network for Organ Sharing ambassador to speak about the ever-growing need for new organ donors. Did you know that you can be a living organ donor? Many people do not realize this is an option.

During this season of Thanksgiving, my enthusiasm for life overflows. I am so thankful to Mayo Clinic that I've been given a "second wind!" Because Mayo serves, it leads. Serving is my way of giving thanks.