“Just a guy on a quest to one day living a post double lung transplant life”
Chris Zastrow is 33 years old and living on a constant supply of oxygen. When he was 3 months old, Chris was diagnosed with RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus), which is a common and usually mild virus most children get by the age of 2 according to the Mayo clinic. In Chris’ case, the virus became severe and caused permanent damage to his lungs. The virus continued to attack Chris’ lungs throughout his childhood. One day, his RSV attack became so severe that his lungs collapsed. Chris was taken on a medical flight (Mercy Flight) from the local hospital to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo (WCHB) to see some specialists. Although the doctors had very little hope of Chris’ survival, he beat the odds.
Overtime, the specialists at WCHB began closely monitoring Chris who faced more severe episodes of RSV attacking his lungs. During his preteen years, Chris hit a growth spurt. As he grew in size, his RSV created further complications. On April 10, 1998, Chris went to WCHB for a routine check up. He was put through the usual tests to check his lung function. Chris was asked to walk on the treadmill at 1.5mph and 0% incline while the doctors measured his blood oxygen level. For a healthy adult, a blood oxygen level of 98% or higher is normal. As Chris began to walk, his blood oxygen level dropped into the 80s, then 70s, and finally when he reached 60s, the doctors stopped the test. They told Chris he needed to be on oxygen 24/7 from then on and get on a double lung transplant list.
“From that day forward, I would be known as that kid/guy on oxygen.”
As Chris grew older, his health plateaued so he was taken off the transplant list. He was transferred from WCHB to the University of Buffalo (UBMD) when he outgrew pediatric care. Unfortunately, after years of being on oxygen, Chris’ health declined. In the beginning, he needed 2 liters per minute of oxygen flowing through his tube. Today, he needs 6 liters per minute of oxygen. It is extremely difficult for him to do everyday tasks like walking up a flight of stairs. He has to take frequent rest breaks when walking and has an especially difficult time breathing during the cold New York winters.
In September of 2017, Chris felt his breathing becoming even more difficult than usual. He assumed it was the cold weather that was making it harder for him to breathe. However, his situation continued to get worse.
“It felt like my lungs were like sponges I just couldn’t wring out.”
On Christmas night, Chris was transported in an ambulance to Buffalo General Hospital and was diagnosed with having Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). He was given antibiotics through IVs and sent home after five days with more antibiotics. Chris began to feel better and returned to work after two weeks. Then, on January 31, 2018, his health began to decline again.
His doctors put him on additional antibiotics and a stronger dose of Prednisone (immunosuppressant). After two weeks, Chris did not improve. He was admitted into the ER again. Tests revealed that the MRSA had not returned, but this time he was found to have the Pseudomonas Aeruginosa bacteria in his lungs. He was in the hospital for another five days. Chris needed a transplant more now than ever.
On February 28, 2018, Christ met with a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic. He had been doing tests to try and qualify for a transplant at Cleveland Clinic. His pulmonologist, Dr. Turowski, suggested Chris get a transplant now while he is young and his other organs are healthy. Dr. Turowski also explained that Chris’s lungs will continue to get damaged by these infections which could lead to intubation down the road. Chris made the decision to get on the transplant list.
Chris is returning to the Cleveland Clinic this week to finish his evaluation and put himself on the double lung transplant list. It could take days, weeks, or even months for him to find a donor. However, based on Cleveland Clinic’s reputation and their average turn around time of 6 months to 1 year, Chris is hopeful for the chance to have a new pair of healthy lungs soon.
There are many sides to a lung transplant patient’s story. Before a lung transplant is even a possibility, many patients like Chris live with lung health issues for years before they are able to qualify to get on a lung transplant list. Chris understands that life after a lung transplant is not an easy one,
“The idea both from a doctor and patient perspective is to keep your “originals” as long as possible because the transplant isn’t a cure. You’re merely exchanging one set of problems for another.”
In addition to health issues, living with chronic illness and getting a double lung transplant are extremely expensive for the patient. The patients go through these life saving procedures and worry about how to pay for them.Chris is hopeful that the Cleveland Clinic will help him go from “the guy on oxygen” to “the guy with healthy new lungs” in the near future.
If you would like to support Chris on his quest for new lungs, you can donate here: