New life with new lungs

Waikato News - - FRONT PAGE -

This time last year Damien Bell couldn’t walk from his bed­room to the kitchen — now he can climb up Mount Maun­ganui.

His new lease on life is all thanks to a lung trans­plant one year ago.

The Te Awa­mutu man was born with cys­tic fi­bro­sis (CF), the most com­mon, life-threat­en­ing ge­netic dis­or­der in New Zealand. He’s one of New Zealand’s 500 peo­ple who are cel­e­brated this week for Cys­tic Fi­bro­sis Aware­ness Week.

Through­out his life Damien has bat­tled with clogged lungs, short­ness of breath, a chronic cough and re­peated chest in­fec­tions.

As a child and into adult­hood he had twice-daily chest phys­io­ther­apy to help clear his lungs of ex­cess mu­cus.

The av­er­age life ex­pectancy for peo­ple with CF is 35 years.

At 34, Damien is creep­ing to­wards that num­ber. But thanks to his trans­plant, he ex­pects to ex­ceed this.

The dis­ease has claimed sev­eral of his CF friends, some at a young age.

“As you get older, your body starts to de­te­ri­o­rate slowly and your lung func­tion starts to de­cline,” he says.

Two years ago Damien was at his worst. He was wheel­chair-bound and on oxy­gen 24/7.

“I couldn’t even walk to the kitchen,” he says. “I would get out of bed and sit in a chair for most of the day. I had no en­ergy to eat.”

That year Damien and his wife Alice had their daugh­ter Zoey, now two. She was born via IVF and does not have CF but is a car­rier.

“Zoey has been my mo­ti­va­tor,” Damien says. “She has kept me go­ing.”

This time last year Damien re­ceived the life-chang­ing news that he would get a lung trans­plant. The trans­plant was suc­cess­ful and was fol­lowed by a long and slow re­cov­ery.

As time goes on it is pos­si­ble that Damien’s body will re­ject the new lungs, how­ever the im­muno­sup­pres­sant drugs he now takes will help pre­vent this. This week he’ll have his one-year checkup in Auck­land.

He still has his old lungs at home which he likens to “well-cooked steak”.

Damien’s wife of six years Alice says or­gan do­na­tion is a strange emo­tional con­flict.

“We wanted to be so ex­cited but were so sad know­ing a fam­ily had just lost some­one — and we were ben­e­fit­ing.”

This week Damien will write a let­ter to the fam­ily of the per­son who do­nated their lungs.

He’s thank­ful for his new lungs — which he says on av­er­age last about seven and a half years.

But he also knows other lung re­cip­i­ents that live for a fur­ther 12-plus years post-trans­plant.

Damien is also grate­ful for blood donors. Dur­ing and fol­low­ing his surgery he re­ceived more than 200 units of blood prod­ucts.

“Or­gan and blood do­na­tion is an amaz­ing gift. Ev­ery­one should think about be­com­ing a donor, and let their fam­ily know their wishes” he says.

“The trans­plant made a huge dif­fer­ence. There are no lim­i­ta­tions now.”

Peo­ple with CF can of­ten be di­rec­tion­less be­cause they know they won’t live a long life, he says.

Damien, how­ever, re­fuses to think like this and is study­ing to­wards a Bach­e­lor of IT at Win­tec.

“I wouldn’t have imag­ined do­ing that a year ago,” he says.

“But I can do any­thing I want to now.”

CF Aware­ness Week ran from August 14 to 20 and sought aware­ness and sup­port through do­na­tions and vol­un­teers.

Alice says there is no cure for CF. “We rely on re­search and sci­ence to de­velop new treat­ments and med­i­ca­tions to help main­tain good health and lung func­tion, and ul­ti­mately in­crease life ex­pectancy.

“It takes a lot of fund­ing to be able to achieve this.”

■ To do­nate visit or email trea­

Te Awa­mutu fam­ily Damien, Alice and Zoey Bell cel­e­brate Cys­tic Fi­bro­sis Aware­ness Week.

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