MAYWOOD, IL – Earlier this year, John Allen took to the ski slopes in Idaho, reaching 10,000 feet into the mountains of Sun Valley. Nearly 15 years after his double lung transplant, Mr. Allen still gets emotional when he thinks about how far he's come.
"I don't know why I was saved, but this life has been a gift," he said.
Mr. Allen (pictured), of Evergreen Park, Illinois, is one of seven lung transplant patients, along with families of recipients, who will join Loyola Medicine physicians, nurses, social workers and dietitians as they climb 1,623 steps to Hustle Up the Hancock on Sunday, February 25.
"Not only does Hustle Up the Hancock benefit an excellent charity in the Respiratory Health Association, but this event provides the opportunity for our lung transplant recipients to meet each other and to show how far they've come," said Daniel Dilling, MD, medical director of lung transplantation.
For 30 years, Loyola has operated the largest and most successful lung transplant program in Illinois. Loyola has performed more than 900 lung transplants, by far the most of any center in Illinois. Loyola’s lung transplant program regularly evaluates and successfully performs transplants in patients who have been turned down by other centers.
Dr. Dilling and Mr. Allen are part of the 42-member team called Loyola's Lung Angels, which has raised more than $12,000 to benefit the Respiratory Health Association. This is the largest team Loyola has fielded for this event, of which Loyola Medicine is a sponsor.
"As clinicians, it's one of our most rewarding experiences because when we meet these patients, they can barely breathe," said Jennifer Johnson, RN, BSN, transplant coordinator. "They are so excited to do this, to give back and to try this physical feat."
Mr. Allen was 52-years-old when he received his lung transplant, performed by Wickii Vigneswaran, MD, director of thoracic surgery. A former smoker, Mr. Allen began to have issues after a case of viral pneumonia led to pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension. He was on the transplant wait list for two months when he received the call that lungs were available. His boss drove him to Loyola. Eight hours later, he had new lungs.
"It changed my life," Mr. Allen said. "When I first came out, I could breathe again. I was at peace. I was a normal person again."
Since the transplant, Mr. Allen has savored life and his second chance. He went back to work in a grocery warehouse. He plays guitar in a band, earned his degree at a community college and started skiing again, something he loved doing before getting sick.
"I'm just happy to be here," Mr. Allen said. "My life has been pretty good. I hate to say this and don't want to jinx it, but it feels like everything before the transplant was just a bad dream."