North Catasauqua man overcomes odds
Paul Albert considers himself a lucky man, blessed with a second chance at life.
The North Catasauqua resident, who has suffered from cystic fibrosis his entire life, was placed on the double lung transplant list back in 1993 due to his lungs failing.
CF is a life-threatening disease passed down through families that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract and other areas of the body. It is one of the most common chronic lung diseases in children and adults.
On Feb. 9, 1993 at 11 p.m., Paul received the phone call he had been wishing for: a pair of lungs was available. Because time was crucial, Paul flew out of Queen City Airport that evening and at 5:30 a.m. the 10-hour surgery began at the University of Pittsburgh Hospital that would both save and transform his life forever.
"I was excited because I knew my lungs were in poor shape, yet scared because I didn't know what the outcome would be," he said.
After the surgery, the recovery period was difficult.
He remained in the hospital for 111 days. During that time, he stopped breathing, experienced a lacerated liver, experienced kidney failure and became septic as his body attempted to reject the new organs.
When he was finally well enough to be discharged from the hospital, Paul began playing golf again; a sport he loved and played as a young teenager and adult. It was August 1994 that he found out about the U.S. Transplant Olympics in Atlanta. To prepare for the Olympics Paul joined a golf league at work and took golfing lessons.
Being able to play the game again and to participate in the Olympics led Paul to realize his life was owed to the individual and family who provided the pair of lungs to him.
"Just being there was a great experience because I'd had to give up golf because of cystic fibrosis, but now, because of the donor, I could play again," Paul said.
Since the Atlanta Transplant Olympics, Paul has participated in the games held every two years in Salt Lake City, Utah, Columbus, Ohio, Orlando, Fla., Minneapolis, Minn., Pittsburgh, Madison, Wisc. and in 2012, Grand Rapids, Mich.
His medals include two team golds in golf in 1998 and 2002 and a gold medal in individual golf at this year's Olympics.
During the Michigan games, there was an opening ceremony in the arena where the athletes, living donors and donor families where publicly recognized. There was also a donor recognition ceremony. The experience for Paul was a moving one.
"You feel choked up," he said. "Your emotions go back to when you were sick and got the call. You realize someone went through the loss of a loved one. These people are heroes because of what they gave to myself and others."
Paul believes the transplant games is a great medium to showcase to the public that he and the other transplant survivors are no different from others living in society.
"It's a way for me to show the public that people with transplants can go on to lead normal lives and participate in activities that they did before transplants," he said.
At the moment Paul, who is an auditor for Northampton County, is doing well physically. Although there is always the possibility of chronic rejection, he has learned to appreciate each day given to him by that donor 20 years ago.
"Every day I think about having someone's lungs in me," he said. "You feel a closeness with someone because of that. I owe myself to that other person."
Paul's plans for the future include participating in the next U.S. Transplant Olympic Games in 2014.
"Before the transplant you dwell more on being sick and now you're thinking more of the future and all the things you can do now," he added.
To learn more about CF, visit www.cff.org
Information on the Gift of Life Donor program can be found at http://www.donors1.org/.