By Emily Younker
The Joplin Globe
CARL JUNCTION, Mo.- — When Lynn Gardner was diagnosed 10 years ago with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis — a fatal disease that causes scarring of the lungs — he was told he had three years to live.
His best, and perhaps only option, for survival was to receive new lungs, his doctors told him.
“When it came right down to it, it was either get the transplant or die,” Gardner said. “I probably would have died in 2004 if I hadn’t gotten that.”
Gardner received a double-lung transplant in 2004 and has since defied all life expectancies given to him by doctors. He was scheduled to speak Tuesday at the Celebration of Life service honoring organ and tissue donors and recipients at St. John’s Regional Medical Center.
Although the transplant and the days immediately afterward are fuzzy in Gardner’s memory, he clearly remembers the months leading up to it. His health was rapidly declining because of the disease.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is the scarring or thickening of the lungs, which leads to decreased oxygen flow to vital organs, according to the National Institutes of Health. The disease has no known cause or cure.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, reports that approximately 200,000 Americans have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. About 50,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, primarily in people who are older than 50 years, according to the institute.
Even with his diagnosis, Gardner continued teaching classes at Ozark Christian College, and though his colleagues tried to make it a comfortable experience, it was strenuous.
“I coughed a lot, and I couldn’t do stairs, so they made sure my classroom was in the same building my office was,” he said. “I couldn’t stand for 50 minutes, so they provided chairs. ... The school was really good to me.”
‘He was so weak’
In April 2004, the Gardners moved temporarily to St. Louis to be closer to Barnes Jewish Hospital, where the transplant would occur, and to wait for a match. It was a rough time for Gardner and his wife, Barbara.
“Just before the transplant, I didn’t know if he was going to make it until the call came because he was so weak,” she said.
That call — alerting Gardner of a match — came in June, just two months after the Gardners had arrived in St. Louis.
“Our daughter had asked what I wanted for Father’s Day, and I said, ‘New lungs,’” Gardner recalled. “That night, about 12:30, we got the call.”
On June 15, 2004, Gardner received a double-lung transplant, and the couple moved back to their home in Carl Junction in October of that year.
Gardner said the first year after his transplant was difficult. He went back to St. Louis at least 10 times for several hospitalizations, minor rejections of the lungs and one surgery.
‘I have young, healthy lungs’
At his one-year anniversary, he wrote a thank-you letter to the donor’s family, though he doesn’t know who his donor was.
“All they told me was I have young, healthy lungs,” he said. “If the family wanted me to know (who the donor was), they’d let me know.”
The next several years were smoother for Gardner. He retired from Ozark Christian College in 2006 to focus more on his writing. A director of College Press Publishing Co. since 1981, Gardner has written six books and has a new book — tentatively titled “Commending and Defending Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Apologetics” — due this fall. His next projects include helping a friend write a book and writing two articles for “The Lookout” magazine.
“Certainly, in my head, there are a lot of other books and articles I want to write,” Gardner said.
Gardner also has focused on spending more time with his four grandchildren, Dane and Luke, both 13, and Hope and Mark, both 10. Last summer, he and his wife took each of them on a one-day outing suited to the individual child’s interests.
“I am so thankful to see my grandchildren grow up these years, and the time with Barbara has been great,” he said.
Gardner now marks his life by anniversaries. He celebrated the 5-year anniversary of receiving his lungs last June, at which time he went to St. Louis for his 5-year checkup and took his wife to their favorite Italian restaurant. In February 2011, the Gardners will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, an event that Gardner once doubted he would live to see.
But first on Gardner’s agenda is Tuesday’s Celebration of Life service, an event held by St. John’s Regional Medical Center, Freeman Health System, the Midwest Transplant Network and the Heartland Lions Eye Bank.
Cathy Lucchi, hospital services coordinator for Midwest Transplant Network, said the event has three purposes — to remember the lives of organ and tissue donors, to honor transplant recipients and to remember the approximately 106,000 people who are currently on a waiting list for an organ or tissue transplant.
Name added every 10 minutes
A name is added to that list every 10 minutes, Lucchi said, and 18 people will die each day while waiting for a transplant.
There are 2,000 people in Missouri and 1,000 in Kansas awaiting a transplant, according to Midwest Transplant Network, an organ and tissue procurement organization serving Kansas and western Missouri.
Lucchi said the service will also include a ceremony during which a tree — likely a dogwood or a redbud — will be planted on St. John’s property in honor of organ and tissue donors. Donors’ families will receive dogwood or redbud seedlings in their memory, she said.
Nearly six years after his transplant, Gardner said he still has “a few things to deal with,” including taking more than 20 pills each day to fight off infection or rejection, and attending rehabilitation sessions at St. John’s Regional Medical Center three times per week.
“But I’m not going to worry about those things,” he said. “I’m going to go ahead and live. I feel like I’ve got a new lease on life.”
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