Donald Walker of Ezel in Morgan County, Ky., says he has two birthdays that are six months and one day apart. One is his actual birthday. His newest birthday is the date of his lung transplant – Feb. 3, 2017.
Walker, who worked as a coal miner and spent 20 years in Mine Rescue in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia was 57 when he had a single lung transplant at the University of Kentucky Transplant Center in Lexington. He was listed on Jan. 5 and was on the waiting list for 29 days.
“Having a lung transplant was the only way I was going to survive. I was almost bedfast. My wife had to bathe me,” he said. “Cigarette smoking and having black lung is a bad combination.”
For Walker, who loves to hunt and fish, the changes were subtle. “I started having trouble with stairs and wheezing. They found traces of black lung,” he said. “I was a coal miner for 36 years and was affected by the dust. Plus I smoked for a lot of years.”
He expressed deep gratitude to his donor. “I would like to know who the person was so I could lay a wreath on the grave. I will write a letter to the family and hang an ornament on my Christmas tree to honor my donor.”
Walker said he went through lots of thorough testing before he was placed on the waiting list. The testing showed his right lung was functioning around 40 percent and his left lung was at 8 to 10 percent.
“I didn’t even have half lung function with both put together. I couldn’t do the O2/CO2 exchange. I couldn’t get the carbon dioxide out. At that time, I was on oxygen 24/7. Now I don’t need to be on oxygen at all.”
He is amazed by the results of having a transplant. “I am one of the lucky ones. Things really fell into place for me. I can do everything with no restrictions and I’ve had no rejection.”
Originally from Letcher County, Walker loves competition and was even considered to go on the CBS show “Survivor” before being bumped right before he was scheduled to go. His youngest grandchild was one year old at the time of transplant.
Walker believes his new lung came from a young donor who was around 30 years old. He said his transplant doctor told him: “This is as good a match as you’ll ever see. I’m not going to put a bad lung in you.”
Walker tried to be a “Poster Child” when it came to recovery. “When they took the vent out I was sore, but I realized I could take a deep breath. I was very motivated to do all I could to get well quickly. I was out of ICU eight days after surgery.”
To help others in similar situations, he created a Facebook page called UK Lung Transplant Support Group. “Creating the group was a way to give back. It’s like having a family you’ve never met.”