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The Emotional Rollercoaster Ride of Transplant “Dry Runs”

To sum it up: dry runs are devastating

If you are reading my blog, you probably have some idea of what the transplant process is like… whether you have gone through it yourself or have watched a loved one endure it. And yes, I used the word endure. While a transplant saved my life, the process of getting those new lungs was extremely emotional and, at times, almost unbearable.

I am not a patient person by nature. I set my mind to something, accomplish it, and move on to the next goal or adventure. I think it comes from being on older cystic fibrosis patient – always wanting to cram as much life into the time I have as physically possible. So, when I was listed for transplant and then told… now we wait! Let’s just say, the waiting didn’t sit well with me.

When I got the first “call” – I was READY. As always, since I am from a big family, it was chaos. I was stressed, and my mom and siblings were extremely emotional and wanted to be there with me every step of the way. We loaded in the car, drove to the hospital, and then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. While we sat there, I emailed friends and more family, I posted on social media, and since I was volunteering at BEF, I texted Boomer to let him and the staff and everyone else know that the time had come!

My mom and a friend headed home as it got later and later in the night, while my brother and sister stayed by my side. At 4:15 AM, we got the news that this first “call” had turned into a dry run. I was shattered.  

For those of you who do not know, a ‘dry run’ is when your transplant team calls you into the hospital because they have received a possible match for you on paper. But, once the organ (lungs in my case) is reviewed by the surgical team, it is found to be damaged in some way, making transplant impossible.

To sum it up: dry runs are devastating.

I can’t properly explain what it feels like to have your hope built up, only to have it snatched away in an instant; to KNOW that you are going to have a life-saving surgery, but have that knowledge proven false. What I can tell you is that it does not get easier. Doubts sneak past your positivity… Am I going to make it long enough for a good match? How low is my lung function going to drop? What if I get too sick to be listed anymore? And on and on it goes.

For me, the first five “calls” were dry runs, so I was, what you might call, a professional at the process the was slowly killing my body and my spirit. On the 6th call on April 17, 2012, I didn’t text my friends, I didn’t email my coworkers, and I didn’t share my story on social media. I knew the drill at this point: get up, go to the hospital, wait, and go back home to wait some more.

And since I was used to it and didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, I went home, took a ‘plod’ – my term for walking with my oxygen tank, stopped at the pharmacy to pick up some toiletries, took a nice calming shower, and then called my family.

We all drove to the hospital once again… and waited. Around 3:30 in the morning, a nurse had me get on a gurney to sit in the holding area. I was oddly relaxed, thinking this was just another dry run. It was similar to the previous times, with me on my phone and my mother holding her rosary. But then, a slight change in procedure, the nurse gave me my first anti-rejection pill. And around 5 AM, she came back to tell me, “Congratulations! It’s a go!”

I was in shock. It was actually happening. I had just started to send texts and emails, when my mom looked at me and said, “Jerry. Put that silly device away and get up on that stretcher.”

It didn’t hit me until they rolled me into the operating room when I saw around 12 people – surgeons, assistants, nurses, and more – that it was actually happening. And before I knew it, I was waking up and taking the first real, full breath of my life.

In spite of everything – the pain, the emotional trauma, the fear, and the sacrifices – I can honestly say that life is GREAT. Today, I can breathe and smile and give back to the cystic fibrosis community because I am here. I am alive because of my donor and my team of doctors and everyone who has become an integral part of my life.

So, if you are going through the process or go through it in the future, remember: dry runs are devastating, but the end result is worth every step.

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