Waiting for a lung transplant: When Everything Changed podcast

Today’s guest on the When Everything Changed Podcast is Shawn, an Olympia, Washington native who has continuously refused to let the bumps in the road slow him down. Back in 1984, at the age of 14, Shawn played every sport you could imagine, and his favorite was basketball. Because of this, his energy levels were usually high, but after missing a few days of school due to fatigue and a spiking fever, Shawn’s parents decided to take him in to see a doctor. The doctor ordered X-rays and found that both of his lungs were affected by pneumonia. Two weeks later, Shawn collapsed while playing basketball at school. He was then airlifted to Seattle Children’s Hospital where he was diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Shawn’s diagnosis was followed by a series of strokes, seizures, and paralysis of the left side of his body. He spent approximately 16 weeks in the intensive care unit, but found solace in the great connections he made with others on his rehabilitation floor. He finished his eighth grade school year in the hospital.

Shawn spent his freshman year of high school splitting his days between coursework and outpatient treatment. He struggled with his fine motor skills and was forced to adjust to the challenges of walking with a heavy (drop) foot. Shawn could no longer play the sports he loved due to scarring in his lungs, but he refused to let it get him down and found other ways to stay active.

Living with lung disease

After high school, life was “normal” for Shawn. He started working, went to college, got married, and had a son. But around age 30, his lung problems resurfaced and he was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease, which causes breathing problems and requires the use of an oxygen tank. He was told he would eventually need a lung transplant and was put on permanent disability. His Kaiser Permanente doctor recommended the Living Well With Chronic Conditions workshop where he learned tools for coping with day-to-day struggles. And just like before, Shawn’s tenacious spirit kept him going as he returned to school and found other ways to work around his illness.

Now 45, Shawn is on the waiting list for a double lung transplant. But he continues to participate in Olympia’s Capital City Marathon a 5K walk annually and shares his enthusiastic perspective on life with everyone he meets.

In this episode

  1. Shawn’s medical journey starting at the age of 14
  2. His experience living with a chronic condition and the challenges of being on a lung transplant list
  3. How Shawn motivates himself and his tips for others who may be facing similar challenges

Thank you for listening!

When Everything Changed PodcastDid this story move you? If so, please share it. Do you have a health turning point story? Email us at wheneverythingchanged@ghc.org. When Everything Changed is a production of Kaiser Permanente.