I was born with Cystic Fibrosis. It is a hereditary disease that affects the lungs and digestive system and can literally take your breath away. It attacked my lungs when I was just nine-years old.
Today, I’m in my thirties. I have an undergraduate degree and am pursuing a master’s in biology. I’ve traveled to far-away places, seen astonishing things, met the most awesome people ever, and tasted delicious cuisine. At another time in history or under different circumstances, this story could have been a different story.
Like most people, my journey has been filled with challenges, trials, tribulations but also a tremendous dose of love, joy, success, and happiness. When I speak about my journey I always emphasize that I was never alone. My journey, in reality, is an “our story” story. From the moment I was born up to this moment in time, my quality of life, optimistic attitude, and memorable experiences are made possible and influenced by family, friends and acquaintances I’ve met along the way. It is the love I receive. It is the unequivocal support showered upon me. It is my village that cheers for me through the hard times and celebrates with me during the good times. Because of them, I never felt compelled to ask the question, “Why me?” I grew and adapted to the disease, never feeling depressed, always keeping up with my peers and sometimes surpassing them.
One of the most important people in my village is someone I’ll never have the chance to meet. Yet, their singular act of love shown towards one stranger to another sustains me and gives me new life. Because of them, I have a second chance.
Finding Out I Needed A Transplant
At the age of 29 my life took a crazy spin. My lung collapsed while working. I was hospitalized for nearly a month. To stay alive, my doctor told me I needed a double lung transplant.
To qualify for assistance to help cover the cost of the transplant I had to give up my job; sell all my assets; and surrender my independence by moving in with my parents. This was an incredibly sudden and devastating change. I felt as if everything I had worked so hard to achieve was lost.
It took three years before there was a match. I remember lying on the operating table the day of surgery waiting for my new lease on life.
I thought about the donor and their ultimate act of love. I thought about the cystic fibrosis team and UNC who had stayed with me every step of the way.
Three years had seemed like an eternity and the process was strenuous. The different steps and procedures necessary to getting listed for an organ transplant seemed to stretch on forever. Then there were the meetings with whole teams of doctors, social workers, financial counselors, psychologists, coordinators, nurses, peer groups, and even dentists. By the time I reached OR, I was acutely aware of the importance of receiving an organ.
The transplant was a success. My body did not reject the donated organ but lying ahead of me were years of care; the need for drugs that would keep me well and keep my body from rejecting my new lungs.
My team at UNC suggested I seek the assistance of a professional medical fundraising organization to help offset post-transplant costs. I had Medicaid, Medicare, and help from the state to pay for the procedure. Yet, I needed a secondary insurance policy. I thought the idea of needing to raise money for my transplant was a waste of time.
Turning to NFT for Help
I had my double lung transplant on Christmas Day of 2014. As part of the transplant protocol, I was required to move within a twenty-minute drive to my transplant facility at UNC. I finally reached out to the National Foundation for Transplants (NFT). They were highly recommended as a reputable, medical-fundraising organization. My NFT consultant immediately set me up with a website and provided the tools my campaign team and I needed to successfully raise enough money to cover the cost of my room and board when I relocated.
Their platform gave members of my village a quick and easy way to contribute to NFT which helped cover the mounting, unforeseen costs associated with my organ transplant (believe me there are a lot). We set a goal that my village exceeded by a whooping, shocking, love-shattering 365%!
And the wonderful thing about NFT is I can continue to raise funds for life if I need help covering the cost of prescription drugs or any transplant-related expense I may encounter.
My Second Chance
Post-transplant, I now have more time to enjoy family, my life, my future, and every new challenge that comes my way. Was it perfect? Absolutely not! But everyone involved made the entire experience feel as if it was perfect. My village was on point.
I guess it is important to mention that my mom also has Cystic Fibrosis. She was diagnosed when she was 50 years old. She also had a double lung transplant only eight months after mine, when she was 65! She has had her own journey but is without a doubt, a huge inspiration to those who feel they are too old to get an organ transplant. Although her reasons and experiences are remarkably different than mine, she too saw that sometimes, the decisions we make for ourselves, are oftentimes shaped by everyone but ourselves.
Everyone involved in my transplant was a professional in their assigned field. My family, friends, transplant team, nurses, counselors, and all others involved in my transplant are the reason this is not just my journey, instead, they are the reason I say this is “our story”.
Why I Share Our Story
Today I can share this remarkable blessing. I can tell everyone about the success of medicine, technology, and skilled medical professionals, but the true hero in all this is family, friends, and most importantly, God. Since my transplant, I have decided to help give back to those who are in need of an organ transplant of their own.
You see, within a few days of surgery, I felt a sense of guilt. I felt guilty that some stranger had to lose their life in order for me to continue on with mine. I felt guilty that perhaps someone might have been just a little sicker and needed that organ a little more than I did. These feelings could easily eat someone up inside. I decided to use those feelings for good, and make sure I did my part to help those who do not have the support, the finances, or the will to fight for a brighter tomorrow.
I have been asked numerous times, “What advice can you give others who need a transplant?” My advice is to think of the things or the people that mean the most to you. The daily activities that you can no longer do, or the future events you want to participate in . . . fight for those things. Have faith in your transplant team. Explore the different avenues that offer help and don’t be ashamed to accept help. Don’t be angry that you are dealing with this obstacle. Stay positive. Believe you can and will overcome. I really hope this helps at least one person, but it would be great if it helped everyone.
About Eric Buchanan
People usually describe Eric as a fighter and a “go getter” of the millennial generation. He is an extremely motivated person in every aspect of his life. He lived with Cystic Fibrosis until he received a double lung transplant at UNC. He says, “I have run the gauntlet of life and I am winning at it!” Eric serve as a Volunteer Ambassador for the National Foundation for Transplants. He is an alumni of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity and graduated the University of Florida. One of his favorite saying is, “Go Gators!”