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'I'm not sealed in a bubble - death or the danger of it is always there, every day'

CF double lung transplantee Justin on life under virus threat

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Justin Reynolds from Rathfarnham had a double lung transplant at the age of 51 in 2017 due to his cystic fibrosis

Justin Reynolds from Rathfarnham had a double lung transplant at the age of 51 in 2017 due to his cystic fibrosis

Justin Reynolds from Rathfarnham had a double lung transplant at the age of 51 in 2017 due to his cystic fibrosis

Letting hope trump fear during the Covid-19 pandemic is what keeps double lung transplantee Justin Reynolds going under lockdown.

In March 2017, the now 54-year-old Rathfarnham man with cystic fibrosis (CF) was days from death when the transplant gave him a second chance at life.

It is holding on to the blessings that such a gift brings that helps him through the weeks of isolation he is now going through to keep safe.

Justin feels he is in a safer place since the transplant, but because Covid-19 is a potentially fatal respiratory disease he is not taking any chances.

"I'm taking it a day at a time. To get to 51 in Ireland with CF is fairly exceptional, and it's due in part to myself but also my parents," he said.

Oxygen

"They were like a pair of juggernauts behind me. My mother's mantra was 'You'll see your pension'."

Thinking back to the days before his transplant, Justin said things were as bleak as they could be.

"I could just about breathe with the aid of copious quantities of supplementary oxygen," he said.

"There was no point thinking of the future. That would be a waste of time. It frightened me. It was almost game over.

"In the six weeks before transplant, I would've been terrified in lots of ways and overwhelmed by what was going on, vital organs were shutting down, because I knew I had lots of things I wanted to do in life.

"I felt, to use that phrase in Shakespeare, that I was being 'untimely ripped' from life.

"The irony is, I had put in all the effort years before the transplant and kept stabilising. I was showing the doctors I was taking it seriously.

"I was so black-belt about exercise and lung clearance and weights and all the rigours of end-stage CF that I kept pushing out the day I might be transplanted or considered urgent enough.

"That almost broke me. You feel dire, you're physically destroyed, and yet you're being told you're not urgent.

"January 2017 was a war zone in my head. I was being told I wasn't urgent enough."

However, in March 2017, the transplant came, and with it a new lease of life.

"I can breathe now. I have a second life, and I can think about planning a future," Justin said.

"None of that was on the cards before transplant. Because of that, and because I have 'normal' lung function, it has me out walking every day.

"To be grateful, and to honour my donor and their next-of-kin for my gift, and to have a sense and flavour for being able to go out and plan, is great.

"Having the second chance at life is all the motivation I need now."

However, to have any hope of continuing that second life, Justin now has to isolate.

The classic-car enthusiast is doing this with the help of family and friends who shop for him, and he has thousands of car magazines in his home to read.

"After the transplant, the protocols for three months are not going into shops, not flying, no public transport of any description, not being around people and not having people in your house," he said. "Isolation now is a different gig. To be in isolation in a house with more than 3,000 car magazines, it's not such a bad deal.

"It's not a massive sacrifice to make in the grander scheme of things. Covid-19 will come and go.

"I only go out now to exercise. I walk every day, typically when there's not that many other people around.

"I have a walking pace that not a lot of people could keep up with. In the last two weeks I've been breaking personal bests."

The thought of getting back to life post-lockdown leaves Justin apprehensive.

"I would have always erred on the side of caution," he said.

"Some people in the past have said to me, 'Would you lighten up?' or 'Take a chill pill'.

"But if I had lightened up and taken their chill pill, maybe I wouldn't have made it to 51 without getting a transplant. I'll stick to my own way, thank you.

Laugh

"I don't have myself hermetic- ally sealed in a bubble. I'm able to have a laugh, but I stick with my own regime.

"Death, or the danger of it, is always there. I'm structured in how I approach it.

"If you're switched on to the dangers all the time, you can avoid the worst of it. I try not to be paranoid, but when you make it an operating mode you don't think about it, so it doesn't impinge on your life. It just becomes a normal habit.

"I'm not terrified by Covid-19. You take your precautions with it, like other infections such as MRSA or C-Diff, and after that, what will be will be.

"But at least if you have met preventing Covid-19 half-way, well, you're in with a good chance. You can't go around living in fear, yet sometimes I do live in fear of it. I had a better acceptance of death before transplant than I do today.

"It's not like I'm dying. There's hope and possibility. Maybe Covid-19 is an opportunity to say, 'Right, there's no distractions, nobody can come in, I can't go out, so what are we about? What do I want to do?'."