In my last piece for CPFF I wrote about having IPF and my experiences following a double lung transplant in July 2014. Nine weeks later I’d improved my walking, could tackle small flights of stairs and had renewed confidence in my breathing. But, despite my efforts in the Toronto General Hospital Treadmill Room for the three months following my transplant, I couldn’t run.
So here’s what’s happened since.
July to December 2014 or The First Six Months
After three months exercising at the hospital it was up to me. But I was not alone. I had such tremendous support from my partner Chris, my three daughters (Julia, Melanie and Aimee) and lots of friends. I felt a huge debt to them and, most of all, to my donor. It took a while but in the months following the operation I began to believe that I no longer had a lung problem and that, although I had no basis for saying this, I had the youngest lungs in any room of my contemporaries.
I’m fortunate enough to live in a building with a gym so I continued what I’d learned at the hospital and started to increase the tempo and the intensity. My bugaboo was the treadmill on which I was fine up to about 3 mph but started to feel giddy and insecure if I ramped it to a running pace. The exercise bike was a good option but I found it harder to push myself while sitting down. I also completed a number of floor and weight training exercises that strengthened my core and my arm and leg muscles. I went at least three times a week until the fall of 2015. But I found my progress slow and began to question the best way to exercise and how hard to push myself. And at seventy-four I occasionally wondered what were the effects of the operation as opposed to good old fashioned ageing. But I had a tremendous foundation when I left the hospital and it had instilled in me the importance of exercise.
2015 or Months 6 to 18
Early in 2015, based on a suggestion by Chris, I found that the secret to success was to bribe myself or make commitments that I couldn’t avoid. I first put my name down for a 5K walk/run in June 2015. Well, it was a very easygoing introduction and I walked with the throngs of slow folk (most pushing baby carriages or sporting red noses and singing badly) and finished in about an hour. I was very dissatisfied with the result and realized I had to up the ante. I continued walking whenever I could, realizing that living downtown, every trip was a form of exercise – for instance, the 2+K to the hospital for my monthly tests.
I recalled Dr. Coleman at TGH saying I’d made such a good recovery I should enter the Transplant Games, open to those that have undergone either solid organ or bone marrow lifesaving transplants. The world games took place in Argentina in 2015 and I just wasn’t ready. Luckily the Canadian Transplant Games were scheduled for my home town of Toronto in August 2016 and I not only made a commitment to enter but told everyone so that I couldn’t wriggle out of it. I was both anxious and excited by the prospect.
The first question everyone asked when I told them I’d entered the Games was “so what events have you entered?” This was a question that I couldn’t answer until the details of the events together with the schedule and locations were published about a month before the start of the Games. So I had to decide what to train for and how to train. I started training for the 5K, walking everywhere and going to the gym three or four times a week.
This led me to getting a personal trainer starting in the fall of 2015. Mike, although wary of my condition, started me on a series of core, upper body, lower body, balance and other foundational exercises. It took a few months to show results but I slowly got stronger. Some of the exercises were similar to those I was already doing but Mike made sure I was doing them properly; doing warm up and cool down exercises, getting the body in the right position, pulling and pushing weights to the full extent possible, holding floor exercises longer and longer and so on. The great thing is that I’d had some painful back and hip pain that required the occasional visit to a physiotherapist or chiropractor and in a few months they’d disappeared (prevention I learned, is always better that a cure).
About the same time Chris and I started the South Beach diet (it could be nearly any diet I think) but within a month I’d gone from 176 to 165 pounds and then to 155 pounds where I have remained since. Also, my tennis buddies from my active days were brave and charitable enough to take me back into their doubles group. I knew that would be a challenge since I’d tried to play darts and nearly nailed a couple of bystanders – my upper body had lost its muscle mass and, thus, control, after getting my sternum sliced from left to right to replace my lungs. So I had a particularly hard time serving but with my friends’ patience and my perseverance, I gradually improved. We played once a week until December 2015 (no joke in Toronto) and started again in April 2016.
2016 or Months 19 to 26
So all of this, the gym work, some 5Ks, the tennis, the long walks, the diet, came together when the games schedules were announced in the summer of 2016. A good look at what was available, the timing and the venues, helped me to narrow my entries to the maximum five events – pickleball, tennis, 100 metres, 5K walk and ball throw. A slight problem was that beyond knowing it was related to tennis in some way, I’d no idea what pickleball was and since I’d never played baseball or softball and hardly any cricket, I’d no idea how to throw a ball. YouTube to the rescue! I studied both and also walking and 100 metres and worked on my technique as best I could. Regardless, when I stepped on to the pickleball court to take part in my first event of the games, it was the first time I’d played. It was a doubles format and luckily I had a good partner and steadily improved as I got used to the “bounce” of the ball. We won a bronze medal (a tennis pro was part of the couple that won gold) and I was off to a great start.
Next up, tennis, on a sweltering 35-degree day where the slim entry helped me win gold. Next day the 5K walk (I didn’t want to imitate the hip-killing swagger of the professionals) in the same oppressive heat and I finished late in the field but second in my age group in about fifty minutes. On the final day I finished first in the ball throw and second in 100 metres (my first 100 metres in over 50 years!). Encouraging!
I love competition but learned that the great thing is just to participate and meet all the wonderful people involved.