2016 was a year of drastic changes! It began with me living at my sister’s half of the time, surrounded by my brother-in-law and nieces, for five or six months following my separation from the mother of my children. Thanks again, Big Sis! Then came the sale of the house where I was born. Joint custody, taking care of the kids with my oxygen 24 hours a day, using the BiPAP during the night…
Afterwards, health-wise, I had the worst hospital stay that I can remember (thanks for being there, Émilie), but I still had the privilege of seeing an old friend, who has today become my loving partner (my beautiful Marie‑Joëlle!), receive her lung transplant. I saw my name quickly climb to the top of the transplant waiting list, which made me panic because of everything going on in my life at the time. I’d like to thank the members of the medical team who helped me through this. I don’t need to name them. They know who they are. Then, my grandmother passed away while I was hospitalized. I was lucky enough to be able to leave the hospital to see her one last time and promise her that we would NOT see each other anytime soon (although I miss her very much and would’ve loved her to see where I am today). I know that she was there when I needed her most and that she would be proud of what I can do now. It’s partly thanks to her that my disease was detected early and that I was able to receive treatment quickly, as I mentioned above. After that came the move. I had hours and hours of fun emptying the house, throwing out old stuff and moving everything by car with my oxygen tank strapped to my back.
Then, suddenly, a month and a half later in late June…
For some reason that I can’t remember, I kicked back to have a beer with my father one afternoon. It was a beautiful sunny day.
In the evening, for supper, I pulled out the BBQ, popped open a beer and put the meat on the grill. A nice rare steak, just how I like it! To accompany the meal, what better than a glass of red wine? A certain Pinot Noir from Domaine Laroche that I like to share with friends.
When I finished eating, I cleared the table and went to sit down comfortably in the living room to watch the first Montreal Alouettes game of the season. It was 7:11 p.m. The minute ticked by just like it does every 60 seconds.
Ring, ring. Private number! No way! The local community health centre was closed. The cystic fibrosis and pre-transplant clinics were too. Not possible. It couldn’t be him. Not now.
“Good evening, may I speak to Yannick Poirier, please?”
My heart, my life and time itself just stopped. I simply couldn’t believe it. The time had come!
“Yes, the lungs are in perfect condition.”
“Do you want to accept the transplant?”
I was going crazy!
“But I don’t have my kids. They’re with their mother. My sister’s in Mexico. My girlfriend’s in James Bay. I don’t know what to do.”
“You don’t have to accept it if you don’t feel ready.”
“No, no, if it doesn’t happen now, it might never happen. Or it could take three to six months. Who knows what shape I’ll be in?”
“OK. LET’S DO IT.”
These four words would completely change my life.
We hung up. My legs buckled and I literally burst into tears. I didn’t know what to do! But I figured it’d be a good idea to tell my parents!
I was on the phone with my mother, and she didn’t even know who was speaking because I was crying and my voice was quavering so badly. Same thing with my father. Then the kids. It was so hard to see them and say, “Goodbye. See you soon.” I hope!
I sent my friends text and Facebook messages to let them know what was happening. I was immediately flooded with words of encouragement that didn’t stop coming for the duration of my struggle. And then Émilie called me from up north.
“Are you kidding, Yan?”
“No way. I wouldn’t joke about that.”
Miles apart, we cried our eyes out.
My close family arrived. I was all over the place.
“Mom, take pictures of everything. I love you all!”
I prepared my stuff, tidied up the apartment quickly and shut off the water to the washing machine (!). Then I called 911.
“911. How may I help you?”
“Hello. Could you please send an ambulance to bring me to CHUM–Hôpital Notre‑Dame? They’ve just gotten lungs for me.”
Receiving a transplant is an absolutely unbelievable second chance. It’s a gift that you must cherish every day, but it doesn’t come without constraints and sacrifices. I thought I knew what to expect! I had no idea. I thought I’d be taking fewer pills. Boy, was I ever wrong! When I was discharged from the hospital, I was taking more than 80 tablets a day. Fifteen months after the transplant, I’m down to:
- 11 anti-rejection pills;
- about 10 pills at breakfast;
- 3 pills at suppertime.
That’s in addition to the digestive enzymes (about 20 a day) and all the medications that I have to take “just in case.” Add to that the insulin for diabetes that got worse, the bronchoscopies (camera in the lungs and biopsy), the tightly scheduled appointments, the resistance training sessions, the preventative treatments and all the other requirements that crop up here and there. Let me tell you, being a transplant recipient keeps you busy! The risks of rejection never truly disappear, even 10 years after the surgery. If you’re not rigorous before the transplant, you quickly learn to be afterwards. You must be diligent and make sure that you eat before a given time or finished before a given time. You have to refrain from eating this or avoid that. You live with a sword of Damocles over your head like the average person, except that you’re a little more aware of it. That’s what makes you live life to the fullest despite everything I just mentioned.
I’m alive again. I feel a bit like a teenager who’s discovering and rediscovering life! I’ve ridden my bike for the first time in years. As part of my training for the 2018 Canadian Transplant Games, I’ve gone running with my children (yes, you read right!), even during the winter. I’ve also discovered a new sport that I’m starting to love: swimming. I’ve already climbed mountains without too much difficulty and started downhill skiing again. It’s wonderful! I’ve just returned from a trip to Western Canada during which I travelled more than 3,600 km by car and more than 200 km on foot (including 100 km in a week walking through the beautiful mountain landscapes of Banff and Jasper!). Future plans, like going back to work, are starting to form in this little head of mine. I’m also getting a lot of rest through it all; it’s essential for a proper recovery. I have to slow down so I don’t overexert myself.
But it’s not always rosy either, being stuck between four walls every day, worrying about the transplant, wondering how long it will last, thinking about the donor and his or her family on a daily basis, asking myself if I really deserved it, wondering why it happened now and if I could’ve waited longer before having the surgery, and so on. The list of questions can go on forever, or almost.
But ultimately, I can now breathe like everybody else, enjoy every minute of the present and watch my children grow. Enjoy life and put your anxieties aside. Enjoy what you have right now, not what you once had or what you’d like to have. Your life doesn’t belong to you; it’s only on loan.
In conclusion, I’d like to thank my donor’s family for giving me this second chance to continue breathing and living, despite the loss of their loved one. I know that the decision was not easy, but it’s important for so many families, including my own. I realize that while my family is celebrating anniversaries of all kinds, Christmas and the new year with me, you’re experiencing all these celebrations in a very different way. Rest assured that I think of you every day and that this precious gift will not have been given in vain. Thank you again.
– Yannick Poirier