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By Josh Peterson, editor
Exercising has always been second nature to Darryl Collins.
Running, biking, coaching basketball, playing racquetball – it was all part of life for the former gym teacher.
Carrying the lung capacity to support his desire, though, is another story.
He didn’t know it early in his life, but his desire to be fit and active would help preserve and, actually, save his life from ending at a young age.
“I started getting pretty sick in January [of 2012],” explained Darryl, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was 24. He is now 46.
“My lung function really started to come down,” he said, adding that at one point his lung function dipped to 29 percent. “I had to be on oxygen. [My wife] Allison took me [to Nashville] in February and I was in the ICU for 16 days.”
Darryl was placed on a transplant waiting list, hoping for a lung transplant.
“I started to get a little better … so, I took myself off the list.”
On May 18, a few short months later, with his health deteriorating again, Darryl went back on the waiting list for a lung transplant. Twelve days later, he received his transplant.
“I thank God I was able to get one so fast. I tell everyone I’m a walking miracle,” he said. “I have had friends waiting for almost a year.”
Because he was left with a weakened immune system, Darryl, who had taught gym class at Hillsboro Elementary School for 15 years, was advised to quit teaching to avoid unnecessary exposure to germs.
He faced a long recovery. But his ambition to be active helped speed it up.
“I’m more active now than before,” said Darryl, who added that his increased lung function has actually made exercising easier since his lung transplant. “I don’t have a job. I play racquetball on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Ride my bike. I spend a lot of time staying active.”
Darryl actually tried to walk the day of his surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“I’m always pushing myself. I believe that is why I am here today. Within a few weeks I was running around a track.”
He said his doctors attribute his improving and increasingly stable health to his ability to push his limits.
“I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t worked hard at exercising after my transplant … my doctors have said that.”
His life post-transplant has left Darryl with a few limitations. Some are harder to deal with than others.
“I really miss teaching,” he admitted. “I’m going to try to coach basketball this fall, God willing.”
Some outside activities are also bad for his lung function.
“The dust of a baseball field really bothers me. I need to start wearing my mask out there. I can’t cut the grass anymore, either.”
Organ transplants can often save lives. But new organs in the body also introduce new realities for the recipient.
“He takes over 30 pills a day,” said Darryl’s wife, Allison Collins. “He has to take 18 digestive enzymes a day – six per meal.”
Some of those medications play a large part in family life.
“Some of the medicines hype me up … you know, make it hard for me to go to sleep at night. It can put a strain on our family. But
I try to do the best I can,” Darryl said.
A strong support group for a transplant recipient isn’t only necessary for moral support, but is also medically necessary.
“Before you can be considered to have a transplant you have to have at least three caregivers,” Allison explained. “The [doctors] met with each one of us. They ask a bunch of questions about caregiving and dispensing medications. Of course I was the main caregiver. My mom and my aunt were on the list, too. I don’t know what I would do without their help.”
The commitment required of Allison is much more than that of most wives.
“It can be very difficult,” she said. “I’m in a group with [cystic fibrosis] wives now. And they all talk about how hard it can be.
“I was in school, doing 18 hours that semester and working 40 hours a week with our child [Hayden, 9]. Without my parents helping I don’t know what I would have done.”
With a strong support group behind him, Darryl has been fortunate. Not all recipients are as fortunate.
“Some of the friends we have met through all of this, they don’t have a strong support group,” explained Allison. “I think some of these people have to deal with things on their own. One of our friends is very, very sick and she just doesn’t have that help.”
“I attribute everything to the Lord above,” said Darryl. “Knowing he put a determination in me to fight. And Alli – I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t’ for her and all she and her family has done.”
Transplant Games of America
Thanks to an event rarely heard of but one that plays an important role in thousands of lives, Darryl will be able to take his local 5k running, basketball and other athletic skills to compete with the best athletes in the country who have also had transplants – The Transplant Games of America.
The transplant games are an Olympic-style event and will be held July 11-15 in Houston, Texas.
“Of course I would like to medal,” explained Darryl, smile creeping across his face. “But there are going to be some great athletes there and I’m really just excited to be a part of this event.”
Darryl will compete in a 5k run, volleyball, basketball, racquetball and corn hole. The event will award medals and competitors are divided into age groups.
But the trip will not be cheap. It will cost Darryl and his family $180 in registration fees alone. In addition, they will need to pay an additional $60 a night to be housed in the dorms at Rice University. Breakfast is free, but the family will need to foot the bill for additional meals.
“We are selling some t-shirts to help raise some of that money,” Allison explained.
The shirts are available for $10 by calling Allison at her office of Manchester Family Medicine at 931-728-6205. They are also available by contacting Darryl by email at firstname.lastname@example.org