Stories of Hope: Erick Peña

 

Donate Life with Erick 006

DMV Employee Stephanie Peña and her brother, Erick, during April 2014 DMV/Donate Life Month. Erick is wearing a mask to protect him and his newly transplanted lungs from infection.

For Erick Peña, “the call” came at a perfect time. “It felt like it was ending,” he says. In 2011, Erick was working for UPS, a physical job that should be no problem for a young man in his early 20s, but instead of building endurance and strength, Erick got weaker and more and more tired every day. Having battled chronic bronchitis, he knew something was wrong, so he went to the doctor. Tests confirmed it, he’d developed Pulmonary Fibrosis, which meant his lungs were scarred and thickened and were no longer able to effectively deliver oxygen to his body.

Within days, Erick required around-the-clock oxygen and was put on the waiting list for a double-lung transplant. At first, Erick says he was “numb” and just went through the motions. Then, for a while, he was quite happy and content. He had learned to appreciate the little things and was hopeful he’d get his transplant. But as his condition and lungs further deteriorated, he became depressed and scared.

Then came “the call” in January 2014, donor lungs had been found for him. He was so tired and weak, though, that instead of hope, excitement and relief, all he felt was fear. Fear of the pain of surgery and recovery. Fear that he might not wake up. Fear that he wouldn’t see his mom, dad and sister again.

But he did wake up. At first, he was still on oxygen as he got used to his new lungs, but nurses soon removed his mask and he breathed freely, on his own, for the first time in nearly three years.

“Breathing is easy! It’s supposed to be easy!”

While his new lungs are functioning beautifully, the rest of his body is still a bit weak, nothing a little physical therapy and time can’t cure. He’s again thankful for the little things, like walking to the kitchen to get himself a snack. “Before, I could barely pick anything up without exhausting myself,” he says.

As for his donor, Erick says he doesn’t know much, but if he could say anything to his or her family, it would be “I’m not gonna waste what you lost. I’m gonna live life good enough for two people.”

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