July 15th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 28
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New lungs and a new life for Coleman resident
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Herald Contributor Photo
Ron Ockey is looking forward to enjoying a second chance at life with friends, family and his furry friend.
EZRA BLACK
Pass Herald Reporter
March 24, 2015 is Ron Ockey’s new birthday.
That’s the day an anonymous donor gave the Coleman resident the gift of lungs and a second chance at life.
The 63-year old just got home after three months of intensive physiotherapy in Edmonton after undergoing a multi-hour surgery and says he’s “stronger than heck.”
This is great news for his wife Judy, his six children aged 15 to 42, 16 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
“I am so grateful to the donor. I’ll never get to know who they were because that won’t be divulged, it’s only if [the donor’s family] wants to meet me,” says Ockey. “I wrote a letter to them and to this day I read that letter and I cry because it’s overwhelming, the gift they gave me and the sacrifice they made.”
Ockey was a welder for 38 years, 20 of them with Blairmore Precision Machining and Welding Ltd. and at least 14 of them up north for the oil and gas industry. The years of working without proper safety equipment left him with degenerating lungs that bottomed out at 30 per cent capacity at the time of his surgery and left him unable to walk, cook or care for himself without the aide of oxygen. After the surgery, a biopsy confirmed that he would have had about a year left to live.
He was pulled off work in 2010 and had been on oxygen ever since. He lived with his son, Travis, who cared and cooked for him.
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Then in May 2014 he went on the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Registry. Getting on the registry was a long process, which involved a full medical and six weeks of intense physical therapy in Edmonton. When it was found he was a good candidate, he was then sent home and made to keep exorcising to keep himself in shape and prepared for a transplant, which was hard to do on oxygen.
“He needed a kick in the butt sometimes to get himself back to [exercising] because we knew there were lungs out there,” says Judy. “We just had to wait.”
He waited for almost a full year.
“Everyday your cellphone is right beside you,” he says. “At first it’s nerve wracking but after a while you say ‘if it comes it comes.’”
The call came on March 23 at 6:30 p.m. and Ockey needed to get to Edmonton University Hospital as quickly as possible. He had initially planned to fly but when that wasn’t an option, he got a ride from his wife in difficult weather. He arrived at 4:30 a.m. and the five-hour surgery was performed only two hours later by his medical team at Edmonton University, which included Dr. Dale Lien, Dr. Justin Weinkauf, Dr. Ali Kapasi, surgeon Dr. Darren Freed and his family doctor here in the Pass, Dr. Allan Garbutt.
Unsurprisingly, Ockey is now a strong advocate for non-smoking and organ donation. Since his surgery, 34 lung transplants have been performed at Edmonton University Hospital.
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He’ll be taking anti-rejection medications and a host of other drugs for the rest of his life to suppress the immune system s0 his body won’t reject the transplanted lungs.
He takes 13 pills in the morning, six in the afternoon and five at night. The steroids he takes make him very hungry and he’s gained 14 sounds since the surgery, something he’s trying to prevent since more weight means more stress on the heart and lungs.
He also wears gloves at the grocery store to avoid picking up germs from shopping carts and stays away from people with coughs or colds because of his now permanently suppressed immune system.
But Ockey has, “much more respect for life now,” with plans to get back fishing, camping and spending time with his family and though his welding days are over he might be going back to work as a draftsman when his new lungs reach their full capacity in about a years time.
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July 15th ~ Vol. 85 No. 28
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