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William Justice had worked as a coal miner in Eastern Kentucky for more than 32 years, when black lung disease nearly took his life.
Justice had never been a smoker. He suffered from coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), also known as black lung disease, which is caused by long-term exposure to coal dust, common among coal miners. Justice spent months very ill, in-and-out of the hospital with lung problems.
“My lungs were so bad that even little things would get me down,” said Justice. “The doctors told me that I didn’t have much time left.”
Finally, his doctors recommended that Justice visit Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky for an evaluation. At that time, he began pre-testing for a lung transplant. His heart was strong, but his doctors asked that he meet correct body mass index (BMI) and weight requirements before he would be eligible for a transplant. Justice worked hard to meet the requirements. On Valentine’s Day in 2017, he was placed on the list to receive a lung transplant.
“I knew that a transplant was risky, but I felt like it was my only hope,” said Justice. “The doctors were confident that they could save my life, if an organ donation became available.”
Justice continued treatment while he waited for a lifesaving organ donation. He traveled to Louisville for a visit at the Jewish Hospital Trager Transplant Center on November 20, 2017. He thought never expected it would be more than a check-up.
“That day, one of the coordinators came and found me, and she was crying,” he said. “She told me, ‘we found you a set of new lungs, and you’re receiving a transplant.”
Justice underwent a lung transplant on November 22, 2017. It was a 10-hour procedure, and he spent around six-weeks recovering in the hospital. He was released on January 3, 2018, ready to slowly ease into his new, healthy life.
This Thanksgiving, Justice says he is most thankful for his organ donor and the donor’s family. He has never met his donor’s family, but he wants them to know how thankful he is for the gift of life. Although his medications prevent him from doing so, he wishes that he could register as an organ donor himself and help others in need, just as he received a lifesaving organ donation.
“There are good people out there who make this possible,” he said. “I understand that with the good, comes the bad. A family lost their loved one for me to continue my life. For that, I am beyond grateful. I hope my story is eye-opening, and encourages others to register as donors.”
Justice still attends pulmonary rehabilitation three times per week in his hometown of Phyllis, Kentucky. He recently spoke to a Donate Life group in his area about the importance of organ donation.