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Zack Barnum has never known life without cystic fibrosis. Diagnosed with the disease only seven days after his birth, the early prognosis was not good.
“When I was born, the average life expectancy was maybe living to be a teenager,” said Zack. “As I’ve gotten older and more medical breakthroughs have happened, the average life expectancy is now in the 30s to 40s for someone with cystic fibrosis.”
Those medical breakthroughs enabled Zack to get through life. What he called “occasional tune-ups” consisted of hospital stays for something as simple as a cold. Zack soldiered on though, knowing that someday his life could be saved by a double lung transplant.
“I joked to myself and to my family that I wanted to make it to age 40, and then things could fall apart,” said Zack. “Though it wasn’t the intent; it sort of happened just that way – I probably should’ve picked a different number.”
At age 40, the infections Zack used to fight off suddenly got more serious. His lung function decreased to 15 percent, and without a double lung transplant; he was given only six months to live.
With only two-and-a-half months of life expectancy left, Zack received his transplant. Even though several complications led to an extended hospital stay, Zack was amazed at the changes that had taken place once leaving the hospital.
“I came out of the hospital after being there for five-and-a-half weeks, and everything had bloomed,” said Zack. When I went to the hospital, trees were barren; when I came out, everything was in full bloom. That was so impactful to me – you spend this time in the hospital and the world around you changes.”
Even though there were dramatic changes in nature and in the world around him in those few weeks, Zack’s recovery would take time.
“Walking home, getting up three steps was difficult,” said Zack. “That’s even after doing physical therapy in the hospital and trying to move around. I pretty much came in the door and collapsed on the couch. For the next month, it was moving from the couch to the bed with my wife and kids trying to help take care of me.”
Slowly but surely, Zack recovered. There was no more need for oxygen. His lung function skyrocketed to 90 percent, and he was able to start enjoying things in life, like bike-riding. A future that at one point could only be measured in weeks, now seemed much brighter.
“I hope that the future holds for me that I get to see my kids graduate from high school – that would be wonderful, said Zack. “I would love to see my kids get married someday and to have that first dance with them; I think that’s what all dads think of when they have daughters.”
Five years prior to his surgery, Zack moved from Indianapolis to Louisville. He knew that when the day came for his lung transplant surgery, he wanted to be close to both his family and Jewish Hospital.
As a national leader in organ transplantation, Jewish Hospital has performed more than 5,000 transplants over more than three decades.
“I’ve been given an opportunity to be alive again,” said Zack. “I want to share that same chance with others, and help raise funds for Jewish Hospital, for organ donation and for cystic fibrosis research and treatment. It’s critical to give other people the same opportunity that I have been given.”
April is National Donate Life Month. If you would like to learn more about organ donation, join us on Thursday, April 26 at the Kentucky Derby Festival Health Fair at 4th Street Live from 4 to 8 p.m. During the event, we’ll be providing information about organ donation, the Trager Transplant Center and ways you can help make a difference.