Living Donation

Jason Gregg: Lung Transplant Patient Story

Jason Gregg

The Challenge: Cystic Fibrosis

In June 2008, Jason Gregg was told he had only two years to live. The 32-year-old guidance counselor, husband, and father had cystic fibrosis, and his lung function had crept down to a startling 18 percent. He couldn’t tie his shoes without running out of breath, and he was wearing an oxygen mask 24/7.

“It’s like living with asthma and breathing through a straw. You’re conscious of every breath you take. It’s mentally and physically exhausting,” he says.

Jason's doctor in Charleston, S.C., sent him for an echocardiogram and discovered that he had developed serious pulmonary hypertension. This red flag prompted the doctor to tell him it was time to pursue a lung transplant.

The Path to the UPMC Lung Transplant Program

For Jason, the choice of where to go for the lung transplant was clear. He knew that UPMC had performed more lung transplants than any other center in the United States, with good success rates. In addition, he had grown up in Pittsburgh and still had family and friends in the area.

But perhaps most important of all, Dr. Joseph Pilewski , a transplant pulmonologist and medical director of the UPMC Lung Transplantation Program, was here.

Dr. Pilewski worked in the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at UPMC, and had been Jason’s doctor for 12 years until he moved to Charleston. During that time — and during the difficult surgeries to come — Dr. Pilewski earned Jason’s complete trust.

The Solution: Double Lung Transplant

Just two months after the echocardiogram, Mr. Gregg was in Pittsburgh for a grueling, week-long evaluation. One week later, the transplant team at UPMC told him he had been accepted into the program. Six weeks after that, he and his family relocated to Pittsburgh, where they anxiously awaited the phone call that a pair of lungs was available.

Remarkably, it took just six weeks for Jason to get that phone call.

“I was hanging out with my friends. It was 8 p.m. on December 22. My cell phone rang and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. It was the best Christmas present I could have gotten,” he says.

The very next day, Dec. 23, 2008, Jason underwent surgery for a double lung transplant at UPMC. Nine hours later, he awoke in the ICU. One week later, he was taking regular walks in the halls.

Due to his cystic fibrosis and pain medication, Jason endured intestinal complications that kept him in the hospital for 60 days. He had six additional intestinal surgeries and almost died twice. He credits the strength of his wife for giving him the will to live, and the team at UPMC for giving him his life.

“They were all great in their own ways," he says. "Dr. Pilewski’s patient skills and clinical skills made me trust him with my life. My transplant surgeon did an excellent job. So did the other surgeons who operated on me. And I give my absolute stamp of approval to the transplant nurses. They went above and beyond to make me and my wife comfortable.”

The Results: Helping Others with Chronic Illnesses

Now back home in Charleston, Jason and his family just recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of his lung transplant.

“The transplant made a phenomenal, life-changing difference. I like sports, and now I’m able to play,” he says. “Before, I was always a sideline spectator. Now I’m more involved in the action.”

In fact, Jason plays soccer twice a week with his daughter Kyleigh and her team. He also plays on an adult soccer team. And the whole experience moved him to write a book and create a website that helps people cope and thrive when they have hidden disabilities and chronic illnesses.

Thanks to his transplant and the team at UPMC, Jason is “able to be the man, husband, and dad I’ve always wanted to be.”

Jason’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

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