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Lung Transplant Patient Story: Meet Richard Callender

The Challenge 

In 2004, Richard Callender walked out of a doctor’s appointment thinking he might not live to see his daughter go to kindergarten. Richard was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a serious disease that causes scarring or stiffening of the lungs and makes daily activities like walking, speaking, and eating difficult.

With two young children, another on the way, and exciting c​areer goals in mind, Richard was determined to beat the odds.

“I chose to live everyday like I was dying, because I was,” says Richard.

For several years Richard kept his disease private by learning to control his breathing and pacing himself by avoiding hills and steps.  He was able to see his children grow and he pursued his dream of being elected to city council for the city of Lower Burrell, PA. However, as time went on it became clear that Richard would need a lung transplant if he wanted to survive. 

The Path to UPMC

Richard came to UPMC in 2009 and underwent a transplant evaluation. Despite being very sick, he was still too healthy to be placed on the lung transplant waiting list. 

Six years later, in June 2015, he returned for a second transplant evaluation. Again, he learned that he was too healthy for a transplant—but just three weeks later, Richard’s health took a dramatic turn for the worse. He experienced spontaneous pneumothorax, or a partial lung collapse, and was transferred to UPMC Presbyterian and immediately placed on the transplant waiting list. 

In the days that followed, Richard’s condition became more complicated. His disease progressed so quickly that his doctors feared he might not get a transplant in time. He suffered a full lung collapse, was placed on oxygen, and needed life support.  At that point he developed an infection, which made him ineligible for a transplant until his condition could stabilize. 

The Solution: A Double Lung Transplant 

Richard continued to fight and while on life support, and once his condition stabilized, he was placed back on the waiting list.  He underwent a double lung transplant on July 4, and says he enjoys the fact that everyone will always celebrate that day with him – with fireworks. 

Richard’s recovery was not easy, as he developed an infection in his new lungs and had some complications that required additional surgeries. After several weeks, Richard woke up one day and knew he had to get moving and get his life back.  While still in the hospital he went back to work, attending city council meetings by conference call, reading up on city codes, and gearing up for his next challenge: running for mayor of Lower Burrell.   

The Results 

In the fall of 2015, Richard won the election with more votes than anyone in the city’s history and says he truly appreciates the support and care he received from his community. As for his health, Richard says he is feeling great and that he remains thankful to everyone who cared for him. 


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