A Double Lung Transplant: My Miraculous Journey
By Kyle Killough
My journey isn’t unique, but the “Director” of it is. His providential superintending of events and circumstances in my life can only be understood by us mortals as miraculous.
In July 2018, at age 53, I was diagnosed with a form of PF (pulmonary fibrosis). Simply put, this is scarring of the lungs, which keeps your body from processing oxygen. While this disease has several forms, doctors were unable to pinpoint specifically which form of the disease I had or the cause. By the following April of 2019, my lungs had worsened and now required that I go on oxygen full time. This meant primarily staying at home, or when going out, carrying a huge tank to keep my oxygen at the right level.
At this point, I could not work, and therefore lost insurance. I was facing lung transplant surgery which I was told would cost over $1 million with a minimum of 30 days’ hospitalization. My doctors’ visits were all cash in hand. I did not know what to do or where to turn. I would love to say I was full of faith and knew without a doubt that God would come through. The reality was, though I was clueless as to how bad my lungs truly were, I did know that I would never be able to have a transplant surgery without having insurance.
As a Christian, I have always been a man of faith, knowing and believing that God will provide our needs. But during those few months of April through June, there were times when I wondered if this was God’s plan, was it His judgment, was it punishment, or was it God at all? I was clueless, and a huge support team of family, friends, church family, and other believers began praying for me.
Thankfully, on July 1, 2019, I was able to secure insurance. Typically, you cannot get insurance unless there is a change of life situation. Even then, you must usually wait until the first of the year. In April, I had purchased a supplemental policy before realizing that it was not actually a health policy, as I was told. So, I cancelled it a month later. I then applied for a policy through Affordable Health Care and was able to secure a policy on the grounds of losing my insurance when, technically, I should not have qualified, because I was the one who cancelled. Some people called this a miracle, myself included, because many prayers were being offered up on my behalf.
Thus began the process of trying to get evaluated for transplant approval. On July 30, 2019, I was able to meet with the lung transplant team at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Counting miracles, this would be #2. Only by the swift action of the gatekeeper of the transplant department was I able to get in when, typically, it can take months. The gatekeeper was a lady named Charlene. She was the one who helped me get the right insurance and rushed the pre-approvals through, making it possible for me get into the clinic. Surely, Charlene was an angel on earth. She was my hero!
I met with the head of transplant, Dr. Grazia, and head of pulmonology, Dr. Rosenblatt. For over five hours, these two doctors explained my situation—what the surgery I needed would be like, and the pros and cons. That night they admitted me into the hospital.
In thinking back on that day, I should have been a little more nervous, scared, or at a minimum, a little freaked out at what the doctors had shared with me. I recall Dr. Grazia looking me in the eyes and asking me a question that seemed I should be asking him: “How long do you think you have?”—meaning how long I believed I would remain alive. I had never contemplated that question before. I knew that at this stage my health was bad, but I still had in mind that I would somehow be okay. I answered by saying six months. Looking over at my fiancé and seeing her eyes full of tears, and then back to Dr. Grazia, I heard the words “not even close.” For the first time, my own mortality was coming into focus.
After being admitted into the hospital, over the next several days a litany of tests was performed to further evaluate my ability to receive a double lung transplant. During the days, I recall having an overwhelming sense of my own mortality. Anxiety was not a normal feeling I struggled with; however, at this time, the stress and simply not knowing tomorrow was overwhelming. Then the first night after I went into the hospital, three couples who are my closest friends showed up within five minutes of each other. They all knew each other, but they do not run in the same circles. I believe this was a God ordained/directed meeting. The six of them, my youngest son, and my fiancé circled my bed and prayed over me. As they each prayed, a deep sense of calm came over me. Oh, how I wish I had an overhead picture of that scene. To me, it is a picture of what the church is—believers coming together for one cause. I have said before and will continue to state: “I do not know how anyone goes through life without faith in God.” My faith is what carries me through struggles in life and lifts me up during times of great joy.
The first step in getting on the national transplant list was approval by a team of doctors.
Every Thursday a committee of about 25 personnel would meet to evaluate and approve patients to go on the transplant list, as well as to move patients up or down on the list based on rather complex data—an objective number arrived at from a formula brought on by the evaluation testing. By Friday of that week, I had completed testing, and Dr. Grazia informed me that I was a candidate to go before the committee.
To clarify things in my mind, I asked if he would be taking me before the committee the following Thursday, the day the committee would meet. He stated that he was calling a special meeting on Monday to get approval rather than waiting till Thursday. (Miracle #3). As it turns out, the committee approved me on Monday. I was then put on the national list on Thursday the 7th. Had they waited till Thursday, I would not have been put on the list until August 12th. But, praise God, I was on the list, and on Saturday night, August 10th at 10:13 p.m., I received a call from the transplant coordinator asking me, “Would you like a new set of lungs?”
On August 11, I went into surgery to receive them. Had the medical team waited on approving me, I would not have received the lungs I have.
The day and night of my surgery there were roughly 70 family members and friends at the hospital praying over me, my surgeons, and my medical team. The surgery lasted over 11 hours. Though there were a few setbacks over 45 nights in the hospital, all went well. I can’t say enough about the culture and wonderful treatment I received at Baylor University Medical Center. Not one single person or employee who came into my room, day or night, during those 45 days ever had a bad attitude.
Many might see my journey as a great story of medical technology and timing. They would be correct. It is! But to miss the big picture of my story would be a shame. My transplant was meant for something greater than just a cool medical story, and even more than the story of a life being saved. God used my transplant for something much greater. A few years before my illness, I had gone through a divorce, one son had been struggling with depression for several years and taking drugs on and off, and my other son was angry over his family disintegrating before him. Our family life had spiraled out of control. When I state that God had something bigger in mind, He used this transplant to restore relationships. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
God used this transplant not only to give me healthy lungs but to heal my heart! I have been able to restore relationships with my sons and my ex-wife. God blessed me by sending friends I had not seen in 20 years to come walking into my hospital room. One of my favorite Bible verses—and one that is actually a promise—is Romans 8:37 (NLT): “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours, through Christ, who loved us.” This tells us that no matter our struggle, no matter how difficult the battle, we can be victorious because of Christ who loved us. Any battle we face, Christ has fought and won for us. That is the assurance I have as a believer. That is the same confidence I had while lying in the hospital facing possible death.
I am thankful for the journey God has allowed me to walk. Today—three plus years after my illness and transplant—I am enjoying things I had hoped for. Before surgery, I had stated that after surgery I wanted to be able to marry my then fiancé, yell at my sons’ baseball games, cook again, sing again, and see my first grandson born. I have been able to do all of those things and more. I am back at work, walk in 5k races with my wife, teach groups at my church, and enjoy life. When you have in your mind that you should already be dead, not much can get you down. Every day is a blessing!
I have come through this journey—the deep valley and the mountaintop experience—as a changed man. Every day of my life, with deep thankfulness, I extol my donor and their family for the gift of my lungs.
While I know nothing about them, I do know they were unselfish. Through their gifts, many people received life. God has saved my life twice. The first time, He saved me spiritually through His grace by the sacrifice of His Son, my Lord Jesus Christ. The second time, He saved me physically through a new set of lungs and a greater appreciation for LIFE! God used a double lung transplant to shake me up and make me have a greater appreciation for what He has given me. The journey has brought me into a greater understanding of God’s mercy and grace. A Bible verse I have heard all my life finally began to make sense: “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23, KJV).
Kyle Killough is a member of First Church Hurst where he teaches a group Bible study. He values family time with his wife, Deborah, who stood by his side throughout his illness and now in life, and with his two sons and two grandsons. Kyle works as director of sales in North America for two architectural construction companies. In his free time, he enjoys listening to Christian and country music and watching college football. He says that every day is a blessing!