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A second chance at life

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Avid bike rider, Michael Fattal, received a second chance at life after a double-lung transplant. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

After receiving a life-saving double-lung transplant three years ago, Michael Fattal says his first prayer to God was to let him live long enough to become a grandfather.

“I asked to become a grandfather. That’s how far I want to go,” the now 31 year-old said, smiling.

Michael was the first lung patient in Australia to benefit from the the new program “Heart and Lungs in a Box,” an organ care system developed by researchers at St Vincent’s and abroad.

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Funds raised through The Lights of Christmas spectacular commencing at St Mary’s Cathedral on 5 December will support the hospital’s program.

Prior to the transplant, Michael had spent much of his 27 years in hospitals, being treated for the Cystic Fibrosis he had been born with.

Michael Fattal says his first breathe after the double-lung transplant was crystal clear. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The condition would cause his lungs to be constantly filled with mucus, making breathing extremely difficult.

“Breathing was always very heavy, very difficult… everything was extra hard. Even just sitting and talking,” Michael told The Catholic Weekly.

When he woke from the anaesthetic after undergoing the double-lung transplant at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, Michael says the first breath he took was crystal clear.

“My initial breath was very shallow, but it was so clear, it was surreal. I can’t explain how clear it feels, in comparison to what it was before.”

“I was really, really happy.”

Just five months ago he took the first step towards his dream of becoming a grandfather, when he married wife Eleanor.

His life is now light-years from what it was prior to the transplant.

Yet, the morning before the hospital phoned to tell him they had donor lungs for him, he had cried out to God in anguish. He knew his condition wouldn’t let him live much longer.

“It was 1am in the morning. I had all my tubes in and it was really hard to sleep. I was praying, ‘God, I don’t know what’s happening, and if you’re going to take me to be with you, that’s fine — the Bible paints a really beautiful picture of heaven and eternity — but I would like to live longer’.”

The procedure Michael underwent at St Vincent’s is at the cutting-edge of transplant technology. “Lungs in a box,” involves the donor lungs being placed in a portable device that brings them back to life, and keeps them in that state, until the transplant can take place.

The same technology is used for heart transplants. It allows 30 per cent more life-saving transplants to be performed, and costs $50,000 per use.

Even though at the time the method of transplantation was untested, Michael felt he had to take the risk. The avid bike rider said he had too much to live for.

“I felt I was at a fork in the road and I really wanted to live. I wanted to get back on my bicycle, to be with my family.”

“So I signed up because I thought by doing this I wouldn’t have to wait as long on the list. The list can take six to eight months, and I wasn’t very confident of making it that far. Neither were the doctors.”

Following the procedure Michael was only in ICU for one night. He says the Christian ethos at St Vincent’s made a difference to his transplant experience.

“Going to a place knowing that it had Christian values, I’m telling you it does show. I’ve been in the hospital system all my life, and I think it was just an added extra. I really did appreciate it.”

Michael is now well and truly back on his bike, so-to-speak, and planning for the future. He currently runs his own travel management company in Sydney.

Even though the transplant saved his life, there are still risks that Michael faces. One is the potential for his body to reject the donor lungs. Another is catching a common cold or picking up other germs, which can be life-threatening for organ recipients, as their immunity is so low.

However, Michael says his faith helps him to “stay positive” and to be “forward-thinking.”

“The Christian faith for me ultimately comes down to hope—hope that one day I’ll be with God… But also hope that my life can count here on earth.”

“It’s not about money or wealth, but the impact you can make on people’s lives, no matter what your situation is. That’s real hope.”

For more details: www.lightsofchristmas.com.au or follow @lightsofchristmas on Instagram and @LightsofChristmasSydney on Facebook.

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