He will take your breath away
by Cassie Spurrier
A loving daughter's profile of her dad - written just
before he received his call for his lung transplant.
From the size of his television, the scruff of
his cheeks down to the wrinkled jogging pants that hang from his waist,
one would think Danny Spurrier is your typical mid-50’s bachelor. True,
he lives alone, rarely cooks and enjoys spending his nights at a poker
table, like most bachelors. Yes, he even lets the dishes sit in the sink
until the food is stuck to them like gum on the sole of your shoe. Two
bass hang from the wall, trophies of past days spent on the lake, their
mouths gaping open, serving as the decor, trophies of fishing trips past.
But there is an exception with Danny, because the dirty dishes and
shortage of home cooked meals are not due to lack of time, but rather to
lack of breath. Danny is suffering from a disease that affects 20 percent
of smokers. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - COPD, for short – has
radically changed his way of life.
“I enjoyed smoking. The reason I started I
guess was to fit in. It was the thing to do back then,” Danny recalls
with a voice aged from 35 years of smoking. He admits it also did not
help that he worked at a fiberglass manufacturing plant for 31 years,
where the use of masks was not enforced. Before being moved to the
management office, Danny was exposed to “dust, fumes, silica and all the
other glass batch ingredients.”
“I remember when Danny would come home from work
and I would get so mad at him because the fiberglass would fall from his
clothes into the carpet to later be found by my bare foot,” Joni Messer
remembers. She is 16 years younger than Danny and one of two siblings.
“I am sure that has something to do with his current condition.”
Danny shrugs it off. “I knew I had to quit
smoking. I could feel my body giving out on me.” He points to the door
of the freezer, where a small paper with scrawled blue ink resides at
eye-level. It reads: “In poor health (Emphysema) and being short of
breath, very hard to pursue my interests, can do very little physical
activity without suffering.” These are the reasons he listed on Oct. 14,
2000, while sitting at the doctor’s office as he came to the shocking
realization that if he did not change his life, it would no longer be a
life worth changing.
“I stopped smoking eight months after I was
diagnosed with COPD. For the first year after quitting I got urges often.
After that year, I hardly ever get urges to smoke. Within two years I
was put on oxygen. Now I’m at 24 percent lung function and on a
transplant list for a double lung transplant. Without that, I have about
two years left.” There is a slight waver in his voice. Danny admits most
people do not realize how fast your health plummets after a diagnosis of
COPD and how it alters your lifestyle.
“You have to plan every second of your day.
Like if I want to go somewhere, I have to make sure I have the oxygen to
go and if it is too far for me to last with my portable tank, I have to
find someone to put my other tank in the car.” The other tank, an
80-pound mass of steel, resides by his red and silver bass fishing boat
that rests under the shed, covered in the residue of a summer unused. But
hopefully the next summer will be spent out in the sun of High Rock Lake,
a favorite fishing spot for Danny. He knows where all the fish hide and
how to catch them.
“Danny always catches the big fish!
J,” jokes Norm David, through
emoticons. And Norm is forced to believe Danny since he lives in Ohio and
has never met him personally. He knows him as “Danny-NC” in the COPD chat
where they met. “Norm is a very knowledgeable individual and honestly
shares his knowledge to help anyone who needs it. I consider him to be a
mentor. We met online through www.COPD-International.com, where I host
chats,” Danny says. The two, “COPD’ers” as they call themselves, chat
weekly about their condition, among other things, on the website.
Danny maneuvers around at his desk, careful to keep
the clear tubing that feeds oxygen into his lungs away from the wheels of
the chair where he spends much of his day off. He only has two days off a
week and those are when he is not driving to Durham for lung
rehabilitation at Duke Rehabilitation Clinic. “I go three days a week now
that I have completed the program and graduated. On Thursday I will be
activated on the lung transplant list, and I could receive a transplant at
anytime after that.”
A double lung transplant seems drastic. It
seems like a last resort, but for Danny, it is.
“He has so much to add to our conversations and
he is always there to help someone out. He is more than willing to share
his stories and experiences with those who might need a friend. He also
has a quick wit and it always fast on the up swing,” Norm says, reminding
the chat of how Danny has often made them feel welcome or brought them
back up on a particularly “down” day.
Many respond in the chat, with “hellos” and
“goodbyes” to each chatter. They comment on Danny’s fishing, his
transplant and how he is always there to share a laugh. They tease him
like they would a little brother and admire him like they would an older
brother. Danny watches the chat from his blue recliner. “I like COPD-International,
because there you can learn things about your condition and how to cope
with it that you cannot learn from any doctor. … Many years of
‘experience’ are there and the knowledge is there for the gathering, if
you want. I consider the members as friends even though I have physically
met very few of them. We are all sort of like family.”
But the time is near for this Marlboro man to
turn in his oxygen and his lungs. Danny admits to being a little nervous
about the future but his mind is set and he is definitely concentrating on
post-op. His travel bag resides on the couch, awaiting the phone call
that will send him to Durham and then onward to a new life with new
“I want to be without my oxygen, to travel, to
go to the beach, to be able to breathe!” Danny smiles, “And I want to go
Note: Prior to his transplant, Danny wrote
the inspiring article entitled
My Transplant Journey