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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, 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 lungs. 

     “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 fishing.”

Note: Prior to his transplant, Danny wrote the inspiring article entitled Fishing With Emphysema  -- This story of a fishing addict with COPD traces the transitions and attitude adjustments that can be made to allow a COPDer to continue to do the thing he loves the most.

You can also read Danny's article about his transplant - My Transplant Journey


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