A second chance

Lyndsay
Lyndsay McCready
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Kathy and Bart Haag

Sign, stick and go.

Those were the actions Kathy Haag had repeated year after year on her organ donor card, for as long as she can remember, ensuring that if anything were to happen to her, she could then go on to help someone else.

However, Kathy said she never thought she would be the one on the receiving end of that deal. To her, a donor card meant she would be giving life not receiving it. That is, until she began to have problems with her lungs.

"When it was suggested that I get my name on the donor list, I think I was in both shock and disbelief."

Bart Haag, Kathy's husband, said he was actually upset with the suggestion because to him, transplant was a death sentence.

However, looking back, both Kathy and Bart realize it was that suggestion that saved Kathy's life.

"I am sure I would have been dead in December. My left lung had quit while we were in Edmonton (for the pre-transplant program) and we didn't really know how bad the right lung was.

With her illness going from zero to 60 in a matter of a few years, both agreed it was hard to believe that they were at the point of transplant.

It was about six years ago when Kathy first started to notice a change in her body.

"It started out small, I was still working when I had COPD. I used to play ball and I noticed when I was running to second, I almost couldn't breathe and that wasn't normal."

Kathy said that was her first indication something was wrong.

It wasn't until after many misdiagnosed lung infections and the possibility of asthma was tossed around, that she was finally diagnosed with COPD.

"The first five years, things went really slow and then all of the sudden things started to move really fast," said Bart.

Because of Kathy's condition, she and Bart had to move, much of the household duties became Bart's and life as Kathy had known it came to a halting stop.

"It changed our whole world," said Bart.

He said what was most disheartening was that Kathy thought her final year, months and days would be spent confined within the walls of their home.

"That really broke my heart."

Half a year later and all of that has changed dramatically.

No longer bound to a wheelchair, dependent on oxygen and unable to walk without breathing issues, Kathy is back to enjoying the life she was meant to live.

"I love barbecuing with my family, sitting outside, drinking my coffee, listening to the birds, going shopping, doing all of the things many people take for granted. And I can do it because I was given this incredible gift."

In October 2012, Kathy and Bart headed to Edmonton to participate in six-week program that would provide both exercise and education, in preparation for her double lung transplant.

After only one week in the program, Kathy was moved from a level zero on the transplant list, which means you are on the list but they are not actively looking for an organ, to a level one, where they are actively looking.

Regardless of being at level one, Bart said it could have still taken up to a year and a half to find Kathy's perfect lung match.

However, as if it were all meant to be, the cards fell into place, one by one, for Kathy.

"A miracle in itself, (following the six week program,) we got the phone call five days later and were back in Edmonton with a new set of lungs."

Kathy said when they got the call they literally had minutes to pack and leave, which in the middle of winter was a challenge in itself, not to mention dealing with ever-mounting food of emotion as the moments passed.

Again as if fate were working in their favour, Bart said as they set out to catch their flight in Regina, the highway was shut down behind them. Although all of the commercial flights had been cancelled that day, theirs landed and took off no problem, "it was amazing. Everyone who helped us that day was amazing and it just felt as though everything was falling into place."

Even during the transplant, Bart said the doctor performing the surgery said it couldn't have gone any better. Her new lungs were a perfect fit, the surgery was finished hours earlier than planned and on Nov. 23, Kathy was given her second chance at life.

"And that is what it is, a second chance."

Although the amount of information Kathy is allowed to know about her donor is extremely limited, she was allowed to write a note to his or her family expressing her gratitude.

However, she said it was one of the toughest things she has ever done.

"How do you just say thank you? This so much more above thank you."

She said all she could really do was let them know how much she appreciated what they had done and promise to take care of this "amazing, amazing gift."

Although Kathy's treatments will be forever and there have been a few setbacks along the way, she has never felt better, never wanted to do more and has a new appreciation for the smallest of moments.

"The entire sequence of events that took place is because of so many little miracles that happened." Bart said from the moment they left the house to the moment Kathy opened her eyes, the people, family, doctors and friends who helped in their own way, were beyond amazing.

He said the person who took the time to sign his or her donor card is a hero and that is an understatement.

Going through something of this magnitude, Bart said, you really have to count on the kindness of a lot of people and strangers. However, if he ever doubted the goodness of humanity, after going through something like this, those doubts were instantly put to rest.

"When push comes to shove, people are exceptionally good."

Geographic location: Edmonton, Regina

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  • Joanne Fikowski
    June 21, 2013 - 11:53

    Bart and Kathy Haag are an inspiration to everyone. They have an extremely strong family and strong faith which is a major ingredients for over coming the huge obstacles which they have had to face. Bart and Kathy have always been kind, giving and generous people. Both my husband and I are very proud to have them as our friends. Good on you, Moose Jaw Times Herald, for publishing their story.