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Year later, lung transplant patient breathes easy

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 26, 2012 at 10:27 am •  Published: December 26, 2012

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Randy Gideon spent last Christmas Day in a respirator mask, seated alone, watching his family celebrate the holiday from across the living room.

He breathed with help from an oxygen tank. He was weak, but even if he had been strong enough, Gideon couldn't cross the room to join his loved ones because he couldn't risk catching a virus.

If he got any sicker, his family knew, he could not undergo a lifesaving double lung transplant.

Just that month, Gideon had temporarily been removed from the organ donation waiting list at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas after coming down with the flu.

No one wanted that to happen again.

Gideon had spent much of the preceding weeks isolated in his west Fort Worth home.

Gideon, 60, an architect whose many projects include the Fort Worth Police & Firefighters Memorial, the Intermodal Transportation Center and the Tarrant County Family Law Center, had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis four years earlier. It's a disease in which the lungs become damaged or scarred and stop functioning properly.

Often doctors cannot pinpoint the cause, and Gideon's case is one of those mysteries.

He has never smoked.

He exercised three times a week.

Over time, Gideon's condition worsened until merely getting dressed was a time-consuming, utterly exhausting task. He needed air from his oxygen tank to have the energy to move.

On Dec. 9, 2011, he was placed on the organ donation waiting list. His doctors expressed confidence that lungs would become available, but he knew that his situation was dire.

He and his wife, Beth, prepared for the worst, discussing his wishes and finalizing paperwork with an attorney.

The uncertainty hovered over Gideon's family that Christmas Day: Would it be his last?

"I had to come to the reality that I may not be able to have the transplant in time," Gideon said.

After the Gideons went to sleep that night, they awoke to a late Christmas gift — a phone call summoning them to the hospital.

A few hours later, surgeons were lowering new lungs into Gideon's chest cavity.

One year later, those lungs breathe strong.

Gideon is up and walking, even returning to work. He arrived home from a successful one-year checkup Monday and found that friends had decorated his front yard with balloons and handmade signs celebrating the upcoming anniversary of his transplant.

Inside, his home is decorated brightly for another Christmas.

Loved ones — his three adult daughters, a 16-year-old son and a whirlwind of other relatives — will gather once again, sharing gifts and embraces.

He will be right in the middle of it.

"It's going to be special," Gideon said.

It started with shortness of breath.

Gideon noticed it about five years ago when he exerted himself hiking or working out. It seemed strange because he considered himself in fairly good shape.

He eventually went to a pulmonologist, who diagnosed him with fibrosis. Gideon learned that the disease can plateau for a long time — or worsen quickly. Many people live only three to five years after diagnosis, according to the American Lung Association.

"It's a scary thing, but you really have to think about it logically and what you want to do," Gideon said.

His condition worsened over time. A doctor recommended that he go to UT Southwestern to explore clinical trials, but Gideon didn't fit the programs. By fall 2011, he could no longer walk across the room without stopping to rest.

His lungs had essentially lost the capacity to push enough air through his body, he said.

He went from 175 pounds to a bony 138. His skin looked pale, unhealthy.

His family's fear level rose sharply, Beth Gideon said.

"It was a very rapid decline," she said. "We had always been so active; it was scary to see the toll it was taking."

She and her husband's physician began working toward adding Gideon to the list for a double lung transplant at UT Southwestern. After a period of evaluation, Beth Gideon said, doctors held a meeting, reviewed the case and agreed that he was a good candidate.

His lungs were failing so quickly, she said, that they put him at the top of the list.

Last Christmas night, Gideon's friends surprised him by singing carols outside his home. Beth Gideon opened the back door so he could hear them.

After everyone had left the house, the couple watched television, then retired early to bed.

Randy Gideon awoke at 6 a.m. to a buzzing noise, which he realized was his wife's phone, vibrating. He shook his wife awake and told her that he heard the phone.

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