Each breath of air felt like his last. Jonathan Sacker said it was like he was drowning, but without the water.
Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 3, Sacker said walking across his living room used to knock him out due to a lack of oxygen.
On Saturday — less than a year after a double-lung transplant — Sacker will attempt to tackle a 34-story stair climb, taking each step like he did with his labored gasps of air, one at a time.
“I think it will be a great testament that this lung transplant has been worth it,” said Sacker, 32, of Oklahoma City. “Being there at the climb, I think it allows people to see that this is really possible, they can breathe again.”
Sacker and nearly 275 others will participate in the 2013 Fight For Air Climb health challenge at the Cotter Ranch Tower, 100 N Broadway.
Participants will try to ascend nearly 350 feet to the top of the tower. Those who wish to participate can register at 7 a.m. with the climb starting at 8:30.
The event benefits the American Lung Association and its fight against lung diseases. So far, more than $57,000 has been raised.
This time last year, Sacker was in the hospital barely able to breathe because his cystic fibrosis had taken a turn for the worse.
“I got to the point where I was always on an oxygen tank and I had to take that thing everywhere,” he said. “I lost the muscle strength to breathe enough air. It feels like you're constantly trying to get air but you can't do it, like you're breathing through a straw.”
On May 22, Sacker had a double-lung transplant. He said the feeling of being able to breathe freely for the first time in his life was indescribable.
“I used to struggle with the most mundane of things,” he said. “Even just talking on the phone would've taken all my strength. Now I'm walking and running and it just feels so good to be off the couch and out of bed.”
To chronicle his ordeal, Sacker recently finished a book, “Imperfect Perfection: A Cystic Fibrosis Journey.” He calls it a humorous collection of stories from his numerous stays in the hospital.
“The book is funny because being able to laugh at myself seemed to always pull me through the tougher times,” he said. “I want you to laugh and enjoy the many wild experiences I've had. I think people that have had CF will connect with a lot that I've been through because they've have probably been through many of the same situations.”
Throughout the climb Saturday, participants will see signs in the stairwell of the building comparing their breathing rates to certain lung diseases. Whitney Proctor, the development manager for the American Lung Association, said the purpose is to give climbers a new appreciation for their lungs.
“It's just to give them a little perception of how it feels to live with asthma or any other lung disease,” Proctor said. “We just hope people have a new understanding of what life is like on a daily basis for people with these lung diseases.”
Sacker said he hopes to complete all 34 floors of the challenge, but he injured his foot during a recent workout so he might not be able to finish.
“If I finish, that would be great but not totally necessary,” he said. “If people can see me climb even just one flight, that's a victory.”