Tommy's Story

Tommy's Story - As told by his wife, Shawna Serby Harroun.

Tommy first started having shortness of breath in November 1998, he then had his first biopsy, at only 27 years old, he was diagnosed with sarcoidosis. Tommy began working as a blender at the age of 21 at a plastic company where he was exposed to a lot of dust/chemicals. At the time of his first biopsy Doctors did not feel it was work related so he continued working. Tommy's health remained stable until June 2010 when he started getting short of breath on exertion. He had lost a lot of weight, was very fatigued and as Tommy explained it was “like a switch went off’. He went back in to see what was going on and that was when he started seeing his pulmonologist (who was also on the transplant team). He was then seen every 3 months for the next 7 years to monitor his lung functions and overall health. Tommy was told he had pulmonary fibrosis on the bottom of his lungs and emphysema on the top half and would one day need a transplant.

Tommy continued working full time even though he struggled to breathe while doing anything physical. In 2012, Tommy was sent to another occupational doctor who looked in to his diagnosis from the biopsy that was done in 1998, and this is when we learned it was an occupational related incident. Tommy was placed on modified duties; he no longer was a blender and he did more administrative work. In May 2013 Tommy fell ill and that was when oxygen was first introduced. From 2014 - May 2017, Tommy's lung disease was pretty stable and he continued working full time. He didn't complain about his daily struggles to breathe. Tommy's day consisted of working 8 hrs, then coming home to bed as he was exhausted. Too tired from his busy work week, he missed out on weekends with us. In May 2017, Tommy had a lung volume reduction surgery done on his right lung. It helped, he no longer needed oxygen and had a little more energy, so the 2 of us, with our daughters, Hope and Haley, spent a week in Penticton that summer.

January 8, 2018 was Tommy's last day of work, as he fell really ill, his oxygen level was very low and he spent several days in the hospital where they suspected he had an infection, so he was back on oxygen full time. He began to feel better on January 22, and his oxygen levels were looking better. However on January 28 he was admitted once more to the hospital and by January 30, Tommy was in ICU. The doctors advised me that it did not look good and a lung tranplant was necessary. He was then sent to the University of Alberta Hospital ICU on February 1 where the transplant team started to assess him. They began preparing him for transplant February 2 and on the 3rd of February our prayers were answered, Tommy was given a brand new set of lungs. Tommy was in surgery for 7.5 hours and he did amazing. Tommy was so grateful for this second chance he was given, as we all were. He then spent 18 days in hospital after the transplant and through it all, he didn't complain, he was just so grateful to be alive and to now be able to see his girls get married and meet his grandbabies.

Tommy and I spent the next 3 months going back and forth to the hospital twice a week, meeting with the amazing transplant doctors/team, for blood work and 5 days a week of physio and a lot of medication daily. Through it all he didn't complain, he was excited about the future he was now going to have. As I watched him, he amazed me every day with how strong his will to live was. 33 days after the transplant, Tommy and I were able to go and see his old lungs. It put everything into perspective when the pathologist told us how amazed he was that Tommy worked and did what he did with these very diseased lungs. I married one hell of a strong man. On May 17, Tommy did a 5km walk for the Alberta Transplant Association. The girls and I were sure he wouldn't complete it but once again, his strength came through and he did it. It was definitely an emotional day as there is no way he would have been able to do that in the past. That's when I knew our future looked so much brighter - he was going to be able to do these things with the girls and he would have the energy once again and not be short of breath.

Things can change in a moment. On June 1, 2018, Tommy was admitted back into the hospital. He had not been feeling the best and had a high temperature. He had tests done that weekend and was told on June 4 that he had cancer. This is when my world turned black, my best friend and husband of 25 years was told he had only weeks to months to live. The anti-rejection drugs had affected his immune system. So many emotions. How was I going to live without him? How were we going to tell our girls that their dad was going to die? We had all had so much hope for our future. The four of us were devastated that this was going to be taken away from us. We spent the next 10 days in the hospital but unfortunately the morning of June 14, 2018 the lung disease won and my best friend, and Hope and Haley's dad passed away at the age of 48.

So here we are now months later, it's a struggle every day without him. Some days I can honestly say I'm not sure how I'm going to get through this. Life definitely sucks without him. I miss him more than anyone could ever imagine, as for what my future holds, I'm not sure, my motto is “one day at a time”, as cliché as it sounds. Tommy was a great guy and is missed by so many. He had a great heart and deserved to be here on earth so much longer. I still struggle with why it was his time.

I would like to touch on the reason we got to spend 4 more months with him. If it was not for the organ donor and their family, this would not have been possible. Their selfless act gave Tommy the gift to be able to run/walk and do what we all take for granted; breathe. He was so thankful and swore he was going to do whatever it took to take care of those lungs. Given the chance, anyone that knew Tommy, knows he would have. The girls and I are so thankful to the family and donor for giving him that second chance because if anyone deserved it, it was him.

We met a lot of great people on this journey - the entire transplant team was amazing. I could not thank Dr Weinkauf and his team enough for everything he did for us, he was with us right through to the end. This past year has been a whirlwind, it’s had its ups and downs and if I've learned anything, life is definitely short and can be taken in a second, but, at the end of all of this, lung disease was the cause. We lost an amazing man who had so much to give and was loved by many. - Shawna

 

For the months of November and December, text BREATHE4TOMMY to 20222 to donate $10 or $20 to the Lung Association - Alberta & NWT and help fund research and patient supports to give families like Tommy's more time.

Page Last Updated: 20/11/2018