At just 41 years-old, Darvy Culleton has lived a life few people could imagine. Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at a very young age, Darvy always knew he was living on borrowed time. Without a lung transplant, CF would claim his life before he turned 30 years-old. Every breath was a struggle, walking was near impossible and having fun was out of the question. All this changed in December 2006 when Darvy received a new set of lungs.
For most people, the idea of undergoing a transplant is beyond comprehension. It is terrifying. This was not the case for Darvy. Constantly teetering on the edge of death, Darvy faced his own mortality on a regular basis. He had nothing to lose. A transplant gave him hope of a future where he could breath.
Darvy’s description of life post-transplant perfectly captures the power of organ donation, “Life has been one constant gift after another. Life is amazing!” He calls his donor his hero. Darvy has taken full advantage of his second chance. He married the love of his life, and he and Megan began building a life together. Darvy acknowledges being the spouse of a transplant recipient isn’t easy, “The challenges I face post-transplant are easy for me to handle. I’ve grown up with one of the most complex diseases there is, so I’m used to being poked and prodded. It wasn’t until marriage that I really got to see how my health affected those around me. It is hard for her to watch me go through multiple surgeries, hospital stays, infections and all of the other little goodies that come as part of the transplant package.”
Recently, the couple celebrated their biggest accomplishment to date – the birth of their daughter Emily Marie. To say the couple is elated is an understatement. They are eagerly anticipating all the new experiences that come with being parents. From swimming lessons to buying matching Adidas tracksuits, it is all they can think about. Darvy is especially excited for the daddy/daughter events as he never really allowed himself to believe this day would come. His joy is evident when he talks about his daughter, “When Emily has a bottle, grabs my thumb with her little hand and looks up at me, I just know it doesn’t get any better.”
Becoming a father has made Darvy pause and contemplate the realities of transplant life, “I’ve always wanted to be a dad, a great dad! But I wonder, will I be here for her? Or will my disease take me before I get to see her grow up? The reality is very real and very scary. However, I wouldn’t trade this time with my beautiful daughter for anything in the world.”
When Darvy thinks about the future he is optimistic, as he knows research is being conducted to help transplant patients live longer and healthier lives. He is encouraged by the advances in the field related to cross-matching. We know more than ever before about donor specific antibodies, which lead to antibody-mediated rejection, a type of rejection that is one of the most destructive for transplant recipients. Research is helping medical experts understand this process and identify ways to prevent and treat this form of rejection.
Darvy’s ultimate hope is that research leads to a cure, not only for CF but for transplantation as well. “I want people to know transplant is not a cure. It’s a Band-Aid. Transplant offers me more time, time I’m so grateful for, but it doesn’t guarantee me any more time than just today.”