A Daughter’s Story

Jenn (O’Brien) Strathmann
Daughter of Second Wind St. Louis Members
Tom and Jennifer O’Brien
April, 2007

My dad was sick for many years. So many years that I could not even begin to try to count, because he hid it as long as he could. But there came a point when he could not hide the fact that he could no longer breathe. He could no longer climb the stairs, walk the pier to his boat that he once enjoyed more than anything, or finish a sentence without stopping midway to catch his breath. My dad is a strong man. He has always been strong. That is why he would hide how sick he really was. He bore as much as he could on his own so as to not upset his family. I always knew my dad was strong, however he would prove to be even stronger than I could ever imagine.

During the period before my dad was ever listed to receive a double lung transplant, it was quite apparent things were going down hill. Something needed to be done. The minute I found out my dad was going to get a transplant, I turned my computer on and did as much research as I possibly could. A lung transplant? A double-lung transplant? What does this mean? The first thing I thought was, “Wow! They are going to fix him!” I was so amazed that they could offer him a new chance at life. What was involved? Where would the donor lungs come from? What would he have to endure before, during and after the surgery? How common was it? The questions just flooded my mind. Each day I would log on to learn more. I shared everything I could along the way. I later would learn that this was one of the best things I could have done. Not only did it inform me of the many questions flooding my mind it would also lend support to my dad. I was positive he would finally be ok. He and I would talk, often helping each other feel more comfortable about what would happen. It doesn’t mean that we weren’t scared, but it definitely helped.

My dad would be listed for 22 long months. He would try to stay as healthy as he possibly could by going to rehab, working out, and walking the treadmill. He slowly declined in the speed and amount of time he could spend there. It just all became too much. I am sure there are times he felt like throwing in the towel. But he never did. I know now he never thought he would see his children married or meet the grandchildren that he now enjoys so much. None of us did. It was a miracle that he got to walk me down the aisle. Only he told me, “Even though you are getting married today and I know that I am supposed to give you away, I never will.” Those words told me just how much he loved me and how important I was to him. I will forever be grateful that I heard them. My dad was there for me during both of my pregnancies. He showed up for the ultrasound to learn the gender of the first baby, only to be surprised by a little munchkin inside me crossing her legs not letting anyone know the truth. He was very disappointed, as were the rest of us. I demanded the doctors try again the next day because we all just had to know. Sure enough there she was; this time she was cooperating. My dad was also at the birth of both of my children. First, Madison, and two years later a beautiful boy, Dino. What more could you ask for! It was a very touching and emotional time for us both. It is an experience I am sure we will both treasure forever. My dad would finally hear the words Papa. When the children first started talking, Papa was a very important word for them to learn. Then they soon began speaking full sentences “I want to go to Papa’s house.” You bet, let’s go.

Those 22 months on the waiting list seemed like an eternity. Many times I would listen to my favorite artist Sarah McLachlan and her song “Angel”. I burned my father a cd so he could enjoy the music as much as I did. Depending on the day and my mood, the song would mean different things to me. I would listen to it over and over again on the way to and from work with streams of tears rolling down my face. One of the lyrics conveys, “Spend all your time waiting for that second chance for a break that would make it okay” It still makes me cry. But it got me through many days and months. And crying is good for the soul. There were many nights when my dad would be alone. His wife, Jenni, provided him full time support, except when she worked nights, so I got in the habit of sleeping with the phone next to my bed every night , just in case my dad needed me. I would call him every night at 10 p.m., just be- cause. I would think what if I dial the phone and he does not answer? I planned to go over there and make sure he was ok. What if the day is coming that I will dial the phone and he will never answer again? I think that is one of the hardest thoughts. To actually think you may never be able to hear the voice of someone that has meant so much to you over the years, someone you love. I would often think of the life that would be lost to save my dad. I wondered how that family would get through it. Was it selfish of me to want to keep my dad around knowing what had to happen? Maybe, but I don’t know many people who would not feel the same way. I would pray all the time, please God, I will do any- thing. I knew my dad would be ok. I just knew it.Don’t get me wrong, for every second I felt like this was the answer to my prayers, there were also many moments that I felt so scared he would not make it to see the day the call would come. It did though. Bright and early one weekday morning, Tuesday, November 16, 1999 to be exact. I was in my condo getting ready for work for a job I had just started the previous month. “Are you serious? Are you serious? I am on my way!” I was told not to hurry because it could still be a bit before dad would get there and settled. But not hurry? Who are you kidding? The call came and this was it! I can even tell you what I was wearing – a red sweater with a black and white stripe across the chest, black slacks and black boots that tied up the front. The reason I make it a point to even tell you this is because I can’t even tell you what I ate for lunch yesterday.

When I arrived at Barnes, my dad was standing there with Jenni. Soon he would get whisked away to get ready for surgery. We all wanted to see him to tell him we loved him, but he was having none of that. Nerves maybe, but I know it was also because there was no need to tell him that – he already knew as well as we knew that he loved us. We waited in the waiting room getting updates along the way. My dad would spend 14 days in the hospital. He became better and stronger each and every day. It was time for the masks and the constant hand washing and for new worries. We worried his body would reject his new lungs, that he would become sick or contract a deadly infection, or that he would not adjust well to all that he had just been through. It is a lot to ask of anyone, yet he made the choice to go through with it (thank God), so there would be no turning back now. It was time to start living, to continue the exercise, to buy a Harley, to go on many trips, to watch children get married and four grand-children to be born.

Life after transplant has had its ups and downs. But, that is what life is – isn’t it? That is what makes us all stronger and that is what makes us all that much more grateful for the wonderful things we really do have. My dad became sick several times. He would sometimes be hospitalized for weeks at a time. Sometimes he would share how sick he felt and other times he would not even tell us. Again, he was trying not to worry his family. But like I said, my dad is a strong man. One step back, two steps forward with him.
My dad has endured a lot over the years. We all have. But I will forever be grateful to Jason and his family who chose to give the gift of life. Jason no longer breathes the air the way he once did-with his whole body and spirit. He does however live on breathing life for my father. He will forever live in my heart and the hearts of everyone in my family. I only hope that someday I have the fortune to make such a difference in the lives of people that I never even knew, as Jason has. God Bless you Jason! I have said many special prayers for you and your family often.

I tell my dad’s story often to encourage others to be organ donors and to express how truly wonderful a gift it is. I share with them what a difference it can make in someone’s life and the others around them. I know there are many fears sur-rounding the topic, but by talking about things I believe a lot of these fears can be put to rest.

I thank my dad for making the choice to go through all he has. I thank Jenni for giving herself unconditionally to my father. I thank my brother for the support he has shown over the years. Most of all, I thank Jason and his family for making possible my father’s ability to share in all of the things that have happened in my life.

God Bless.