Artist with cystic fibrosis goes through 6 lungs in two years after transplants

An artist is on his third set of lungs in just two years after surviving a second double lung transplant. Dylan Mortimer, 40, has twice suffered life-threatening lung failure which required a complete transplant of the organs to save his life.

Dylan, from Kansas City, Missouri, required the healthy donor lungs after cystic fibrosis caused his original lungs to fail, before a freak compatibility issue caused his donor lungs to degrade just 18 months later. The first major surgery took place in January 2017, followed by a re-transplant in April 2019 after his donor lungs failed, leaving Dylan facing a second race against time to find a set of the life-saving respiratory organs.

Dylan was warned he had just months to live without a transplant. His life was eventually saved when a stranger saw his family’s appeal for help and offered their deceased relative’s lungs to him. Full-time artist Dylan has now fully recovered and uses his death-defying experience to inspire his work.

Father-of-two, Dylan, said: ‘It’s incredibly humbling to think that someone has saved my life twice, but I’ll never get to see them to say thank you.

‘It is the best feeling in the world to wake up from surgery alive and breathing with completely new lungs. It has been a real struggle to go through this twice but I feel like I’ve been given two more chances at life.

‘The procedure is life-threatening so when I was told I had to go through it for a second time it was a crushing feeling.

‘My body started to reject my donor lungs and the lung function went from 100% to 20% in just a few months. It’s horrible to know that you are dying and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

‘I’ve been an artist my whole life but recently my experiences with my lungs have influenced my work a tonne. I realized my art could be a way of speaking out about the pain and the triumph, all at the same time.’

Dylan was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that causes recurrent infections that can result in a build-up of thick mucus, particularly in the lungs.

The condition led to him suffering with regular chest infections which grew more severe as he reached his mid-20s, with doctors warning he would eventually need a lung transplant.

That warning finally came to pass in November 2016 when Dylan began coughing up blood and realized his lungs were failing.

Following an appointment with his doctor Dylan was placed on the transplant list and received a transplant from a 29 year-old man two months later.

Dylan said: ‘When I got listed my lungs were in a pretty bad state. I could not go for a run, not even for more than a minute at a time. Fitness was not an option for me.

‘I had young kids at the time so being a dad ended up becoming a challenge for me physically. It got to the point where a lung transplant was the only option really.’

The major double lung transplant procedure was carried out at the Barnes Jewish Hospital, St. Louis, Missouri, in January 2017. Dylan spent a total of three-and-a-half weeks in hospital following operation and faced three months in rehab.

He said: ‘It went very well and it just felt amazing after the surgery. It really does feel like being given a new lease of life.

‘I wrote a letter to the family of the donor but I never heard back from them. I just wanted to show how grateful I was.

‘I spent a long time in rehab and it was really tough, but I recovered pretty quickly. I managed to do a 5k run with my dad in the October and I was real happy with that, it felt like I was getting back to normal.’

But Dylan’s body began to reject his new lungs just year later in June 2018 after he, his wife Shannon and two children, Noah, 11 as well as Liam, eight, moved to New York City.

Unbeknownst to doctors at the time, the donor lungs contained antibodies which Dylan’s body did not produce naturally. That imbalance caused them to fail, despite Dylan taking powerful medication aimed at stopping his body rejecting the new lungs.

By November 2018 his lung function had plummeted to just 20% and even walking up a flight of stairs was almost impossible for him, with Dylan’s doctor confirming he needed a second transplant.

Dylan said: ‘It was an absolutely crushing feeling to know that I’ll have to go through it all again. It’s such a major, life-threatening procedure but I didn’t have any fear or doubt about it.

‘The big worry was my chance of finding a donor, I was told I could have to wait a year. But at this point I was looking at having months to left to live, so things got pretty bad.

‘But in early 2019 we got a random call from a woman in Kansas called Delaney, who is a nurse and said her cousin had just passed and we want to donate his lungs to you.’

Dylan, who shared a mutual friend with Delaney, added: ‘I thought there was no way this would work but Delaney wanted to talk to my hospital to see if there is a way. We waited and waited and in April 2019 I got the call to say the lungs were a match for me and the surgery could be done.

‘I thought to myself that if I don’t take this chance then I could die. It was a leap of faith.’

Dylan had his re-transplant at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Manhattan, New York, in April 2019. A long and rigorous rehab process followed and by August 2019, Dylan had made a full recovery.

Dylan has since returned to Kansas City where he met up with his donor’s family multiple times, with the grateful artist saying he ‘can’t thank them enough’.

Doctors have warned Dylan that he may require a third lung transplant in the future, should one or both of his new lungs fail for a third time. He is determined to enjoy his new-found health, although the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has forced him to adopt strict social distancing practices to keep himself safe.

Dylan, who makes art inspired by his life experience, said: ‘I feel like I have been given a blessing and I have shown my gratitude to my donor’s family, they know how much this means to me.

‘They have said they’re pleased their loved one can live on, so I will live my life to the full with the gift I have been given.’

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