The greatest gift: Life-saving lungs just in time for Christmas

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WPVI) -- Every year, more than a thousand people are in need of a lung transplant. And that number may be rising with the vaping crisis.

For an Ohio man, new lungs were the greatest early Christmas gift ever.

Charles Mason, 53, appreciates every breath now. Two months ago, he was fighting for his life, hoping for a lung transplant.

"I got so sick, so quick. I really didn't think I'd live to get to the transplant," said Charles.

He had a genetic disease called familial idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Both his brother and aunt have also dealt with it.

"It's where the lungs become stiff. It's harder to breathe. It's harder for oxygen to get through the lungs and into the bloodstream. When you have it as a familial form, that means it runs within the family," says Dr. Mari Budev.

After using oxygen for months, one day, Charles just couldn't catch his breath.

He went to the Cleveland Clinic emergency room and was admitted right away, and put on the transplant list.

"It was very critical. There was no doubt about it. He rapidly went through a lung transplant workup as soon as he got admitted," says Dr. Budev.

Charles needed a special machine to pump his heart and supply his body with oxygen.

With just days to live, donor lungs were found.

"Within a couple of days I was off any oxygen, I felt great. It was amazing, like I'd been born again in a second life," says Charles.

Now, 9 weeks out from transplant, Charles is breathing easy, getting stronger with every step.

"I feel very fortunate there was a donor and I feel it's also kind of sad because I know somebody died, hopefully, people will see this and think about maybe checking that box and becoming a donor," says Charles.

He plans to run a charity race next summer for organ donor awareness.

If you want to register as a donor, CLICK ON THIS LINK TO GIFT OF LIFE DONOR PROGRAM.
Copyright © 2020 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.