NEW CASTLE, Del. (WPVI) -- Lung disease can leave someone feeling like an outsider, unable to take part in everyday family life.
But after a lung transplant, a New Castle man is back doing what he loves, and off oxygen for the first time in years.
"Couldn't breathe, couldn't go up and down the steps. Couldn't even go out to the driveway to get the newspaper," says John Walker.
After decades around chemicals in the auto industry, John Walker's lungs were failing.
Tests at Temple Health showed how bad one lung was.
"It looked like I had a bunch of holes in it, like somebody took a knife to it," recalls Walker.
John initially said no to a transplant, scared of getting a stranger's lung, till his wife and daughter reminded him it would end years of being tethered to oxygen.
He even needed help to get through his daughter's wedding.
"I had oxygen at the back of the seats," he says, adding, "And I had another tank up front."
John got listed for a transplant just after the wedding, and less than 3 weeks later, got a new lung.
Temple Lung Center nurse practitioner Kevin Carney, CRNP, says transplant success starts long before surgery -
"Trying to stay as physically active as you can while you're waiting for a lung transplant will pay dividends and will make your recovery quicker," says Carney.
Patients are also required to have support people, and everyone must participate in support groups.
"They start to understand what lung transplant is," Carney notes.
Rehabilitation starts one to two days after surgery.
"They start working with physical and occupational therapy and nursing, kind of getting out of bed, into the chair," says Carney.
Patients are also encouraged to take walks around the hospital unit and to exercise their new lungs.
"Years of breathlessness have led to anxiety and deconditioning. So you kind of have to kind of break that cycle and encourage people to kind of learn how to breathe again," he says.
"Three days after surgery I was walking without oxygen," says John with a smile.
And just under a year later, John can easily do jumping jacks - and more.
"Yeah, I literally just got off the roof from fixing the gutters. I mean, I can do everything I used to do," says John, happy to be back working around the house.
He is grateful for the support of his family, for taking on extra duties when he was so sick and for being with him during the transplant process and beyond.
John also thanks the family of his lung donor for his new life. They donated every organ, so many people received second chances.
And he encourages anyone whose doctor doesn't favor a lung transplant to get a second or third opinion.