As a child, Howell Graham was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that often affects the lungs. By the time he reached his late twenties, Howell would lose his breath doing something as simple as brushing his teeth.
So, in 1990, he had a double-lung transplant — a risky, experimental operation at the time. Today, Howell is one of the longest-surviving recipients of that surgery.
At StoryCorps, Howell and his mom, Nan, remembered a few times when it seemed like he might not make it.
Click here for the transcript.
Nan Graham (NG): (laughs)
HG: And I was not happy at all. Couldn't talk because I was on the ventilator but I just was writing notes like, “Get him the heck out of here,” and “I don't want this guy, get me the girl back and—“
NG: Lots of cursing. Lots of cursing.
HG: Lots of cursing. And my—my dad was tearing up the notes because he was scared the male nurse would find the notes and kill me.
HG: So he spent his time intercepting my hate notes.
NG: Which is kind of understandable. When did you get out of the hospital?
HG: It was a month later.
NG: And when you got home, things were going well, and you—
HG: Well, things were going fantastic, and ah, I had been out in my dad's little seventeen-foot boat, thinking I knew what I was doing, and I ended up jumping out of the boat. And the boat got away from me, and it's too far to swim. And I really thought I was going to drown.
NG: Six months out of a double lung transplant.
HG: Six months out of a double lung transplant and the first thing that popped in my mind was Dr. Egan, who's kind of a little fireball, how mad he was going to be that he had given me this transplant and I blew it just being stupid.
NG: You said, “He would have killed me!” And I said, “He would have had to get in line. Your father and I would have be the first in line to kill you for this. We worked 28 years. He worked 12 hours.”
NG: (laughs) And so—
HG: 21 years later almost that these are—these are my lungs and it’s pretty amazing to have made it that far out. I've just been a lucky person.
NG: Life is good.
HG: Life is good.