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Stories of hope

Eric Harned: Living every day to the fullest

Before and after photos for double-lung transplant recipient Eric

My name is Eric Harned and I was a double lung transplant recipient on December 22nd, 2014, the day my life changed forever…. I am excited to share my story, and the path that took me from being told I had 4-6 months to live without a transplant, to the point I am now post-transplant, doing all the activities I was doing prior — and even more. Since that day, I made a commitment to shout from the rooftops the importance of organ donation, sort of like the dedicated Christian whose passion is to share the word of salvation through Jesus Christ, thereby leading the unsaved and helping them to find their path to heaven.

Eric behind a lectern, takes every opportunity to promote organ donation and honor his donor

Eric encourages Ohioans to register as organ donors

My story actually begins in the late fall of 2006 when an unfortunate fall from the peak of my garage roof hanging Christmas lights, and a subsequent trip to the ER to get my ribs x-rayed, uncovered some previously undiscovered scarring in my lungs, an event that would be the start of my health decline and the unforeseen collapse of my right lung 8 years later on September 2nd of 2014. At the time, my lung scarring was first diagnosed by my lung doctor as Bronchiectasis, and from there my decline in breathing capacity was monitored but I was told that nothing could be done, as my lungs would continue to harden, shutting down my breathing — eventually resulting in my death.

Fast forward 8 years, and my right lung officially collapsed and I was rushed to the ER it was inflated not once but twice, and amidst the surgeries involved to repair and biopsy my right lung it was further determined that the severity of my disease, now spoken of as interstitial lung disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. I was given four to six months to live and at 51, I was not ready to meet my maker, nor leave my kids parentless. But understanding the circumstances were not good, I immediately began to get my affairs in order and to muster the strength to share with my two kids what was to come — a message not easy to deliver to my kids who were now 19 and 24. But thanks to some fast thinking doctors, they soon rallied to assist me in the pursuit of being listed as a potential transplant recipient, as this was truly my only option for extending my life. After several weeks of tests at the hospital to prove that I was physically and mentally sound to accommodate an aggressive transplant and the insurance folks had their say, I was told the option of a transplant still had a chance for approval. The biggest challenge still stood before me however, as because I was divorced and there was no one to care for me singularly, I then had to work to prove that I would have 24/7 in home care for 6 weeks once I returned home post-transplant, and that’s where the first miracle took place, as over 120 people from my church signed up to assist with all that would need done within my home and regarding my care which validated the last hurdle in my transplant center’s eyes and I was officially listed December 18, 2014.

With approval and my formal listing now behind us, I was then encouraged to get my bag packed for the hospital just in case, so that I would be prepared when the call did come. Fortunately, I am not a procrastinator as the next miracle came when the phone rang just 3 DAYS later and I was bound for the transplant hospital to get my new lungs. That Sunday morning when the call came was a brisk sunny day — but I had a sense of peace as I road to the hospital with an elder from my church. The initial projection was that the surgery would begin around 4 p.m., but that was later changed to 7, then to 10 with the surgery actually beginning at 1:15 am on December 22nd. Eight and ½ hours later, thanks to the skilled hands of the surgeons and surgical team that supported my surgery, I was brought back to recovery the recipient of two new lungs, and the hard and painful process of recovery would soon unfold from there. To date I have regained my 35 pounds and a few extra and I have been rejection free the past 8+ years as well. I have not only returned to umpiring high school baseball, but since my transplant I have also become a high school basketball official. Every year, I walk in a local non-profit organization’s 5K, and most importantly I have also participated in the Transplant Games in Cleveland, Ohio in 2016 and I’m committed to doing so again in 2024 in Birmingham AL. Wish me well ….

Initially I was most anxious to learn from whom these new lungs had come that had saved my life, but due to confidentially rules and such I was not able to be told that info initially. I was told that through time and by following protocol, and via written communication between myself and the donor’s family, such information may in time be disclosed. I have since been blessed to learn that my donor’s name was Rita, that she was 46 and was a devoted writer, painter and photographer who had grown up in Vermont. I have since been fortunate as well to have met her four sisters and other family members through a joyous dinner meeting. An event that allowed me to learn more about Rita, and her family to learn more about me. It was an unbelievable two hours and I will always cherish the time spent with her family, the hugs, the tears, the laughs and most of all the realization of what a giving and vibrant person she was and that I now had her two lungs inside me.

Clearly I am very blessed, and realizing the second chance that I have been given I have promised God and Rita’s family and my own, that I will not squander it. I have gotten very involved as a volunteer and an Ambassador Speaker to area high schools on the importance of organ donation, not to mention numerous nursing groups throughout Ohio. Clearly God had a reason for saving my life, providing these new lungs, and giving me the chance to “pay it forward” and to make a difference in my local community, my church, my workplace and in the education of those 40+ percent of Ohioans who are yet to officially register as an organ donor on their drivers’ license.

Transplant recipient, Eric, serving as referee

As a ref, Eric stays active on the basketball court

Since transplant, I am currently engaged in my 16th year as a high school baseball umpire, umpiring from 110-130 games per season from the spring, summer and fall for high school, travel tournaments, and fast pitch baseball men’s league. I have also been reffing high school basketball for the past 5 seasons — doing 65-85 games per season — racing up and down the court with high school players — not bad for a guy who just turned 60 — with new lungs!

I have also committed to becoming a board member for Second Wind the last 5+ years, a non-profit based on educating the lung transplant community, and raising and distributing money to those going through testing and the approval process for a lung transplant. I have likewise become very involved with UNOS and feel blessed to be sharing my story so it can be shared with its members here.

In summary, I have spent the past 8 plus years paying tribute to my donor Rita in all I do — as I never speak about my transplant without touting that she was my donor and that I managed to meet her 4 sisters — as it was clearly one of the most memorable events in my life.

Simply stated I am a blessed man, and although I have traveled through the valley of death, I have been spared and I am committed to not wasting my second chance. I have vowed to live every day to the fullest, not leave any gas in my tank at the end of each day and to make a positive difference in the world, all the while keeping the commitment I made to sing the praises of organ donation, as I am proof positive that the impact is monumental. God bless you all.

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