Life, one breath at a time
Henrico man recovering after second double-lung transplant
At age 28, Chad Southward has already wiped out two pairs of lungs, survived two catastrophic illnesses, and endured two life-saving surgeries with lengthy recoveries.
And he’s got the medical bills to show for it.
What’s more, he’s been cheated out of the newfound career he loves – one that might have helped him pay off some of those bills.
But you won’t hear him complaining. Southward is grateful for every breath.
A month after his second double lung transplant on Nov. 13, Southward’s days at Duke University Medical Center were a dizzying round of clinic visits and rehab appointments.
“Pulmonary, x-rays, bloodwork, blood gases, breathing tests, infectious disease, eye doctors, diabetes docs, bronchs and GI studies,” he recounted in a blog.
Yet, he added, “I could not ask for things to be going better. I feel amazing.
“I am walking a mile and more in 30 minutes. I am walking, biking, and lifting weights every day.”
The repeat transplant became necessary after Southward’s first set of transplanted lungs began to fail, following a triple onslaught of respiratory illnesses.
In 2009, while a teacher at Stonewall Jackson M.S. in Hanover, he went to school one day feeling under the weather. Within an hour or two, his students began to ask if he was okay.
He wasn’t. He had pneumonia, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and ended up being airlifted to University of Virginia Medical Center.
And the two-year wait for a new set of lungs began.
One month before his third birthday Chad Southward was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, and his parents – who had never heard of the disease – learned that the celebration might be his last.
Having suffered from symptoms of severe asthma since birth, Southward was already in and out of the doctor’s office several times a week.
But now his parents were hearing what sounded like a death sentence. He had a particularly serious form of CF, a progressive disease that produces thick mucus -- hampering breathing and digestion and scarring the lungs.
Southward’s mother, Pat Franklin, recalls that she and her husband, Stuart, eventually adopted the attitude, “God knew we were good parents and would do whatever it took to be sure Chad had the best life possible.
“We knew that God had given us an angel.”
Southward’s parents have since divorced, but remain close friends – a fact that Southward says he cherishes.
“Having to be in hospitals my whole childhood made my parents always be together, whether they were officially married or not,” he says now. “I was the bond holding them to each other.”
His mother believes that CF also brought the three of them closer together as a family.
“We were blessed with more one-on-one time with Chad,” Franklin says. “He required chest PT three times a day, and during those times we talked about school, golf, his Little League baseball team, his friends, everything and anything that might be bothering him.”
Graduating from Varina H.S. in 2001, Southward went on to Hampden-Sydney College to study English.
At 18, he had already been told that he should get on a double lung transplant list.
“My lung function at that time was a reasonable 30 percent,” says Southward. “Three years later, when I finally received the long-awaited call for the transplant, I was living with 18 percent lung function.”
It was during that three-year wait for the first transplant that Southward says he hit his lowest point. He became so sick his junior year that the doctor advised him to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University, to be closer to MCV. So Southward struggled through a semester at VCU – only to learn that he would not be able to take his exams at the hospital and complete the courses.
“I thought I’d done everything for nothing,” Southward says. “I wanted to give up. . . [until] Dad talked me out of it.”
Re-enrolling at HSC, Southward acknowledged that he might die before finishing the semester.
“But that’s where I wanted to be,” he says. “[At least I’d be] pursuing something, not just sitting home and giving up.”
When the call came that his new lungs were ready, Southward was visiting his friend and roommate, Shawn Shurm, at the river.
On his blog, he recalls that his mother began crying hysterically as soon as she saw the number appear on caller ID. “She was running around the house, throwing clothes into a suitcase,” Southward writes. “I learned later all she packed was two pairs of socks and 15 pairs of underwear.”
Of the operation, he acknowledges, he had it easy compared to his parents.
“I was asleep the whole time. I cannot imagine the stress of being awake all those 13 hours, not knowing if your child was going to live through a surgery most people would not survive.
“[In my parents minds] I guess I died and came back to life hundreds of times during that waiting room period of time.”
Southward’s mother contends that only twice did Chad truly scare his parents: during a 30-day hospital stay in his freshman year of college; and during the more recent bout of pneumonia, flu, and RSV.
“Within 24 hours [of the 2009 illness] he was on life support,”says Franklin. “I can truly say that was the only time when his dad and I thought we might not be bringing him home.”
‘I owe her a lot’
Since his November transplant, Southward has spent large parts of his days at the gym – on a regimen to exercise his new lungs – and playing with his dogs.
“They’ve definitely helped me these last two years,” he says of Ally and Dusty, recalling the pre-transplant days when he was on oxygen and needed a walker to move. “They keep me company; they’ve kept me going.”
He is also considering possibilities for his next career move, now that the doctors have nixed a return to teaching.
“Too many germs,” he says with a sad shrug. But he stays in touch with former students from Stonewall Jackson, and from the small private school where he taught earlier, via Facebook.
His surgery, new set of lungs, and medication all come with high price tags. But with the help of the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA), Southward’s family and friends are organizing fundraising events [see below] to offset the costs. Meanwhile, he faces follow-up stomach surgery this month -- and the bill for the transplant has yet to arrive.
Meanwhile, there’s another big event to prepare for: his June 25 wedding day.
Four years ago, he met fiancee Lauren Lacy online. The fourth grade teacher at Glen Lea E.S. has given him new motivation to make the most of this third chance at life.
“[After I met Lauren] I knew I wasn’t just here for me any more,” says Southward. “Lauren saved me in a way. She’s stuck around, and that’s something most people wouldn’t have done.
“I owe her a lot.”
‘Your loved one walks with me’
In addition to crediting his fiancee, his parents, and friends when it comes to motivation and inspiration, Southward is keenly aware that he owes his second and third chances at life to the donors who gave their lungs.
Several months after his first transplant, Southward wrote a letter to the family of the anonymous donor and told them he would soon graduate from college.
“Take my graduation,” he said, “as a moment both of us, me and my donor, walk across that stage to celebrate life.”
Noting that his Hampden-Sydney classmates called him “Iron Lungs,” and that he had never been able to walk across campus until his transplant, Southward told the donor family, “Every time I take a breath, your loved one takes a breath. Every time I take a step, your loved one walks with me.”
Southward’s own parents say that he is an inspiration to them as well.
“He is driven, goal-oriented, funny, loving, and caring,” says Franklin. “He touches people’s hearts whenever they meet him. Our friends, the doctors, nurses, everyone that he meets, they instantly fall in love with him.”
All in all, says Southward, having CF has given him a unique -- and breathtakingly positive -- outlook on life.
“It almost brings out the best in other people, people who hardly know you,” he points out, citing nurses, doctors, and fellow CF patients he has met. He is also still close to the teacher -- now a frequent dinner guest -- who visited him during the childhood hospital stays known as “tune-ups.”
“I had professors from Hampden-Sydney drive to MCV to give me lessons,” he says, adding that the college also made numerous concessions to his illness. “I could park anywhere; I could drive on the sidewalk. They even gave me a golf cart and a scooter.”
He laughs as he recalls the one stipulation that the campus police chief put on his use of the golf cart.
“He told me, ‘If I see it in Fraternity Circle, it’s mine!’”
And, Southward adds, “The president of Hampden-Sydney called me continuously after the [first] transplant to see how I was doing.”
“You really learn about the good of people,” muses Southward.
“CF gave me a lot more than it took away.”
The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.
The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)
The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.
For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.
The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.
The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.
Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.
‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise
Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.
They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.
As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.
Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.
There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.
Is it heresy to say – in this bastion-of-tradition capital of the Old South – that it's time for Southern fried chicken to take a step back and make way for a new fried chicken king?
Count me among the new believers bowing to Bonchon Chicken's delectable double-fried bliss. Hand-brushed with signature garlic soy or hot sauce, flash-fried once and then again, the decadent drums and wings take "crisp" to a new level. If you're eating with a crowd and everyone bites in at once, be warned: you might need ear plugs to handle the din. > Read more.
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