'I'm hoping we can do it all again': P.E.I. man awaits double lung transplant in Toronto

·4 min read
Bobby Joe MacDonald and Sheryl Rozell arrived in Toronto in the middle of a new wave of COVID-19 cases on April 23 with no idea how long they will be staying.  (Submitted by Bobby Joe MacDonald - image credit)
Bobby Joe MacDonald and Sheryl Rozell arrived in Toronto in the middle of a new wave of COVID-19 cases on April 23 with no idea how long they will be staying. (Submitted by Bobby Joe MacDonald - image credit)

Almost three years ago, Bobby Joe MacDonald finally received the call he had been waiting for.

After a lifetime of breathing difficulties, he was getting new lungs.

"I don't know why we were laughing, but we were all excited, it was 2:30 in the morning, it was crazy, it was the best feeling in the world," said MacDonald, recalling that night.

"I didn't even know how to adapt to my new life because I was able to breathe."

Now, sitting in a small Toronto apartment 1,700 kilometres from home, there's a sense of déjà vu.

MacDonald needs another set of lungs.

'You hope it's the call'

According to Health PEI, the chances of needing a double lung transplant in the first place is already rare on the Island. In the past 10 years, only three have taken place.

As for how many people have required a second one, Health PEI was unable to disclose that information due to confidentiality.

Bobby Joe MacDonald says he was born with pulmonary dysplasia. The P.E.I. man's body rejected the transplanted lungs he received almost three years ago, so he's back on the waiting list.
Bobby Joe MacDonald says he was born with pulmonary dysplasia. The P.E.I. man's body rejected the transplanted lungs he received almost three years ago, so he's back on the waiting list. (Submitted by Bobby Joe MacDonald)

In MacDonald's case, though, his body rejected the first set. He said the Cytomegalovirus (CMV) virus he contracted in 2020 sure didn't help — it's harmless to most healthy people but worrisome after a transplant.

So now, he waits again.

"It's scary because you don't know how long you're going to live," he said.

"You don't know when you're going to get the call and you always hope when you get any kind of a call, as sad as it is..."

His fiancée Sheryl Rozell jumps in: "You hope it's the call from the hospital."

'A second life'

On top of the sheer weight of needing organs and acknowledging that someone must die in order for you to get them, MacDonald and Rozell have other pressures.

In order to qualify for surgery, the couple is required to stay within a few hours of the Toronto General Hospital.

There's the added financial burden of paying for housing in the Toronto area, not to mention the risks associated with COVID-19 of being in Ontario right now.

"That's what you gotta do for a second life," said MacDonald. "Gotta go through it."

"It's unknown how long we're going to be here," said Rozell.

"Once we get that donor, then it's 'boom, boom, boom' kind of thing — but it's just the waiting."

 'It's great that he's healthy enough right now to be on the list,' says Sheryl Rozell. 'We're just going to try and keep him that way until we get a donor."
'It's great that he's healthy enough right now to be on the list,' says Sheryl Rozell. 'We're just going to try and keep him that way until we get a donor." (Submitted by Sheryl Rozell)

The pair said the province puts up $2,500 a month for living expenses. But according to Rozell, rent alone comes with a heftier price tag. Then there are the costs of food, gas, medication.

Fundraising efforts are underway to help the couple as they hunker down, and that helps.

To add to their worries, Rozell said people in their building recently tested positive for COVID-19, and that could have dire consequences if either one of them were to contract it.

"As funny as it sounds, I'm more scared of the COVID than I am of the transplant," said MacDonald.

"If I had COVID, it would kill me, so I don't want to get that at all."

'His biggest cheerleader'

Still, even through a shaky video call you can sense the optimism in the air. MacDonald and Rozell cry and laugh almost at the flick of a switch.

"There are many things I want to do, dear," said MacDonald. "I want to run again.

"I want to run a marathon, to be honest with you."

Rozell, on the other hand, remains adamant that "oh God no" will she be running alongside him.

"I'll watch from the sidelines," she smiles. "I'll be his biggest cheerleader."

'Be a donor'

Ultimately it's a waiting game. MacDonald estimates that without a transplant, he has between two and three years left.

"I'm hoping we can do it all again," he says of receiving the call, and reliving that "best feeling in the world."

If people could donate, be a donor, a transplant donor — they don't realize how many lives they could save. - Sheryl Rozell

As for Rozell, she doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon.

"I can come home and have a bad day and growl and be cranky and be stressful and be like, 'Oh, where's the wine?'" she said.

"And he never has a bad day. He's always smiling."

Not surprisingly, they are urging those who are eligible to become donors.

"He already had a first shot and it was a beautiful thing and unfortunately it didn't work out," said Rozell.

"Now we're getting a second shot, but if people could donate, be a donor, a transplant donor — they don't realize how many lives they could save."

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