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Second Chance

RIO COMMUNITIES — Patrick Husbands said there is nothing else he would rather do than fly one of his two airplanes.

The 31-year-old Rio Communities resident is waiting to receive a medical release from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly on his own — nine months after a double lung transplant.

“However long it takes, I plan on flying again,” he said. “I’m just sitting it out and waiting.”

In the cockpit, the Belen High School graduate said he’s in control. He can make his trip as exciting or as standard as he wants, he said, but it’s all for the fun of it.

“If I want to make it a thrill ride, I can, or if I want to get somewhere fast, I can,” he said. “If I want to go look at something, I can, or do whatever I can and don’t get any speeding tickets.”

Husbands received a double lung transplant on Dec. 18, 2010. He called it his “secret Santa gift” for Christmas, and said it was better than any gift he could receive.

“Whatever time this buys me I’ll take because I knew what I had coming before and it wasn’t much,” he said. “If I can get a couple more months or 20 or 30 more years, I’ll be happy because I got a second chance at life.”

Cystic fibrosis

Before the transplant, Husbands’ lung capacity function for his large airways was 18 percent, and 7 percent for his small airways.

Patrick Husbands, 31, of Rio Communities, smiles as he leans back in his hospital bed. Husbands had a double lung transplant on Dec. 18, 2010. (Courtesy Photo))

He said his lung problems were because of cystic fibrosis, the genetic disease that causes the body to create a thick and sticky fluid, or mucus, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

This mucus builds up in the breathing passages of the lungs and pancreas, resulting in severe lung infections and digestion problems.

But Husbands said he didn’t let this stop him from living.

“Even before the transplant, I didn’t have time for cystic fibrosis. I had a life to live,” he said. “That’s why I did skydiving and flying planes and all of that stuff.

“I just want to live my life and have as much fun as I can.”

Husbands skydived for more than six years with about 170 jumps. Although most of his jumps were done locally, he jumped from the largest drop zone in the world in Eloy, Ariz., according to Skydive Arizona’s website, and in Oregon.

“I was always a better pilot than a skydiver,” he said. “Skydiving never came natural to me. It was always a lot of work when you’re falling from the sky.”

Husbands has a total of 1,600 hours in flight time. He received his private pilot’s license in 2000, and his commercial pilot’s license in 2004.

Transplant surgery

Husbands waited for three months on the lung transplant waiting list before receiving the phone call late one night.

“They said, ‘We’ve accepted a pair of lungs for you,'” he said.

That night, he packed his clothes and took an air ambulance flight into California, where he checked into the Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

Twenty-one hours later, he was in surgery for 5 1/2 hours. He was up and walking around with a pillow clutched to his chest a few hours after the surgery.

“The weight of my arms started peeling my chest apart. Anytime I had to get up or sit up, I would hold the pillow for pressure so everything can stay put,” he said.

The transplant and five chest tubes used in the surgery left a “nice” smiley face on his chest, he said.

Doctors allowed Husbands to see his extracted lungs, which he said “looked like chopped liver.”

During his recovery, he lived in an apartment in San Jose, Calif., where he bustled to and from rehabilitation and doctor’s appointments.

While there, the immunosuppressants and medications made him suffer from mood swings, decreased muscle tone and depression. Husbands said he wanted to be with his family in New Mexico but needed to be near his doctor.

Four months later, he returned home and back to work. Husbands is a propeller and governor technician at the New Mexico Aircraft Propeller at the Belen Alexander Municipal Airport, where he has been employed since the age of 19.

“I wasn’t able to do a whole lot, but I would do what I could,” he said. “They recommend a year before going back to work, but what am I going to do at home? I would rather be here with my family and be able to see my friends.”

Steady recovery

Recovery has slowed Husbands down to a pace he’s not used to, he said.

“I’m used to going 110 miles per hour just as quick as I can, do as much as I can, and I can’t do that anymore and that bothers me,” he said.

He’s still adjusting to his new pair of lungs, and said there are some things, such as taking deep breaths, that he can’t do yet, but could before his transplant. Husbands isn’t worried about the two bouts of mild rejection he’s endured, because he knows medicine can patch him right up.

“There’s always some sort of obstacles, especially this soon,” he said.

Husbands wears a mask, as a precautionary measure, when he goes into stores or restaurants, to avoid infection.

Today, nine months after the double lung transplant, Husbands’ lung capacity function is more than 80 percent and steadily increasing every day.