The Miracle of Watching My Brother Run

Shelby Dell avatar

by Shelby Dell |

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Lung transplant is a major topic for families of people with cystic fibrosis. In a recent column, I talked about what it was like when my brother, Bradley, spent several weeks in the ICU. The result of that stay turned out to be that he needed a double-lung transplant.

This happened very quickly. Before the ICU, we had celebrated Brad’s birthday on a boat. We knew he would be checked into the hospital in a few days for a “tuneup,” a routine hospitalization to dampen infections. But none of us imagined that in the weeks to come he would come close to death due to septic shock, and that a few short months after that, he would have new lungs.

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In January 2017, Bradley got those lungs. He had relocated with my parents from Hawaii to San Francisco, to wait for his lung transplant call. I had recently moved to Colorado, but was visiting my best friend in Chicago. It was the end of my trip, and I was set to fly home early the next morning.

I remember tossing and turning on my friend’s couch as I tried to sleep that night. At some point in the middle of the night, my phone rang. It was my mom telling me that they had gotten the call for lungs and were on their way to the University of California, San Francisco to check in for surgery.

Strangely, I didn’t feel excited like I had imagined I would. Instead, I felt immediate dread. We had just spent weeks in the ICU six months before that, and I was terrified the surgery would go awry and we’d have a repeat of that experience.

I was wrong, though.

I flew to San Francisco the next day to be with my family. I was able to watch Bradley wake up after surgery and see him take his first steps after transplant. I’d taken off work for a few days, but I didn’t get to see him leave the hospital. What I will never forget, though, is seeing him run for the first time.

He and his girlfriend had flown to New Mexico for a church camp, and I decided to drive down to pick him up and spend some time with them before they flew home. It was my first time seeing him since he had been in the hospital for the transplant.

My brother has never been very athletic. Cystic fibrosis is a lung disease, so he had a valid excuse, but he also didn’t like being outside much. He always said he didn’t understand why people got so excited about sunsets and “views.” He would stay in the car and read while my parents went to the beach or on hikes. I don’t remember seeing him run since he was a little kid playing soccer.

On that day, he was different. We’d parked at a rest stop on the way back to Denver. It was a little bit of a walk to get to the restrooms from the parking lot. As we were walking back to my car, he yelled to his girlfriend, “Race you!” and they took off sprinting.

I stood in shock for a moment. To me, it was a miracle just seeing him move that quickly. Then, I just watched them, feeling the happiest I had felt since before the ICU, maybe the happiest I had felt in years.


Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


diane papke avatar

diane papke

no happy for this young man. my son had cf. hoped for a lung transplant. never happened. lived to be 37 years old. that was 14 years ago.

Ruth Abbott avatar

Ruth Abbott

Thank you for this post and thank you, Shelby, for reminding me of a great joy I experienced in 2012. My son, Will Abbott, received his double lung transplant June 30, 2011. His recovery was remarkable, he went from his 'death bed' to a thriving 25 yo in weeks. And like your brother, he was never athletic. In the Spring following his transplant, on my way home from work, Will was on the street in front of our house. I asked what was up. He said, "I'm going for a run!" Overjoyed, I sat there in my car, watching him take off down the road like a runner of many years, his stride perfectly paced and strong. I just sat there amazed as I watched him disappear over the hill in the distance. What a miracle. Thank you for bringing that wonderful memory back to me. Ruth


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