Return to everyday life after years of suffering from shortness of breath
In 2010, the now 37-year-old Antti Uski was diagnosed with vasculitis, or inflammation of blood vessels. The following year, it was found that his lungs were not functioning properly.
“I noticed it myself as well. I started getting out of breath when going up the stairs and I remember that winter, as I was ill very often. It felt like I was constantly down with the flu. It was all that ibuprofen I was taking that allowed me to work at all,” says Antti Uski.
Plagued by a persistent flu, Uski sought treatment. Uski, who lives in Lahti, was barely able to walk in to the Päijät-Häme Central Hospital himself, as he was feeling so unwell. The examinations revealed that his oxygen saturation was low, as a result of which he was sent for pulmonary endoscopy. Changes were found in his lungs, but a diagnosis was not reached straight away, and Uski was referred to Meilahti Hospital.
In Meilahti, Uski was found to have an extremely rare lung tissue disease called obliterative bronchiolitis. This was followed by a long period of monitoring his status. His condition kept worsening from year to year, but Uski continued working the entire time. He works in the construction industry as a clerical worker.
“I decided that I wanted to continue to go to work and live a normal life. I didn’t want to remain cooped up on the couch. Sure, there were periods when I had more congestion and did not have much strength. He had to leave out hobbies and all endurance sports. I also had to give up on many household chores. Nothing was ordinary and simple anymore.”
Lung transplantation as an option
Uski had to start thinking about where he was going, would there be stairs, and whether he would be able to go uphill. Whether he would be able to move and talk at the same time when he is feeling too strained. Lung transplantation was mentioned to Uski for the first time already about 4–5 years ago, in case no changes are achieved in his condition with medication.
A year ago, investigations were began to examine Uski’s transplantation and he was placed on the lung transplant list. In June, the first call came, but in the operating room, the lungs were found to be unsuitable for Uski. Luckily, Uski didn’t have to wait long after this false alarm. He had time to spend a few weeks of his summer vacation when another call came in at noon on July 18, 2018 when he was at his summer cottage in Heinola. Uski received new lungs in Meilahti during a transplant surgery that lasted all night the very same day.
At that point, his lung volume in pulmonary function tests was only 0.7 liters, and for a few years, Uski had already required supplemental oxygen every night.
“My parents drove me to Lahti, where I then ordered a taxi. Then it was off to Meilahti to prepare for the surgery once again. The procedure was familiar from the previous time, but I was just as nervous. The second time I had a feeling that the procedure would definitely be completed this time.”
The next thing that Uski remembers is when the breathing tube was pulled from his mouth and he was waking up after surgery. His breathing was shallow and he was heavily medicated.
“And then suddenly, the thought surfaced that I should try out what my lungs felt like, and I did. At first, I took it slow and there was a slight pain on my chest. Pretty soon, though, I was up and about. On the third day, when I was more mobile, I somehow felt different. I did not feel breathless.”
After a week, Uski was able to move about on a walker and noticed that he was no longer out of breath. After returning home, he noticed the difference to his previous condition even better.
“There was no breathlessness when going up the stairs and I had to go around the block for a test spin. Every day I extended my walk a little more and started noticing that my lungs were working really well.”
In early December 2018, Uski returned to work. In November, he started playing badminton and from there he has continued with jogging, cycling an exercise bike, and doing strength training.
“I've been thinking a lot about buying skis”
The father of four is now also able to participate in the lives of his children in a completely different way than before the operation. He no longer has to watch his children’s activities from the sidelines, but he can participate himself.
There are still check-up appointments ahead, and also the one-year magic limit, but Uski and his family are feeling positive and making plans for the future.
“We may go on a little holiday trip next summer. I've really just enjoyed basic everyday life. I even love shoveling snow.”
Last year, HUS performed 18 lung transplants. In 2017, a total of 24 lung transplants were completed. The main indication for a lung transplant is emphysema due to an alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency as well as COPD, i.e., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Lung transplantations at HUS could still be made even more efficient. In order to develop the operations, HUS has sent two pulmonary specialists and one cardiac surgeon to be trained in Toronto.