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After seven months at Toronto General Hospital, a smiling James and Adena Reimer pose in James’ hospital room on July 19, 2012 - one day before his discharge. James was admitted to hospital on Christmas Day 2012. (Photo: UHN)
On Christmas Day 2012, James Reimer was admitted to Toronto General Hospital. He was in dire need of a second double-lung transplant. Adena, his wife, the love of his life and constant companion, was by his side.
The young couple had met online in June 2010, shortly after James arrived in Toronto to await his first transplant. They were both looking for friends. By the second date, they knew it was going to be more than a friendship.
James proposed in May 2011, on the eve of his first transplant. He recovered from the surgery – and life carried on. They moved to BC, James' home province. Things were going well. In early July 2012, the blissfully happy couple married.
A turn for the worse
Out of the blue, the day after the wedding, he started feeling badly. It turned out, his lung function dropped by 30 per cent one night and another 10 per cent over each of the next two days.
By August, the newly-married husband had been admitted to hospital seven times. His Vancouver doctors tried a number of treatments. In the end, he needed another transplant.
"We were terrified," James said.
A harrowing time
On Christmas Day, the pair returned to Toronto General Hospital's ICU. With Adena at the hospital all day, every day, they waited five months for a second transplant.
"I was paranoid. I had hallucinations. I couldn't breathe or communicate because of a tracheotomy. I felt helpless," recounted James.
For three months, the young man with cystic fibrosis was kept alive on an Extra Corporal Life Support (ECLS) machine.
"The hardest thing was watching someone I love lose his quality of life and independence. Although I felt low and discouraged I was wearing a smile," Adena said.
James, too, admitted, "There were days when fear and anxiety left me feeling hopeless, but I was determined to stay alive and full of hope for my wife and for our future."
"They had courage together and the ability to find meaning in each day," the hospital's Spiritual Advisor, Derek Strachan, said.
The newlyweds, who "lived" in a hospital room, were grateful for the care received in the ICU.
"The staff went out of their way to do what they could to make him and me feel better. They washed James' hair in bed," said Adena.
After two months of hospital-room-confinement, a team of eight staff members arranged to take him to the atrium for a change of scenery, while hooked up on the ECLS.
"That was a big deal," Adena recalled.
One day at a time
Thankfully, James' second transplant took place in late May 2013. But then he experienced a number of post-transplant setbacks.
Finally, by late July, James was discharged.
Adena explained, "Attitude is a large part of survival. It takes a conscious effort to remain positive. It really took courage to get us through long periods of uncertainly. I don't know how we got through it. The only way was to believe that we were going to make it."
The couple returned to BC in September. Adena's late November "breath to blog" entry reads:
James and I are absolutely in love with the "normalcies" of everyday life. We feel a constant sense of gratitude and awe in the sharing of small joys. There is no comparison to any past that doesn't reinforce these incredible emotions. James is alive. James is alive. James is alive. Each and every single day warrants celebration.
Wishing the Reimers a healthy, happy, "normal" Christmas 2013.