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Barnes-Jewish Hospital

Too Young to Settle For a Life of Limitations

Rory McCue’s life changed when he was 20. In 2003, McCue was on the precipice of launching his adult life. He was healthy, athletic and a little more than a year away from graduating from college. All of that changed in a single evening during a fire in his fraternity house.

Suffering from extreme smoke inhalation, he was in a hospital in Springfield, Ill., for eight weeks, five of them on a ventilator. Even after he was released, he never fully recovered. He experienced shortness of breath constantly, and because of recurrent infections, both of his lungs were scarred.

“In the blink of an eye, I went from being on top of the world in so many ways, to living the life of a frail shut-in wearing an oxygen mask 24 hours a day,” says McCue.

McCue admits he was afraid of having to live the rest of his life this way. But he was even more afraid of the alternative–a lung transplant. His local physician began encouraging him to contact the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center. McCue did visit and was even evaluated in fall 2004, but it was 2007 before he agreed to have his name placed on the transplant list.

Although McCue was often sick and had a few scares and hospitalizations, he took himself off the transplant list in 2009. “I think I was still reeling from the whole accident and my heart just wasn’t in it.”

Seven years passed since the fire and all of his friends had moved on. Wanda Panus, RN, his pre-transplant coordinator at Barnes-Jewish, and the rest of the transplant team knew the transplant was right for McCue but they also knew it was necessary for the patient to make that decision. “Understandably, Rory was afraid to go through with the transplant for fear of the unknown,” says Panus.

With so much working against him, McCue said it came down to a quality-of-life issue. “The hope of having a better life outweighed the fear and uncertainty of a transplant. I was ready to see what the world had in store for me and I was going to make it or fail with that decision,” says McCue.

In August 2010, McCue decided it was time to be reactivated on the transplant list. Eleven months later, he got the call from Barnes-Jewish that it was time for the transplant. “It’s funny because in some ways that day is so vivid and clear in my mind and in other ways, it is just a blur,” he says.

Rory McCue’s life changed again when he was 28. On July 14, 2011, McCue received two lungs. McCue’s right lung was not as bad as the left but physicians were concerned the right lung would infect the new one if both weren’t replaced.

In the blink of an eye, McCue went from a life of no hope and desperation to one with unlimited possibilities. “It has been a complete 180,” he says. Before the transplant, McCue admits he avoided stairs like the plague. In April 2012, he was hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

McCue is extremely grateful to the entire transplant team at Barnes-Jewish as well as the nurses on unit 7100, thoracic surgery, who cared for him after the transplant. “Most importantly,” he says, “I’m thankful and appreciate the decision that a family had to make that night. It has given me all that I have now.”

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