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“I chose an image that represents new life bursting forth…something I received from the entire St. Joseph’s lung transplant team,” says Jack Dykinga, 72, whose photographs for the Chicago Sun-Times of institutionalized patients in Illinois mental hospitals won a Pulitzer Prize in 1971.
A large framed photograph of a saguaro in bloom will be signed by Dykinga and displayed in St. Joseph’s cardiothoracic intensive care unit. Dykinga’s hope is that the special image will comfort transplant recipients who are experiencing a similar journey as they begin to walk around the ICU with a new lease on life.
Now living in Tucson, Ariz. with his wife, Margaret, the prize-winning photojournalist turned world-renowned landscape photographer is also an accomplished author who’s written several books and regularly contributes to Arizona Highways and National Geographic Magazines. Dykinga received his new lungs in 2014 at the hospital’s Norton Thoracic Institute.
Dykinga first remembers feeling short of breath while on routine hikes throughout the Sonoran Desert. About a year later in 2010, he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis—a disease with no identifiable cause or cure characterized by irreversible scarring of lung tissue which essentially robs patients of their ability to breathe.
Initially, the diagnosis changed little in Dykinga’s life. “I began a clinical study for a drug that has since been approved by the FDA which required weekly blood tests,” he says, “But other than bringing an oxygen tank to high altitude hikes on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, just in case I might need it, I didn’t let it affect my life too much.”
However, Dykinga’s minor breathing problem became deadly in May 2014 when he was on a raft trip down the Colorado River. Rushed to Flagstaff from the Grand Canyon, Dykinga soon was admitted to Mayo Clinic in Phoenix where doctors treated him for one week before referring him to St. Joseph’s for lung transplantation.
“A sandstorm hit us and it was like someone pushed an on-off switch. My lungs just shut down,” Dykinga recalls. “Suddenly I was fighting for my life. I remember distinctly the moment I thought I was dying, and when I looked up I saw a nurse looking back at me.”
After being listed on the United Organ Sharing Network for less than one week, Dykinga received the gift of life on May 24, 2014. Having performed the most lung transplantations in the U.S. west of Texas in 2014, St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute is a national leader for shorter than average list times. Additionally, more than 50 percent of the program’s lung transplant cases have a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis.
Among the most complex surgical procedures, lung transplantations require minute-to-minute coordinating and a lifetime of follow-up care. Dykinga’s transplant pulmonologist and medical director of thoracic transplant at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute, Rajat Walia, MD, calls Dykinga’s case relatively unique and particularly challenging. In addition to pulmonary fibrosis, Dykinga also had significant coronary disease.
“While it’s not performed at all lung transplant centers, our surgeons were able to perform his double lung transplant with combined coronary artery bypass grafting,” says Dr. Walia. “The fact that Mr. Dykinga is amongst us today is a testament to the quality of our team at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute.”
With more appreciation for his organ donor and transplant team than words can dictate, Dykinga plans to live the rest of his life to the absolute fullest with an admirable bucket list which includes trips to Utah, Baja California and Alaska in the coming year.
“I’ve learned a lot, including how precious life is,” he says. “I have the whole team—all the way from the people who mop the floors, to the nurses and doctors, and my family—to thank. Without my wife, my transplant team and the organ donor who gave their lungs, I wouldn’t be breathing today.”
Located in the heart of Phoenix, Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center is a 571-bed, full service, not-for-profit hospital that provides a wide range of health, social and support services. St. Joseph’s is a nationally recognized center for advanced medical care, medical education and research. It includes the internationally renowned Barrow Neurological Institute, the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, the Norton Thoracic Institute, and Arizona’s first Level I Trauma Center verified by the American College of Surgeons. The hospital is also a respected center for maternity care, orthopedics, oncology and many other medical services. U.S. News & World Report routinely ranks St. Joseph’s among the best hospitals in the United States for neurology and neurosurgery. St. Joseph’s is a member of Dignity Health, one of the nation’s largest health care systems. For more information, please visit www.dignityhealth.org/stjosephs.