Jim Fahr’s breaking point involved a six-pack of Ensure protein drinks.
The then-39-year-old Hanover Township resident had resolved that he wouldn’t live much longer without the benefit of a double lung transplant. He had been fighting cystic fibrosis for almost four decades and he had already surpassed the average lifespan of 37 for someone with the disease.
“I figured I had a good run,” Faher said of the disease that deteriorates the lungs and digestive system. “Do you really want to go through the pain and suffering for something you’re not sure will work?”
Then one day in May 2009, Fahr returned home after buying a six-pack of Ensure. On the short walk from his driveway to the back door, he had to stop and rest and barely made it into the house.
That’s when Fahr realized he didn’t want to die that way.
“That’s when I said, ‘Yeah, we’re going for it,’” he said. “My quality of life was zero at that point.”
That month, he started the long process of getting on a donor list for a double lung transplant. You must be sick enough to need the transplant but well enough that the lungs wouldn’t be wasted. The recipient must be able to afford both the surgery and the continued heavy drug regimen so the body won’t reject the foreign lungs.
In December 2009, doctors told Fahr he fit the criteria. But doctors also informed him of a setback — Fahr learned he had AB-positive blood, one of the rarest. He was advised to place his name on multiple regional lung transplant lists.
Fahr first registered in Philadelphia, where he had been going to the University of Pennsylvania hospital for consultation. Fahr was planning to join a list in the New York region, as well, when he received a call May 19, 2010, that there was a matching set of lungs waiting for him in Philadelphia.
Fahr’s rare blood type — which he feared was a major obstacle — turned out to be a major advantage. It’s such a rare blood type that Fahr was on the top of the list for a transplant among people with AB-positive blood.
Surgeons performed the transplant May 20, 2010, and Fahr and his wife, Denise, celebrate its success the 20th of every month. Recovery was extremely difficult at first — Fahr said he could do little more than lie around for the first few months — but his quality of life has miraculously improved since the transplant.
His lung capacity, which had dropped to 23 percent, increased to 80 percent, a level he hadn’t been at since he was 13. Even minimal physical activity used to exhaust him.
An avid baseball fan, Fahr loves attending New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies games and the Fahrs enjoy Musikfest. He was physically unable to attend a single baseball game in 2009 or 2010, and the couple’s trips to Musikfest were always brief.
Fahr managed to attend a few games this season, and he out-walked Denise during this summer’s annual music festival.
“Not that many people have lived that long to have a double lung transplant or you’re on the waiting list for so long,” Sofronie said.
The foundation will honor Fahr as one of its Finest Top 20 Under 40 this October. While the 41-year-old Fahr doesn’t technically meet the age requirement, the organization let him slide because he was too ill to be honored last year, Sofronie said.
The transplant has far from solved all of Fahr’s health problems, though. His main stomach nerve was damaged during his operation so he now has more digestive problems than before and his cystic fibrosis has caused major damage to his liver, pancreas and gallbladder, the latter of which doctors want to remove.
But Fahr says the net difference in his quality of life before and after the transplant is extraordinary.
Because he never knew how long he had to live, Fahr said, he always worked extremely hard at his goals. A former bodybuilding champion, Fahr has returned to lifting weights and to his job at Air Products, where his aim is to become an executive.
Active in local political campaigns, Fahr says he’s also considering running for office.
“Life now is phenomenal,” he said.
Jim Fahr needs to raise a $1,500 donation as part of his Finest Top 20 Under 40 honor from the Northeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. He’s hosting a fundraising motorcycle and car poker run Oct. 23 beginning and ending at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. For information, visit steelhorsepokerrun.com.