Lyles decided there wasn't any other choice if he wanted to live.

"I'm an optimist but a realist, too, so I was nervous," he said. "But I am also a fighter, and I wasn't going to sit by idle and let this take me."

In preliminary surgery, doctors removed stem cells from bone marrow in Lyles' lower back. They placed the stem cells in the bioreactor with a Y-shaped scaffold made from plastic polymers commonly used in soda bottles. The bioreactor spun the scaffolding, like a rotisserie chicken in a roaster, as the stem cells fell and fused onto the scaffolding. Over a couple of days, the individual cells grew into real tissue, Green said.

In November, Lyles underwent a 12-hour surgery in Sweden, where his mother, sister and brother-in-law traveled to be with him.

He was groggy when he woke up in intensive care and saw the family sitting there. A sense of relief washed over them all.

Lyles is eager to get back to work once he has recovered. He is staying with his mom as he recuperates.

He isn't sure how much the surgery will cost him in the end. His family has contributed more than $200,000, and he has also received donations through a nonprofit organization. He and his family expect the total cost could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Lyles said he has been tired since the surgery but mostly feels good. He feels sensation in his chest but doesn't know if it is the new windpipe or the after-effects from having his sternum cut in half for the procedure. He went driving for the first time and said he was a little sore in the chest area.

Lyles sometimes wonders why this all happened to him. He thinks that God wants him to be an advocate for the transplant surgery so others like him can get help.

"God puts us here for a purpose, and maybe this is my purpose," he said.

Macchiarini is trying to get Food and Drug Administration approval to perform the transplants on three patients in America, including an infant in Illinois and a former ballet dancer in Vermont.

Lyles said that is a good idea.

"They need to push this through," he said. "There is no reason I had to go all the way to Sweden to get this surgery. They could save so many people's lives."

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