Man awaiting lung transplant gets support from co-workers


Michael Doyle's breathing is most difficult when he's walking.

"I avoid that," he said, managing a smile while describing the effects of cystic fibrosis.

"If you run hard for a really long time and then you stop and you're really out of breath -- that's pretty much how I feel sitting here at this table, only I haven't gotten anywhere," said Mr. Doyle, a 26-year-old accountant who is awaiting a double lung transplant.

To help with his expenses, his colleagues at Nemphos, Weber, Bryant and Co. in Ellicott City will give away a donated 1993 Toyota Corolla today in a $10-a-ticket raffle. The raffle has already raised about $25,000 for the Transplant Candidates' Assistance Fund, created for Mr. Doyle by his co-workers. The group is only $5,000 short of its goal, which they hope will pay for Mr. Doyle's living expenses. Cystic fibrosis is an incurable genetic disease that causes the body to produce a sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and disables its victims' breathing. It leads to infections and lung damage and also affects digestion. About 30,000 Americans have the disease, which takes half its victims before they reach the age of 29.

Mr. Doyle is fourth on a waiting list of transplant patients at a program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is there that he hopes to find a new breath of life.

The minimum cost of the operation is estimated at $200,000 to $300,000 -- if there are no complications. Mr. Doyle's medicines cost about $10,000 a month.

Most of these costs are covered by insurance, but others, like housing expenses, are not. Mr. Doyle must stay in North Carolina part of the program while he waits for a donor, which could take up to a year.

He has been on the waiting list since November, when his lung function decreased to between 25 and 30 percent.

"If you close up one side of your nose and put a straw in the other nostril and close half of that, that's about as much air as he's getting," said Mary Ellen Doyle, Mr. Doyle's mother.

"Michael has often said he feels like he's got a ton of bricks on his chest."

Mrs. Doyle said that although her son was often sick as a child, the disease did not prevent him from attending school until his early teens.

In 1971 he was the Maryland CF poster child and the national poster child two years later at age 6. But by the eighth grade, he was in and out of the hospital and unable to stay in school. Mr. Doyle had tutors for about one year before he had to drop out in the ninth grade.

"We stopped the tutoring when the doctors said he didn't have long to live," his mother said. "He was on oxygen. The medicines they were giving him weren't working.

He remembers that as the only time in his life when he felt like giving up.

"I was in the hospital and I was really sick. I left feeling worse than when I came in. But one of the nurses said to me 'It's not over,' and that's when I said, 'You know, you're right,' " Mr. Doyle said.

"You have to have a positive attitude or you're going to be in trouble. You can't get depressed because if you get depressed, you'll lose really quick, I think. I want to win," he said.

Mr. Doyle's condition did improve after that bout with the disease, and when he was 17, he received his General Education Diploma. When he felt physically strong enough to be in a classroom, he enrolled in Howard Community College, later transferring to UMBC where he received a degree in economics.

He began working full time for his present employer after he graduated in 1988.

He passed the CPA exam in 1990 and enrolled in Loyola College's evening finance program to obtain his master's degree.

According to Mark Gretz, one of Mr. Doyle's co-workers and the treasurer of TCAF, many clients never knew that he was sick.

"I think his entire life, he has tried to make the best of his situation. He's got a really positive attitude. He's the most upbeat person you ever want to meet. A lot of people didn't know he had CF until this fund-raiser," Mr. Gretz said.

Mr. Doyle's health had been fairly stable until a few years ago, when his doctor suggested that he sign up for a lung transplant.

"When they first started talking about it, I wasn't doing that poorly. But as time went on, I started to feel worse and worse. I eventually came down to the point where I was always exhausted, and I really couldn't walk that much. I guess you don't have much to lose at that point," he said.

There's no telling how long Mr. Doyle's wait in North Carolina will be, but he's confident he will make it. But there's one thing he can't wait to do when he gets his new lungs.

"I'm going to get good at tennis again and beat my brother," he said. "That will be my main goal."

To make a donation to the Transplant Candidates' Assistance Fund, call Mark Gretz at (410) 461-7722.

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