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From Oxygen Tank to Pickleball: A Remarkable Lung Transplant Journey

Kevin Beale with his family

A lifelong tennis player, Kevin Beale has always been in good shape. But last year when he reached his mid 60s, he had to give up his new favorite sport — pickleball. He got winded just walking to get the newspaper. The reason? Pulmonary fibrosis. He needed a lung transplant ASAP.

Common Cause of Lung Transplant

Pulmonary fibrosis is the most common chronic lung disease that leads to lung transplant in the United States, says Christopher Scott, MD, a thoracic surgeon who performed Beale's surgery.

Pulmonary fibrosis scars the lungs. And the lungs gradually lose their ability to pass oxygen to the rest of the body. Often, we don't know the cause.

Pulmonary fibrosis can’t be cured. Experts can usually treat it with medication, but Beale had a severe type. His only chance was a new set of lungs from a donor.

Getting Beale New Lungs ASAP

Last April, barely able to breathe, Beale ended up in the ER near his home in Richmond. As soon as a hospital bed became available at UVA Health, Beale was transferred to Charlottesville. Here, he met the transplant team.

“It was quite a shock to him, the word ‘transplant’ even. He wasn't aware that was something he was going to need in the short-term interval,” says Hannah Mannem, MD, medical director of the UVA Health Lung Transplant Program.

But she explained to Beale and his family, “You have a lung disease that's fatal. And unfortunately, your disease is progressing at a fast pace. If we don't move fast, it may outpace your ability to be able to get a lung transplant.”

April is Donate Life month. Become an organ donor.

With New Lungs, Back to Pickleball Court

The transplant team moved quickly. They got Beale through many pre-transplant tests and steps. By last April 28, he got on the organ wait list. Then on June 9, transplant surgeons gave him a new set of lungs. He joins the more than 600 people who’ve had a lung transplant at UVA Health.

Today, Beale no longer needs an oxygen tank to breathe. And he's back on the pickleball courts.

“The entire transplant team has been wonderful,” Beale says.

He adds, “I was very lucky. And I got a great set of lungs. Now I’m working at keeping them going.”

Meet Kevin Beale and his remarkable lung transplant team

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