Paul Brooks

Paul Brooks started smoking when he was 8. He began with his grandfather's Havana cigars, and didn't stop smoking for 43 years. "I drove trucks for over 25 years, and all you have to do is smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and shift gears," he says.

In 1984 his doctor told him he might have emphysema. "I blew it off and as the years progressed I began to notice I was slowing down and it was harder to breathe, but I didn't want to listen to the doctors or my body. I was still smoking five packs a day. By the time I realized there was a major problem with cigarettes, I was already addicted. It's addictive just like heroin or cocaine—it's almost impossible to quit," he says.

In 1994, he suffered respiratory failure and was diagnosed with emphysema. "My wife said, 'You can't breathe,' and I remember someone saying, 'We're losing him.' The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital 2 ½ weeks later." Paul was in and out of the hospital from November 1994 to January 1997. "I was in the hospital at least once a month for a week or more." He stopped smoking in June 1995 and three months later, his doctor told him he needed a lung transplant, and the wait for a lung began. On January 7, 1997, he had his transplant.

"The doctors told me my left lung had only 4 percent lung capacity when they took it out. They told me if I hadn't gotten my transplant when I did I wouldn't have lived for another 7 days."

Even with a new lung, Paul's breathing isn't back to normal. He has to take 15 medications twice a day. "I feel tired a lot of times, and the heat and humidity really affect me," he says. "At times I get short of breath really easily. I can bring groceries in the house and cut the yard with a mask on without getting really out of breath, but if I try to walk at a fast pace or jog, forget it. I have to wear a mask in the doctor's office, or in any crowded areas that I'm unfamiliar with. I use hand sanitizer by the gallon, and at my church people will let me know if they have a cold or flu so I can keep my distance. I tell people, 'If you get a cold, I get the flu; if you get the flu, I get pneumonia; if I get pneumonia, I'm dead."

After he had his transplant, Paul, who belongs to a group for transplant patients called Second Wind, started doing volunteer work for the American Lung Association of Gulfcoast Florida, Tampa region. "I talk to patients before they have a transplant. The people I met at the Lung Association are great, and I'm happy to do what I can for them."