Grateful for Every Breath

In 1990, Howell Graham was the first patient at UNC Hospitals with cystic fibrosis to receive a double lung transplant. Over the years he has tried several times, but couldn’t quite find the right words to say ‘thank you’ for the gift he received. Now, he says he’s finally ready.

In 1990, Howell Graham was 28 years old. His Cystic Fibrosis had progressed to the point that walking across the room was a taxing chore. He didn’t think he could go on living that way.

His physician, Thomas Egan, MD, MSc, professor of surgery, had come to UNC in 1989 to begin the human lung transplant program. At that time, a new technique for performing the procedure had been developed. Egan knew Graham was a good candidate.

All these years later, Graham still vividly remembers the moment he heard that a set of donor lungs may be available.

“Dr. Egan told me he was flying out to look at some lungs and I had all of these questions for him like ‘what if your plane is delayed,’ or ‘what if there’s a traffic jam?’”

“He looked at me and said ‘Howell, it’s like Greyhound, leave the driving to us.’”

Since receiving his transplant, Howell has gone on to build a successful career in the real estate appraisal industry. He’s met and married his wife. They bought their first home. He’s also had a whole lot of fun on his boat at Wrightsville Beach.

Not a day goes by, though, that he isn’t thankful for the gift he received all those years ago. And he’s made it his mission to spread the word about the importance of organ donation. He knows he likely wouldn’t be here without it.

“This portion of my life has been the best by far,” he said. “And I want my donor’s family to know how much me and my family appreciate each moment.”

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