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Life-saving lung transplant a reality

Man's own lungs wouldn't have lasted another month

The call came at 4:06 a.m. Jan. 19.

University of Washington Medical Center, through the sudden death of a 15-year old Montana boy, had a pair of healthy lungs for Jason Looney ' and Jason and his mom needed to get on a Mercy Flights plane immediately.

They did. When surgeons opened his chest that afternoon, they found lungs so deteriorated from the 34-year-old's cystic fibrosis that they would not have lasted another month, said his mother, Sandy Looney, who has rented a Seattle apartment so she can stay with him during the three-month post-operative phase.

We were stunned when the call came, said Sandy Looney. I wandered around the house thinking I had to take a shower before we left. We stumbled from room to room. We were frightened. We'd been waiting a long time for this, but you know you're placing your life on the line.

The operation, performed by noted thoracic surgeon Michael Mulligan, ran into complications when Jason Looney's degenerated lungs had to be literally scraped from his ribs. This was followed, after he was sewed back up, with profuse bleeding from raw, weakened areas, said Sandy Looney, and doctors had to go back in to stop bleeding.

— The doctor, afterward, said he didn't know how Jason made it this far, as he was just getting by and would not have lasted another month. He barely made it, she added.

I feel much better, Jason Looney said in a phone interview from his hospital bed. It's been surreal and it's just sinking in what a total miracle it was ' and that I can breathe now, without oxygen.

A cadre of friends and former classmates here raised &

36;20,000 so far, including &

36;5,600 at a jail and bail event earlier this month at Rogue Valley Mall, where Southern Oregon University President Elisabeth Zinser and state Rep. Peter Buckley were jailed while they called friends and associates to raise money, said family friend Julie Wiley.

The total after-insurance tab is expected to be &

36;75,000, with immune suppressant drugs running &

36;3,000 to &

36;5,000 a month, she added.

At the reunion last year of Sandy Looney's Medford High School Class of 1965, former schoolmates kicked in almost &

36;2,000, with an equal amount sent by them to the National Foundation for Transplants, , which is still receiving funds for him, said a delighted classmate Ron Wallace, a Medford insurance agent.

The class' donations will go toward immediate expenses in Seattle, said classmate Sandy Darland of Medford.

Jason is sitting up, talking, very happy and excited and breathing well on his own, said his aunt, Jeannie Erickson, in a phone interview from Seattle. We almost lost him, but we got him back. It's a miracle.

We all cried, said Sandy Biber of Ashland, one of the fundraising group. He was one sick boy, living on borrowed time. He's a strong spirit and he's already awake and complaining. We told the clerks at Shop-n-Kart (where they have donation cans) and they're all excited. It's been an event with great community giving and spirit.

For family and friends, jubilation at the miracle is tempered by unimaginable and horrible grief that another family must be going through to lose a 15-year old boy, said Sandy Looney, adding that she hopes to make contact with the boy's family in time to show our appreciation and express how sorry we are for their loss.

Mulligan flew to Montana to remove the organs and accompany them back to his hospital. He told us the boy was an alive and active teen just before he died, so we assume it was an accident, said Sandy Looney.

Added Jason Looney, It's a lot, dealing with my own happiness and then dealing with the loss someone else must be having, that led to our happiness. It would be nice to contact them someday.

Jason Looney is still in intensive care, but was walking regularly by the end of the week and could be back to work after a year of recuperation. He was custodial night supervisor at Southern Oregon University for 13 years.

I feel excited and good, said Sandy Looney. The first time I saw him after surgery, he was all full of tubes and wires, but what I noticed was the peaceful fullness of his breathing, like you do on a nice, warm summer day, when the breeze is blowing. I couldn't stop watching his chest rise and fall.

With the help of supporters and a legion of donors, Jason Looney got his lung transplant and is recovering in Seattle. This Mail Tribune photo, taken Oct. 21, shows him surrounded by supporters including his mom, Sandy, second from left.