Collier Township Transplant Recipient Savors Second Chance

April 25, 2012

Phill Locke

When Phill Locke's telephone rang Halloween evening, the caller said, "This is not a trick."

And for that, Locke was thankful.

Diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, Locke, 51, of Collier Township, knew his life was limited, not only in physical movement, but also in length. Locke was dying and without a double lung transplant, he knew death was just weeks, or perhaps days, away.

"I was absolutely blessed through this whole process," Locke said almost six months after the double lung transplant at Presbyterian-UPMC in Pittsburgh. Without the Nov. 1 transplant, Locke said he knew he would be dead in less than a month.

The process to be placed on the transplant list for double lungs was "a huge progression," he said. But once on the list in late October, his wait for a transplant was a mere 10 days.

Locke said he wasn't surprised at the telephone call. His wife, Adrian, was the one most amazed, he said.

"'This is too soon. I have all these plans,'" Locke said of his wife's reaction. "She was more of a wreck than I was."

Since the transplant, Locke said life is "like night and day. When I wake up in the morning, it's like party. Today is a great day and it doesn't matter whether it's overcast or sunny 'cause it's sunny with me."

Everyday tasks became difficult before the surgery.

"You don't recognize what you do everyday until you can't do it. You can't carry a bag or go up the steps, get dressed or take a shower," Locke said.

A smoker for 30 years, Locke said smoking wasn't the cause of the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, but he did stop smoking the day he was diagnosed.

"One lung was gone and the other had 15 percent lung function," he said. He was on oxygen, "a lot, not a little bit, a lot," he said followed by his hearty laugh.

Now, Locke's main job is to recover, a process that could take up to a year. He was in the U.S. Air Force for nine years and whenever he would return to his native Pittsburgh, Locke would date Adrian. They were "involved" for 26 years before they married 12 years ago. He has a daughter and a son and six grandchildren. Once the doctors permit, he will return to work in retail management for a rental company.

The $800,000 cost for the transplant was covered by his health insurance. Life is good except for one thing: a significant amount of medical expenses, like his medication, are not covered. From never taking a pill before the transplant, Locke finds himself needing $500 in medication each month.

That's where the National Foundation for Transplants comes in. Locke said he learned of the foundation through UPMC-Presbyterian. The non-profit based in Memphis and founded in 1983, helps transplant patients, like Locke, overcome financial obstacles following a transplant. The group also organizes fundraising events in the local community.

"Of course we're overjoyed that Phill received his transplant," said Claire Prince, NFT fundraising consultant, "but many people don't realize the lifelong financial burdens associated with transplantation. He'll need extensive follow-up care to keep his new lungs healthy, and those costs can be very overwhelming. At NFT, we are dedicated to helping the Lockes raise the necessary funds so they can celebrate his new life without constantly worrying about the costs."

An event to help Locke with medication expenses, will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. April 27 at Bar Louie in Station Square. Admission is $20 and includes wine, beer and soft drinks. Space is limited to 100.

For tickets or for more information, contact Locke's daughter Nicole Young, at nlocke01@yahoo.com. Tax deductible donations are also being accepted at NFT Pennsylvania Transplant Fund, 5350 Poplar Ave., Suite 430, Memphis, TN 38119. Write "in honor of Phill Locke" in the memo line, and secure donations may be made online at www.transplants.org and donors should click on "Find an NFT Patient" to locate Locke.

Unfortunately, because he has to avoid crowds, Locke doubts he will attend.

"I don't think I'll be there, but I want to be," he said.

This article is from The Almanac.