The last thing Viola resident Darryl Collins thought about when he was fighting for his life two years ago was competing in a national sporting event.
But that’s exactly what Collins did earlier this month when he participated in the Transplant Games of America in Houston, Texas. Collins was among 3,500 athletes from across the United States who competed in the Olympic-type event held every two years. It comes after he received a double lung transplant at Vanderbilt Medical Center on May 30, 2012.
“It was a big step, but my recovery is not over,” said Collins of the Transplant Games. “Organ rejection is a lifelong thing. It’s something I’m always going to have to worry about.”
Collins, 46, competed in five events, earning a silver medal in cornhole and a bronze medal in racquetball. He also completed a 5K run, played on a 3-on-3 basketball team, and played volleyball. He didn’t medal in those three events but said the Transplant Games were more about fellowship than competition. He and his family flew into Houston on Friday, July 11, and returned home Wednesday, July 16.
Collins is just glad to take part in the games after his double lung transplant, which was necessary due to his cystic fibrosis, which is a genetic disease.
“It’s something you’re born with,” said Collins. “Most people get diagnosed as a baby, but I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 24. It was something I didn’t really have problems with until I started college in 1986. I had been tested before and it had come back negative, I guess because I had such a mild case of it that it didn’t show up.”
Collins had been taking various breathing medication to help with his respiration for most of his life, but was finally diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in Memphis in 1992 after seeing a number of doctors throughout the state.
The diagnosis didn’t keep Collins from finishing college and beginning a teaching career. He taught at Morrison School in the mid-1990s and was the school’s boys basketball coach for two years in 1996 and ’97. After that he taught PE and was a coach for 15 years at Hillsboro Elementary in neighboring Coffee County.
Collins said he did fine and managed to live with the disease for nearly 20 years after his diagnosis. However, he began to experience more serious health issues at the start of 2012.
“I did fine until January 2012 and got put on the transplant list in February,” said Collins. “I was only on the transplant list for two weeks before I took myself off because I didn’t want to go through with it. Then on May 18, 2012, I put myself back on the transplant list. It was only 12 days later I got the call and was having surgery at Vanderbilt.”
It doesn’t escape Collins how fortunate he was to receive a transplant so soon. He says some people can wait close to a year.
“I tell everybody I’m a miracle from God,” said Collins. “Getting a transplant is a very fine window. You can’t be too sick and you can’t be too healthy.”
The transplant surgery began on Wednesday, May 30, at 7:30 p.m. and lasted well into Thursday morning until 4 a.m. Collins said he tried to walk on Thursday afternoon but wasn’t strong enough. He tried again on Friday and was able to take a few steps. He said he experienced better breathing with his new lungs immediately.
His early steps turned out to be a prelude of things to come as Collins had a relatively speedy recovery. Doctors told him he would have to stay in Nashville for three months following his surgery, but he made so much progress he was able to return to Warren County after two months.
“I was running after four or five weeks,” said Collins.
He attributes his successful recovery to having an active lifestyle. He always liked to participate in sports prior to having the lung transplant, even though he was dealing with cystic fibrosis during his athletics. He still enjoys playing basketball and exercising on the treadmill today. He tries to remain active coaching his 9-year-old son, Hayden, in baseball and basketball.
“I made the decision to give up teaching because I didn’t want to be around the kids and be exposed to all the germs,” said Collins, who indicated the medication he takes to prevent organ rejection suppresses his immune system. “But when the Lord closes one door, he opens another. That’s one of the things I’ve learned from this.”
Collins says he remains thankful to his wife, Alli, for all the care she provided during his illness and he’s thankful for the gift of life.
“Most people with cystic fibrosis don’t make it out of their 40s so I consider myself blessed,” said Collins.
Should his health permit, Collins says he has plans to participate in the next Transplant Games of America in 2016. That event is scheduled for Cleveland, Ohio.