One glance around Willie Dalagan’s east Vancouver home, and it’s clear that family is at the centre of his universe. In the living room, a half dozen musical instruments rest against the wall. An elaborate Lego constructed mansion shares space with partially finished acrylic paintings.

It’s hard to imagine that only months before Willie was preparing his wife, Michelle, and their three children for the possibility of a future without him.

In spring of 2016, Willie’s health rapidly declined and he was in urgent need of a lung transplant.

The 44-year old construction manager was admitted to VGH with respiratory failure, having been previously diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis – a disease that causes scarring of the lungs. In May, he became BC’s first patient to be placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) while waiting for an organ match.

This novel application of ECMO – a machine that extracts and oxygenates a patient’s blood before re-infusing it – was used to buy time for a transplant. Willie recalls the touch and go days and weeks leading up to his June 7th transplant. He knew his wife worried whether there would be a donor, and if it would be on time. While barely conscious in ICU, Willie recalls asking himself, “Have I done enough for my family; created enough good memories? And my answer was ‘no.’”

Willie’s lung transplant surgery took about seven hours and he was discharged less than a month later, a testament to Willie’s strength and the world class care at VGH, noted transplant surgeon Dr. John Yee, who performed Willie’s operation.  Through his recovery, Willie continues to be grateful for each family tradition he is able to reinstate – movie nights, board games, bike
rides and dates with Michelle.

“The team at Vancouver General Hospital made it possible for me to have a second lease on life, and I’m not going to waste it,” he says.

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