Bobby Perron, of New Berlin, Wisconsin, spent many years of his life sick from cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that causes thick mucus to form in the lungs.
In February 2018, he caught a bad case of pneumonia and took a turn for the worse.
“I was constantly sick before that, always going in and out of hospital,” said Perron, 27. “That exacerbation took a lot out of me, and I didn’t recover.”
That’s when his doctor first brought up the idea of a lung transplant. However, because of an aggressive type of bacteria Perron has in his lungs — known more commonly as B. cepacia — none of the transplant centers near him would consider him for a lung transplant. That’s when he turned to UPMC.
UPMC is one of the only centers in the U.S. that does lung transplants on cystic fibrosis patients who test positive for B. cepacia. For Perron, this was like a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Having a hospital system like UPMC brought me a lot of comfort,” Perron said. “When I was younger, I never even wanted to think about getting a transplant and having B. cepacia made it seem even scarier. UPMC gave me hope.”
Perron came in for his first evaluation at UPMC in March 2019. As time progressed, he found himself getting sicker and sicker.
“It was just a lot of hospital stays and a lot of not being able to do what I used to,” Perron said.
“I was too tired and weak at that point — before, I always worked out or played sports, easily a few times a week.”
Roughly two months later, Perron landed a spot on the transplant list. Soon after, he found out that there was a match. He happened to already be at the hospital receiving treatment when he got the call.
“I couldn’t believe it — at first I thought it was a dry run,” Perron said. “I just kept thinking that they’re not going to do it or something was going to go wrong, but it was real.”
Perron had a successful lung transplant in early May 2019.
Dr. Pedro Augusto Reck dos Santos, assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery at UPMC, performed the transplant and said Perron’s recovery is going well.
“Bobby was extremely sick before the transplant,” Reck dos Santos said. “It’s been amazing to see his daily progress and how Bobby and his family have been so committed to his recovery. I hope he is enjoying his new life as much as he can with his family and friends.”
After surgery, Perron said, “I kept thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God, I can breathe now.’ When I got extubated, I took a deep breath, and I couldn’t believe how easily the breath was coming out and how deep of a breath I could take.”
Today, more than two months post-transplant, Perron said he is feeling great. He is also thankful for his friends and family who have supported him along the way, including his sister and his girlfriend, Gaby Brownell, who moved with him to Pittsburgh, so he’d be able to have better access to treatments.
“Gaby and I started dating right when I started getting really sick,” Perron said. “She has been an angel — so helpful and supportive. I’m lucky to have her. My sister has also been amazing since the beginning. She once threw me a surprise birthday party at the hospital with all of my friends. And now I have both of them here with me.”
Perron is excited to continue gaining strength and enjoying his second chance at life.
“I can’t wait to be able to walk around and do things, especially to get back to my active lifestyle and play volleyball again,” he said. “It’ll be crazy to go to the mall and not have to worry about not having enough oxygen and that kind of stuff. UPMC unlocked all of these potential opportunities for me. I am so thankful.”