A soft rush of air flows through a tube into Philip Dickey’s mouth. The tube is hooked to a ventilating support system which helps Dickey’s damaged lungs perform the breathing process.
It is one of many mechanical life savers Dickey has had to use during his lifelong struggle with cystic fibrosis, a devastating disease that has ravaged his respiratory tract.
Dickey, 24, of Orrington is waiting for a double-lung transplant. A patient at Eastern Maine Medical Center, he has been placed first on a recipient list at the New England Organ Bank, an organization that procures organs for transplant purposes. He could wait days, weeks or months for a lung match even with his elevated status on the list, said Carol Coakley, a clinical nurse specialist for lung transplants at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
His case, Dickey said, is an example of the need for people to consider organ donation.
Unless a lung match is found soon — a process that requires the donated organs be a compatible tissue and blood type — Dickey’s chances for life are slim, according to his doctor.
Dickey might have “a few weeks to six months” without a transplant, said Dr. Mark Lingenfelter, a lung specialist.
The gravity of his condition has failed to quell Dickey’s spirit.
A 1987 Brewer High School graduate, Dickey said he looked forward to living without the oxygen tank that has been his constant companion for the last two years. He wants badly to pursue his goal of becoming a respiratory therapist, Dickey said.
Dickey, who wears a helmet-like device to hold the ventilator in place and has two intravenous lines feeding medications into his frail body, recalled with a smile the cross-country trip he took last summer with his parents, Philippa and Charles Harvey of Orrington. He also likes to bowl and swim, he said.
Dickey has been at EMMC since March 13 when he became ill from infection after his weakened lungs failed to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide properly during the breathing process. He is listed in serious condition.
The transplant, which will take place at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is expensive. Medical officials have put a $150,000 price tag on the transplant procedure which includes a year of immunosuppressant medications that cost $1,500 a month.
Most of his hospital expenses will be covered by insurance. Dickey’s mother, Philippa Harvey, a teacher, and his stepfather, Charles Harvey, who is retired, are scraping the family’s already strained financial resources to fund a four- to six-week stay in Boston to help their son recover.
It’s possible the hospital will link the family to low-cost housing once they are in Boston. The uncertain timing of the transplant makes it impossible for hospital staff to secure any arrangement in advance, according to Coakley.
A family going through a similar problem in Sorrento, the parents of 27-year-old cystic fibrosis patient Kathy Phippen, started a fund-raising campaign earlier this month to cover the estimated $50,000 in living expenses they thought they would need for several months’ stay in Boston while their daughter recuperates from a double-lung transplant. Phippen is still waiting for her transplant.
Dickey’s family — a brother, a sister, six stepbrothers and two stepsisters — are proud of his positive attitude while facing the biggest challenge of his life.
“He’s a very courageous person. He has never shown any fear,” said his stepsister, Cheryl Kettell of Orrington.
Kettell said her stepbrother would appreciate cards from friends and old classmates.
“It’s funny, but I’m not afraid anymore. I envision how good life will be after the transplant,” Dickey said.
Phil Dickey’s family has set up the Phil Dickey Fund, c/o Charles Harvey, RFD 1, Box 592, Orrington 04474.