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Double Lung Transplant Recipient Makes Second 70-Story Climb Since Surgery

Dave Cooney, 57, of Brighton, received his transplant in 2009, after being diagnosed with the same lung disease that took his twin brother.

Brighton resident Dave Cooney will tell every one he meets about his miracle.

The 57-year-old is a survivor of interstitial pulmonary fibrosis - a lung disease with no known cause and no cure. Now, just three years after his transplant surgery, Cooney is the picture of health after completing his second 70-story climb to the top of the Renaissance Center in Detroit during the American Lung Association's (ALA) Fight for Air Climb.

In fact, Cooney made the climb in just a little more than 19 minutes, placing 609th out of 815 participants.

"I'll never forget that someone died so I can live," Cooney said. "I will never disrespect that. I'm on anti-rejection medication for life, but I still have to do my part by eating healthy and working out."

Cooney and his wife, Elaine, both participated in the climb. They prepared for the event by going to Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi and climbing the stairs there.

"The event is 1,035 steps," Cooney said. "We've been practicing 1,500 stairs three times a week."

Cooney's Climbers, a team of Cooney's family and friends, have raised money for the ALA during the Detroit stairclimb for the last three years. It was during 2011, that Cooney was able to join his team himself.

The team raised $3,385 in 2011, $470 of which came from Cooney's personal pledges. This year, he drew in $1,145 of the total $2,740 his team raised for the organization.

Jessie Jimenez-Schlicht, ALA of Michigan climb manager said Detroit has never had a double lung transplant recipient climb before.

"There have been other recipients in other cities and we've had other transplant recipients, but Dave is the only one currently participating," Jimenez-Schlicht said.

Jimenez-Schlicht said Cooney is the very first climber in the stairwells because as a transplant recipient, he is more susceptible to germs.

"There's an advantage to being the first one in the stairwell, because that's the cleanest, coolest air," she said.

A devastating disease

Cooney's twin brother, Dennis, died from interstitial pulmonary fibrosis in 2005.

"Part of me was gone," Cooney said. "I lost my identical twin."

For three years after his brother's death, Cooney kept getting himself checked. Then, in 2008, the test came back that he had the disease.

"It was devastating," Cooney said. "I have three daughters and so does my twin. They call me 'Uncle-Daddy' because I look just like their father - my mannerisms, my voice, but I'm not a replacement. When they first told me, I said, 'I can't have this. I'm Uncle-Daddy.'"

Within a year, he was reduced to less than 20 percent lung capacity. Cooney had to quit his job and go on oxygen. His doctors put him on the donor list.

In just over three weeks, Cooney received new lungs from a donor in Missouri. He underwent a 13-hour operation and walked out of the hospital 13 days later.

"That whole year, people prayed for one thing - a miracle because there was no cure for my disease," Cooney said. "And I received my miracle with a double lung transplant. I'm a man of faith, but I never used to wear a crucifix. Now I do and I tell people why I do every day. God gave me good lungs to tell people to believe in hope, believe in him and believe in miracles. I'm here as proof of that."

Cooney, who attends in Brighton, said his fellow parishioners were very supportive.

Judy Trudeau, who attends St. Patrick's with Cooney, said they have been friends for more than 25 years. Trudeau said their kids grew up together.

"He's had an incredible journey," she said. "God saved his life. He'll tell someone that everyday. He's got no qualms about that."

Trudeau said it's been amazing to watch both Cooney and his wife, Elaine, go through this journey together.

"I tell my kids that they're the example of marriage," Trudeau said. "You stick together through thick and thin, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health."

The gift of life

The first Christmas after Cooney's transplant, his daughter and son-in-law gave him a wonderful gift.

"They gave me an unwrapped box," Cooney said. "I opened it up and inside was a onesie with a picture of a butterfly and a picture of lungs. Printed on it was, 'My grandpa is my life because of an organ donor.' I found out I was going to be a grandpa.

"Everything is a God moment, the birth of a kid - a grandson - especially," Cooney said. "I wouldn't have seen him. I'm just so lucky and fortunate to be alive, I don't abuse that gift."

J. Michael Lenninger March 30, 2012 at 01:05 PM
An inspiring story. I remember having to fist-bump Dave in church at St. Pat's in Brighton instead of exchanging the peace by shaking hands. He's a fellow Brother Knight at Fr. J. Leo McCann Council #7304.
Gary Veen March 30, 2012 at 02:22 PM
With such a trajedy, his brother passing and the many others, it is so touching and motivating to hear the the spirit of a loving and grateful human. Thank-you sir, I hope I bump into you one day to hear your story, truly inspiring.
Steve Ferkau March 30, 2012 at 02:24 PM
I'm so proud of you, Dave!!! This is a wonderful way to honor the person and family that saved your life, and help others understand the goodness of organ donation. I'm so glad you received the lungs you needed! I too am a double lung recipient -- I leap tall buildings as well. It's an amazing thing to be able to breathe like we do now... Love, Steve (Steve Ferkau, Chicago, IL) www.ClimbingForKari.org
Kerry Hincka March 31, 2012 at 10:17 AM
Dave and Elaine are an inspiration to our community,thanks for sharing their story. Everyone check the organ donor box on your license. 3 cheers for Cooney's climbers!

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