Len Geiger’s lung function isn’t normal, it’s better – so good, it even amazes the doctors who gave him the donated lungs he lives with.
Before his transplant at age 43, Geiger scored as low as 15% on the FEV-1, the most popular measure of lung function. Doctors who performed his double lung transplant only hoped he could reach the 80-100% average capacity that translates to “normal.”
When left the hospital a few days after surgery, his FEV-1 was 100%. He never expected to reach the 148% score he had on his most recent pulmonary function test. “Before my transplant, my hope was just to be better,” Geiger recalls.
Today, his doctors still don’t have an explanation for how or why his lung function jumped beyond that of a normal person.
Regardless, this Alpha has a remarkable success story to tell. “Now I know what beyond your wildest dreams feels like – and I get to live it,” he says. “I’m just really, really lucky.”
Geiger began to have trouble breathing in his early 30s. He told himself it was age and inactivity. So he began to exercise; but when his shortness of breath didn’t improve, he knew something else was wrong.
He was prescribed inhalers for asthma, which offered only a little relief. Finally, two years later, Geiger got the right diagnosis: Alpha-1.
With dangerously low lung function, he was put on a lung transplant list. Finally, after five years on the list, a pair of healthy lungs became available.
On Memorial Day of 2002, Geiger received his new lungs from a 14-year-old girl named Korinne. Her organs ended up saving the lives of 4 other people.
Today, Geiger carries a picture of his donor with him at all times and communicates regularly with her family. He is forever grateful to her, and can’t wait for his 18-month-old daughter Ava Corinne – named after the young woman who gave him a second chance at life – to meet his donor family.
After his transplant, Geiger was overwhelmed with his new abilities; he immediately began competing as a runner and a biker. He participated in a 13.1 mile Half Marathon and a 26.2 mile Marathon with his donor’s father, Kevin Shroyer.
Some complications have forced him to cut back on strenuous exercise. He needed two total hip replacements after steroids, prescribed to decrease inflammation of his lungs, caused major deterioration of his hip bones. Running got uncomfortable, so he began to bike more often. Then, just three months post-transplant, he shattered his left leg in a mountain biking accident that also put him on life support in intensive care for almost three weeks.
Now, although he is not as active as he once was, he continues to compete in sprint triathlon events. He finds great importance, especially as a patient representative, in being involved: “Part of my job is to be a role model and I need to do what I say.”
Geiger is Director of Patient Advocacy for Centric Health Resources. His job is to ease the fears of those newly diagnosed with Alpha-1, answering their questions and providing a bridge to the gap between patients and doctors. “I’m looking out for what’s best for an Alpha-1 patient,” he says. And, he adds: “I have a job that’s my absolute passion. I’m doing what I love to do.”
He says many people are scared when they find out their diagnosis, so he tries to make them as comfortable as possible. “I remember when I was diagnosed. I was told everything over the phone,” Geiger explains. “I went from my diagnosis, to knowledge of weekly infusions to the possibility of lung transplant – all in one telephone call.”
Geiger has lived the ultimate success story: from being almost completely incapacitated to above average health in a matter of months. Now, five years after his transplant, he still thinks of his donor and the life she gave back to him – a life he can now spend enjoying with his family.
“I want to see more stories like mine happen. I want to see more success,” Geiger says.