'Hello, Robert, we have your lungs, are you ready?'
May 05, 2010 - Debra Buxbaum is celebrating this Mother's Day with a priceless gift— a son who can breathe freely after 24 years of being sick, thanks to a double lung transplant.
"There are no words to describe watching your son suffocate in front of you and all you can do is pray," said Debra. "I believe in a God that answers prayers. My son has new lungs and a new life and is able to dream again."
Bobby Buxbaum was born with a blockage in his lungs. Before he was two days old, doctors told Debra it was a sign of cystic fibrosis. She fainted. When she came to, a surgeon was leaning over her and attempting to explain about the inherited genetic disease which causes glands to produce sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and intestines, creating problems with breathing and food digestion.
The 2004 Brandon High School graduate grew up fairly normally, with the exception of excessive coughing, enzymes before meals and occasional hospital visits. He even played football and street hockey in middle school and in 2005, he felt he was in his prime at 5'11", 150 pounds and working out even with his lung capacity at 50 percent, but then he swiftly declined. In the fall of 2008, he had to quit his job and drop out of college when his doctor told him he wouldn't survive another year otherwise. In May 2009, he was placed on the lung transplant list when his lung capacity was about 17 percent, his weight was just 107 pounds. He was bound to his Auburn Hills apartment and he was doing hour-long breathing treatments twice a day.
His body began shutting down last fall from a lack of oxygen to his organs. At Christmas he was hospitalized because even though he was receiving oxygen 24 hours a day at that point, his lungs weren't absorbing it and were covered in carbon dioxide. He stayed in the intensive care unit for two-and-a-half weeks.
On Saturday, March 6, at quarter to 9 in the morning, Bobby Buxbaum's phone rang. On the caller ID, he recognized an Ann Arbor phone number, where his doctors were. He picked up the phone.
"They said, 'Hello, Robert, we have your lungs, are you ready?'" Bobby recalled. "We were rushing, we got there, and I got my lungs that evening."
The lung transplant surgery took 8-and-a-half hours, with only a few minor complications. Bobby awoke Sunday morning with new lungs and for the first time in 24 years, with lungs that were disease-free. On March 22, he came home and has been regaining the strength he had lost through years of illness.
"When you lose your breathing, you lose your life," Bobby said. "I would just read, surf the internet and lay in bed. Now it feels good to wake up, get up, make my own bed and do dishes again. It feels good to just do normal stuff. Which shocks my Mom, because when I was sick she did everything for me and I just want to pay her back. She has helped me so much."
Two weeks after Bobby's lung transplant, Debra was celebrating her birthday. A friend told her to make a wish before she blew out her candles. Debra told her she didn't know what to wish for, since with Boby's lung transplant and ability to breathe normally, she had just received what she had always wanted.
Instead, crying, she wished that the donor family who gave Bobby his lungs would have peace and comfort.
Bobby wrote a letter of gratitude to the donor family. He had not heard back, but he just wants them to know he is thankful.
"I am so thankful they made that decision and I'm not going to let them down," he said. "I will do my best to lead a productive life."
Bobby is looking forward to returning to Oakland Community College in the fall and getting back to work on his video editing business. He would like to get married and have children one day.
"He has a checklist of goals next to his bed and it's exciting to see him check them off," said Debra. "No money in the world could buy him a future, and to have that given to him..." She pauses. "There were nights he would struggle and I would go into his room and not know if he was still there. The hardest thing for any Mom is to watch your baby struggle like that and know there is nothing you can do, except have hope in a God that will answer your prayers and He did."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville