Three months from now, Curtis Higgons will celebrate the five-year anniversary of his new, healthier life. On Dec. 28, 2013, his care team at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus gave him a new pair of lungs. The double lung transplant became necessary after cystic fibrosis destroyed his lung function.
Curtis admits that the transplant and recovery process were rocky at times, but he says the quality of life he enjoys now has made everything worthwhile. He's able to do things that wouldn't have been possible before the transplant. Like starting and running his own digital media company. And participating in a national Olympic-style competition with other transplant recipients from around the country.
A while back, we told you about Curtis’ success at the Donate Life Transplant Games in 2016, where he took home four medals. “I won gold in Texas Hold-Em and three silvers in bowling — one for individuals, another for doubles, and a third for mixed doubles,” Curtis told us. “It was pretty awesome.”
Curtis added to his medal count at this year’s games, held last month in Utah. He took home seven medals, in bowling, darts, Texas Hold-Em, and a new event he decided to enter this year: swimming. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” Curtis tells us of his decision to enter the 200-yard individual medley and 500-yard freestyle swimming events. “That was the main goal for me." He did more than that, winning gold in the 200-yard medley and silver in the 500-yard freestyle.
Not bad for a double lung transplant recipient, let alone someone who had never even done a butterfly stroke or breaststroke prior to this year’s competition. “Some of the other competitors helped me figure out what to do,” Curtis says. “I probably looked like a complete idiot doing it, but I was able to do it and finish both races.”
Which is of no great surprise to at least one member of Curtis’ care team at Mayo Clinic, who admits she was a bit nervous when she learned Curtis would be swimming at this year’s games. “But I trusted he wouldn’t do anything to put his health or his lungs at risk,” Stacia Lucas, a nurse in Mayo’s intensive care unit in Florida, tells us. “Having cared for Curtis before, I know he’s a fighter and will do whatever it takes to succeed. I’m proud of him for that and for the many other accomplishments he’s achieved since his transplant.”
Curtis says he’ll be forever grateful to Lucas and everyone at Mayo Clinic who helped make it happen. “Growing up with cystic fibrosis, I never knew what having good lungs felt like,” he says. “Now that I do, it makes me want to always strive for more, because what I’m able to do now compared to what I was able to do before my transplant is night and day. And I’m just really thankful for that.”
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