Port employee enjoys a second chance at life

Larry Connolly is thankful for organ donor's gifts

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Port of Camas-Washougal Project Manager Larry Connolly was welcomed back to work by his co-workers in late October. He received a double lung transplant in July, at Stanford Hospital and Clinics, in Palo Alto, Calif.

Larry Connolly plans to celebrate two birthdays a year, from now on. They will include his original date of birth in December as well as July 12 — the date he received a double lung transplant.

Connolly, 58, recently returned to work as project manager for the Port of Camas-Washougal — much to the delight of his coworkers.

“It’s awesome,” said Port Executive Director David Ripp. “It’s so amazing to see how much he has changed and to see a positive outlook through him as well. Modern medicine is amazing.”

Port Office Assistant Jennifer Rilatos said she could not be happier about Connolly’s “swift return.”

“He is truly an inspiration to all of us here in the office,” she said. “Larry has shown me that perseverance and faith truly do work. We have been overwhelmed and happy how this great little community has pulled together in support of Larry. He has given over 12 years of service to this area with the port, and I think that all of our efforts have shown him just how special and important he is to us.”

More than $8,000 was raised, to help with Connolly’s medical expenses. During the Riverside Concert Series last year, ice cream was sold and raffle prizes were donated by area merchants and restaurants. In August 2010, port employees held a two-day garage sale and barbecue to raise money for Connolly.

“I’m very happy to be back and look forward to working with the staff and community and catching up on the work that has been waiting for my return,” he said. “The staff and community have been exceptionally supportive of me while I endured this life changing experience, and I really appreciate everyone for that.”

Connolly was tested and diagnosed with Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency – a rare genetic disorder – in July 2008. For more than a year, he was on supplemental oxygen. Prior to the transplant, Connolly had 11% lung capacity. Less than 12 hours after the transplant, he was breathing on his own.

Connolly is somewhat restricted now in the activities that he can do — such as gardening and using aerosols.

When he attends public functions, he has to “mask up” to prevent infectious germs from getting to his lungs.

“I do wear the mask at places such as grocery stores, medical offices, concerts, movie theatres and such,” Connolly said. “I must be vigilant in keeping myself clear of airborne germs, as well as those through handshakes or through contact with handrails, doorknobs and money.”

He has to wait a bit longer to play golf, hunt and fish.

“Because of the split sternum, I have some restrictions as to the physical activities that I am able to perform,” Connolly said.

His wife of 21 years, Debbie, was with him in California for a portion of the recovery process.

After the transplant, Connolly was in Stanford Hospital and Clinics, in Palo Alto, for 10 days and was released to come home on Sept. 13.

“I was scheduled to be released on Oct. 17,” he said. “The transplant team attributed the early release to a positive attitude and positive recovery progression that included lots of walking and exercise through pulmonary rehabilitation and working out at the on site gym provided at the residence.”

Connolly does not know anything about the organ donor.

“That information can only be released by the family of the donor after they receive an informational letter from the organ recipient, and then it is the option of the family to supply any information,” he said. “There is no time limit for information sharing between donor family and recipient, and all correspondence is handled through the transplant team. I have penned the letter but have not yet sent it to the team.”

He said it is extremely important for people to participate in the organ donation program.

“There is much need for organ donation throughout the U.S. and lengthy lists of potential recipients,” Connolly said. “I was on the lung transplant list for 11 months. Many on the lists have been there for as long as three-plus years. Once a life has expired there is nothing that the organs can do for you, so why not make someone’s life worth living?

“When you get as ill as I was prior to the transplant there is no living, just existing,” he added. “That has all changed for me. I’m living again, thanks to the generosity of a compassionate person that made the decision to donate their organs.”

Rilatos said she has reconsidered her thoughts about organ donation after watching Connolly’s story unfold, and she hopes that other people will choose to be donors as well.

“We are happy to see Larry’s ‘new’ face around here in the office — the one that is now smiling and not out of breath,” she said. “We have to keep up with him now. He’s quick.”