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After serving in the U.S. Army for 24 years, including more than a year in Afghanistan, Randy Hatfield has seen plenty of difficult things.
He loved serving his country, but his time in the service left him with lasting effects, including permanently damaged lungs. He was diagnosed with interstitial pulmonary fibrosis in 2019—a condition doctors believe may have come from being in the burn pits in Afghanistan.
In 2020, Randy started feeling sicker and sicker. He was working as a letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office, and while he got plenty of exercise every day, it was becoming hard to breathe in the humidity and extreme cold. After a bout of pneumonia that landed him in the hospital for five days, Randy knew something had to change. “I realized I didn’t have very much time, so I asked about what I could do to get a lung transplant,” he said.
Randy receives care through the Veterans Health Administration, and in June 2022, the VA hospital near his home in Des Moines, Iowa, started him on the testing he needed for a lung transplant. That facility, however, didn’t offer transplants. So Randy chose to go to William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, because he heard it had the best team in the nation.
The transplant testing came just in the nick of time—right before Randy was scheduled to travel to Madison, he became very sick, and his doctors in Des Moines had to put a tube in his trachea to help him breathe. “My wife and I both knew I didn’t have another month,” he said.
He arrived in Madison via emergency transport on Oct. 23. On Oct. 24, doctors at UW Health put him on the wait list for a new set of lungs, and the next day, he received the gift of life. “It was kind of wild to us that it was so quick,” Randy said.
While he was staying at both University Hospital and the VA hospital in Madison, Randy knew he was in the right hands. “I think the doctors are great,” he said. “And I love the nurses—they are such good people.”
Randy appreciates the fact that he doesn’t have to wear oxygen anymore or stop every 10 steps to catch his breath. And he’s looking forward to getting back to hunting—he plans to go turkey hunting this spring, and deer hunting in the fall.
“Now that I’ve had the transplant, I’m very happy I did it,” he said. “I need to respect the lungs that I got from someone who said, ‘Yes, I’ll give part of my body so someone else can live.’ I’ll do everything I can to keep those lungs healthy.”