2019 Transplant and Organ Donation Calendar: Tony Arenas

Tony Arenas coaching basketball


Tony Arenas was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) when he was 6 months old, but the disease did not slow him down much until he was in his late 20s. CF is a hereditary disorder that results in severe respiratory problems, so Tony had to take a lot of medications and needed five breathing treatments each day. Still, he was able to lead an active life, playing basketball with a church league and working as a ball boy for the Milwaukee Bucks for four years.


“I just loved shooting hoops and being on the basketball court,” says Tony, who lives in Pewaukee, Wisconsin.


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UW Health Lung Transplant Program

By September 2015, Tony’s lung function had deteriorated so much that his pulmonologist told him he should be evaluated for lung transplant. A transplant center in Milwaukee would not put him on its transplant wait list, but minutes after he and his wife, Melissa, learned that news, his pulmonologist walked in to say the doctors at UW Health had agreed to see him. A helicopter transported him to Madison.


“My family members were running down to their cars, trying to follow the helicopter in the sky,” he says. ‘We all migrated west. It’s hard for me to even remember that time in my life. I couldn’t eat or swallow anymore. A priest had already given me my last rites, and without a new set of lungs, I was going to die in a week or two.”


Just a day after being listed at UW Health, Tony received the gift of life with a new set of lungs on October 20, 2015. Within three days, he was walking with his ventilator, and he was home before Thanksgiving. “I am now the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life,” says Tony, 34. “I have energy. I never have any shortness of breath.”


Tony’s parents, Jerry and Marie Arenas, own Palmer’s Steakhouse, a restaurant in Hartland, Wisconsin. Since Tony was diagnosed with CF, they have hosted an annual event at their restaurant to raise money for cystic fibrosis research. Last year, they created an endowment that will fund the transplant surgery research of Dr. James Maloney, who was Tony’s transplant surgeon.


“It is amazing what new lungs can do for a person,” Tony says. “You are basically reborn, but then doctors tell you that you may only have five years left to live. The life expectancies should be way better than that. That’s why my family is supporting research.”


For his entire adult life, Tony has volunteered as a basketball coach in the Catholic Youth Ministries Sports league. He had to take time off when he had his transplant, but now he’s back on the court with the kids during basketball season, and golfing and bike riding during his free time.


“I don’t like sitting around,” he says. “If I have a day of doing nothing, it drives me crazy. Now I can do all the things I was too weak to do in the past.”


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