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Clyo man gets new lung, lease on life
But the medical bills for transplant remain astronomical
Sam Edwards
Sam Edwards is expecting to return home in the first week of June. - photo by Photo submitted

Donating an organ not only saves a life; it gives patients a second chance. A chance to live life more fully and be more appreciative of the things you overlooked before.

Sam Edwards, 63, of Clyo knows this first-hand.

On March 10 he was given a new lung.

The former mechanic worked for Great Southern Trailer Corporation at the Savannah ports and was a member of the International Longshoremen’s Association. He had been exposed to toxic chemicals during his 19 years on the job. Those chemicals included asbestos, methobromide, paint fumes and other hazardous chemicals. On top of all this he had been a smoker for 29 years.  

His problems began with emphysema.

All the harmful exposure finally took its toll on his lungs. He was diagnosed with emphysema in 1995. He also suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic bronchial problems.

“He could either quit (smoking) or take 10 years off his life,” said his wife, Melanie Edwards, 56.

So in 1995, he quit smoking. In 1997, he opted for early retirement because he could no longer do his job.

In 2004 he tried to get a lung reduction in which the worst parts of the lung are removed. Unfortunately, he found out that he didn’t qualify. Last year, he headed to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., to undergo testing for a new lung.

Dr. Maria Mascolo of Southeast Lung and Critical Care Associates, PC is his pulmonary doctor in Rincon.

“She’s the one who started us on the journey,” Melanie said. “She has been wonderful ever since.”

This past March the Edwards traveled back to the Mayo Clinic to undergo the transplant. He received a lung from an unknown donor in his 20s.

Edwards doesn’t want to know who the donor is at this point.

“The thought of someone dying to give you life — it’s hard,” Melanie said. She expects her husband will want to know down the road and contact the family of the donor.

Because of his new lung, his life will now be dramatically better.

“The quality of life is just amazing,” Melanie noted.

After two years of living on oxygen he can now live without it.

Edwards remains in the hospital as part of routine post-transplant care to monitor patients.

His wife describes his condition as “excellent.” They expect to return home in the first week of June.  

In the meantime, three different fundraisers are going on or will start soon to help the couple with their medical costs.

A bake sale coordinated by the Better Breathers Club at Effingham Hospital and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans will take place May 18 at the community room of the Effingham Hospital. The bake sale will take place from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

The Georgia Transplant Foundation will help the couple with medication expenses by matching donations they receive for Edwards. His post-transplant medication will probably cost $3,000 a month, which he will have to take for the rest of his life, said his wife.

Lastly, Thrivent is supplementing donations it receives for Edwards. This money may be used however the couple sees fit. The deadline to donate is June 30.

Besides taking his medication, Edwards will have to wear a mask for six months when out in the public to avoid getting an infection. He will have to wear one for the rest of his life when among crowds or small children.

“An infection would be very dangerous for him,” Melanie explained.

Once they return home she will return to work as a part-time bailiff for the Superior Court at the Effingham County Courthouse. Edwards will be able to return to normalcy, as well, provided he keeps everything in moderation.

Married for 16 years, the Edwards have no children together. Melanie Edwards describes her husband as a “country boy” who loves the outdoors. They both do.

Melanie Edwards has decided to get more involved with promoting organ donation as a result of her family’s experience.

“I would like to when I get home do some promotional things,” she said. “It’s so important that we get the message out that we need donors.”