Lung and liver transplant recipient grateful as he celebrates Thanksgiving

On Wednesday, three months after surgery, Patricio Collera thanked the deceased donor, who is anonymous: “Thank you very much, whoever you are.”

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Retired Northwestern Memorial Hospital nurse Patricio Collera, 63, said he was turned away by multiple transplant centers before Northwestern doctors agreed to take his case. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Patricio Collera is thankful for a lot of things this Thanksgiving.

But mostly he’s just happy to be alive.

Collera received a rare lung and liver transplant in August and will celebrate a three-month anniversary with his new organs on Thanksgiving.

“Am I dreaming or am I alive?” he asked when he woke up after the surgery. “You’re alive, man!” a nurse responded.

The surgery was a “perfectly coordinated ballroom dance” that involved more than 20 people in the operating room, Dr. Satish Nadig said Wednesday during a news conference at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Collera, 63, of Vernon Hills, previously worked as a nurse at the hospital and was thrilled beyond words when, after doctors at several other hospitals refused to take on the challenge, he received word that physicians at Northwestern Memorial said he was the perfect candidate.

He had been diagnosed with interstitial lung disease and nonalcoholic liver disease, which caused scarring of his lungs and liver cirrhosis.

Life before the surgery was “miserable” and required an oxygen tank and tubes accompanying Collera everywhere he went.

“I’m very grateful to be here talking to you and not having an oxygen tube hanging from my nose,” he said.

Collera profusely thanked doctors and nurses.

“And I want to thank the organ donor, although I don’t know who he or she is, for the perfect liver and lung,” he said.

The hospital, following policy, does not release details about the identity of the donor. 

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Patricio Collera receives a painting of lungs and a liver holding hands from staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Hospital staff presented Collera with a painting of a liver and lungs holding hands on Wednesday.

“The organs are very happy together,” he joked.

“My advice is for people to be careful with your life when you’re young,” he said, noting that he used to smoke and drink, too often to excess. 

“When you’re young, you feel like you’re Superman,” he said. “Now I have realized how precious life is.”

Collera said he plans to enjoy Thanksgiving with his wife, kids and grandkids.

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