For Newfoundlander Jamie Chaulk, life, and each and every single breath, is precious
So many of us trudge through the monotony of the day-by-day, taking each moment for granted with reckless disinterest. Simple things like walking, seeing, hearing, talking. These are precious gifts, yet few of us take even the slightest of moments to acknowledge just how so.
Breathing – I dare say many of us never once pause to think of what life may be like struggling for that all-too-simple-seeming gift of air. For Jamie Chaulk, the gift of a clean and uncompromised breath has been a lifetime in the making.
“My whole life has really been summed up by struggle,” the 31-year-old shared with The Herald. “I’ve struggled with so many different issues my entire life. I feel there is so much wisdom and truth in the words ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’ and I believe everything I’ve gone through in my life has shaped me to be the man that I am in this present moment.”
Chaulk was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at just three months old. For over three decades, he would struggle with the seemingly insignificant – yet completely monumental – things that most of us achieve without thought or even time to process.
FROM 13 TO 104
“This is my first chance now of having, what you would call, a quality of life really,” he admits.
Chaulk’s journey to his double-lung transplant was an arduous one to say the least. “I spent 550 days in the two years prior to my surgery in the hospital,” he explains. “Basically for the two years leading up to my surgery I was in the hospital.”
Chaulk went under the knife in July of 2017. In the week prior to his operation, he was operating at 13 per cent lung capacity. Today, he is at 104 per cent.
“As soon as I woke up I noticed a drastic difference in my breathing,” Chaulk shared. “You can’t believe what it’s like to be able to breathe with no pain or difficulty or any kind of struggle whatsoever. You don’t realize how bad you are until afterwards, because there’s such a drastic difference.
“I didn’t really appreciate how sick I was or how much it was affecting my life until I was on the other side of things. I don’t cough anymore, I don’t have a wheeze, I can walk without getting out of breath. It’s simple things that you take for granted – even getting a shower, the steam would affect me. If someone would have perfume on I would have to run in a corner and hide. Now I can tolerate it.”
Post-op has been no picnic for Chaulk. A displaced sternum has led to constant pain, and a heavy dose of anti-rejection meds results in routine nausea and vomiting. But for Chaulk, it’s a small price for a clean breath. He resigns himself to move forward with optimism, facing his past, and future, head on.
“A lot of transplant patients I talked to before my surgery, they often talked about being reborn again,” he says. “That’s what it’s like, like you’re given this whole entirely new life. You spend so much time adjusting to this life of living with chronically sick lungs, and now you’re given new lungs that aren’t affected by CS and never will be, and now it’s this huge adjustment. You can be in your 30s or 40s and you have to adjust to this whole new life and regiment because you can do so much more.”
Chaulk is in the process of writing an extensive survivor’s memoir, where he chronicles his life living with cystic fibrosis, as well as brushes with abuse and hardships that few of us can scarcely fathom.
“The book has really been a therapeutic process for me,” Chaulk says. “I’ve been able to dig deep and explore how these things have affected me and shaped my life. It’s been rewarding on that end as well.”
Chaulk hopes that detailing his inspiring story of survival and perseverance through peril may help others cope and rise above their own pain. With a new lease on life, tasting air like he has never done, Chaulk refuses to be silent in the face of adversity any longer.
“I spent so much of my life in silence. I’ve gotten to a place now where I see the benefits and the rewards of being open with people and how it impacts them to deal with their own struggles. I feel like it’s empowered me to share my story. It’s not easy talking about dark things that you’ve been through in your life, because you’re not sure how people are going to receive the message or how they will subconsciously judge you after, but I feel if my story can help one person, I feel that’s what I’m kind of meant to do with this new life. It’s just to empower people and inspire people to live their best life through whatever struggles they’ve been through.”
LOVE & SUPPORT
Throughout this entire process, Chaulk shared that the outpouring of love and support from his fellow Newfoundlanders has been nothing short of inspiring.
“I think we have the most beautiful people in the world living here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and I feel that’s not celebrated enough to be honest with you,” he said. “The support that I’ve received has been truly overwhelming and has touched my heart like you wouldn’t believe.”