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12 Years and Counting: Patient Celebrates Anniversary of Double Lung Transplant Surgery

Doug Akagi, celebrating 12 years since his life-saving double lung transplant.

When Doug Akagi was just 31 years old, he started to notice some troubling symptoms. He couldn’t seem to catch his breath while working out.  

“I felt like I was out of shape,” he said. “I was just getting winded really fast whenever I did any type of exercise.”  

After a year of seeing various specialists and digging into his family medical history, Doug was finally referred to a pulmonary hypertension specialist at LDS Hospital.  

“They ran one test, and I finally had my diagnosis,” he said.

Akagi was 32 years old, with two small children under the age of 4, when he was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension.  

“For me, it was hereditary,” said Akagi, whose mother passed away from the same condition when Doug was three years old.  

Over the 12 months of searching for answers and a diagnosis, Akagi’s condition had deteriorated significantly.  

“After I was admitted to LDS Hospital, the doctors told me if I went home at that point I probably wouldn’t live for a month,” he said. “It was pretty shocking.”

For the next four weeks, doctors monitored Akagi’s condition, trying various medications to help stabilize his condition and improve his symptoms. Four weeks later, he was released from the hospital. Although the prognosis was fairly bleak at that time, Akagi did his best to move forward and live life as best as he could with his condition.  

Unfortunately, over the years, things just continued to get worse and worse.  

“About eight years after my diagnosis, the pulmonary hypertension was getting really bad,” Akagi said. “It was time to make a decision. Either go through all the testing to get on the lung transplant list or continue down the road I was on.”  

Akagi chose to undergo the testing required for transplant eligibility. Luckily, the testing showed he was eligible for a transplant, and he was put on the lung transplant list.  

At that point, I knew if I didn’t try for a transplant, I wouldn’t have lived for more than a year.
Doug Akagi, patient

On September 27, 2011—just three weeks after being added to the transplant list—Doug got a phone call. It was go time.  

“That was a shock,” he said. “When I first got on the list, the transplant doctors told me I would likely have to wait for at least six months because lungs are so rare.” 

Akagi had three hours to decide if he wanted to go through with the surgery. After talking with his family, he made the decision to go through with it.  

On September 27, 2011, Akagi had a double lung transplant at University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City.  

“A double lung transplant is a huge, traumatic surgery,” Doug said. “But as soon as I woke up after surgery, I felt better than I had in a long time.” 

Akagi spent six weeks in the hospital after his surgery. He started physical therapy and no longer needed to be on oxygen. His quality of life was immediately improved and only continued to get better from there. Even still, the recovery was very difficult for Akagi.  

“I was so weak after surgery that if I sat on the floor, I couldn’t get up by myself,” he said. “I didn’t start to feel human again until March 2012, seven months after the lung transplant.”  

It was around this time that Akagi realized how far he had come—not only since the surgery, but since his pulmonary hypertension diagnosis years earlier.  

“In April 2012, eight months after surgery, my wife and kids and I went for a walk near our house,” Doug said. “I started running and my kids started laughing and chasing after me. I asked them why they were laughing, and they said they had never seen me run before.”  

Even though things have turned out well for Akagi and his family, he did have his doubts about whether he should have the surgery when he got that phone call.  

“I didn’t want to die and leave my kids here,” he said. “That was the scary part, but for me it has been totally worth it.”  

Today, Akagi can do what any normal person can do. He can hike, swim, mountain bike… the only thing he can’t do is run a marathon.  

In 2022, Doug started his own business running events for local companies. He travels often for work—something he couldn’t have feasibly done while on oxygen.  

But physical fitness and work aren’t the reasons Akagi is glad he’s still around.  

“When I was first diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, the prognosis was really bleak,” he said. “At that time, my kids were 2 and 3 years old, and I never thought I’d be able to see them grow up. I just never thought it was going to be possible.”  

Akagi’s daughter is now 22, was recently married, and is in her senior year of college studying mechanical engineering. His son, now 21, is also in college, majoring in computer science.  

Akagi was there for both of his kids’ high school graduations. He was there for his daughter’s wedding. And he plans on being there when both of his kids graduate from college.  

Being sick has really changed my perspective on life. Life is really fragile, and people are more important than how much money you make and what kind of car you drive. None of that matters if you aren’t around.
Doug Akagi, patient