Some men marry the woman who takes their breath away. Keith Childerhose married the one who helped him get his breath back.
Strolling hand in hand along the white sands of Seven Mile Beach, Keith and his wife Sarah look like any other newlyweds enjoying a picture-perfect honeymoon. It is a happy ending they never thought they would see.
Less than a year ago, Keith was on life support, barely able to breathe, waiting to hear if a donor could be found for a life-saving double lung transplant.
The 43-year-old, who suffered a rare condition known as diffuse panbronchiolitis, said he could feel his body “shutting down.” He was beginning to give up hope, when he was told a donor had been found.
Two weeks later, after a successful operation, he was fit enough to get down on one knee and propose to his partner of six years – Sarah Taylor, who had spent the months up to that moment frantically blogging, appearing on television and radio and raising awareness of his condition and his need for a donor.
“Going through all that made me realize what was important in life and what the right thing to do was. As soon as I was well enough after the transplant, I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. I had to ask her to help me up afterwards,” he said.
The couple’s amazing story helped win them a competition organized by Wedding Saviors, a charitable organization that paid for their entire wedding. The Cayman Islands Department of Tourism and Caribbean Club teamed up to fund a Cayman Islands honeymoon as part of the package.
Keith had been dying since he and Sarah first met. When he was first diagnosed, at age 25, with a severe and rare disease that causes fluid to build up in the lungs, doctors told him he had only 10 years to live.
He defied those predictions and for several years the disease was, for practical purposes, little more than a nuisance.
He could do everything the “average Joe” could do. He went ice skating, roller blading, camping and canoeing and worked with his partner in their home maintenance company. The only difference was it took him a little longer to get his breath back.
By April last year, however, his condition had deteriorated to the point where basic tasks were a challenge. He sat down with a doctor and charted his loss of breathing capacity on a graph.
“He came home and he told me, ‘I am going to be dead by Christmas,’” Sarah recalled.
As her partner’s condition continued to worsen and it became clear he would need a transplant, she mobilized support online, setting up a blog, “the daily breaths,” and a Facebook page “lungs for Keith to breathe.”
She hopes the conversation she has started will help encourage more people to talk about becoming organ donors, giving hope of rebirth to others like Keith in need of life-saving transplants.
While swimming with stingrays at the sandbar, strolling up West Bay Road, enjoying the sun on Seven Mile Beach, are experiences most of us take for granted, for Keith Childerhose, they are all mini miracles.