Gary Sault Ste. Marie, ON
“Two years ago, we would never have been able to make plans for the future…we weren’t even able to plan for tomorrow,” says Sherri Duke. After learning her husband, Gary, had only months left to live, his life — and their future together — hung in the balance.
Gary and Sherri live in Sault Ste. Marie, a town of approximately 75,000 people on the St. Marys River in Northern Ontario. The Dukes have been through all of life’s major milestones together, from buying a house and raising two children, to becoming grandparents. But in 2010 they were faced with a major challenge. Gary was diagnosed with emphysema, a chronic disease that affects the lungs and makes regular breathing difficult. It made physical activity challenging, and forced him to quit his job as a truck driver.
Over the next few years his health continued to deteriorate, and in 2014 Gary’s condition developed into stage IV emphysema, the most serious form of the disease. This meant he would need the assistance of an oxygen tank 24 hours a day, and would see a significant decrease in his life expectancy. Ultimately, Gary would need a double lung transplant to improve his quality of life.
"We didn't know if he would be alive in a year. It was a very stressful time for us," says Sherri.
In January of 2014 Gary went on the transplant list and got lucky: by July of that year a set of lungs had become available. The transplant would have to be performed in Toronto. Thankfully for the Dukes, the surgery was a success, but the challenges didn’t end there.
"We're not the type of people that ask others for help, but when we finally had to, Hope Air was there for us."
To ensure Gary remained healthy, the Dukes needed to travel to his specialists in Toronto frequently over the next year. But getting to those appointments was difficult. It meant Sherri would have to drive Gary eight hours each way — an exhausting drive in good weather and a dangerous one during the harsh winter months.
“We live in the Sault, and driving in the winter is terrifying,” says Sherri. Added to that was the cost of overnight accommodations. As Gary’s medically-necessary escort, Sherri needed to stay nearby while her husband received his tests and check-ups. Typically, this meant she’d have to stay in a hotel close to the hospital — an expensive proposition in downtown Toronto, especially when money was already tight.
“The insurmountable bills of trying to keep our home going, plus the costs of renting an apartment or staying in a hotel in Toronto made it almost impossible," says Sherri.
Just when the couple had resigned themselves to the fact that they would have to drive to the appointments, they heard about Hope Air from another transplant recipient in Sault Ste. Marie who had used the charity’s services. After the Dukes contacted us, we were able to book them on flights to and from Toronto.
"We're not the type of people that ask others for help, but when we finally had to, Hope Air was there for us,” says Sherri.
Because of the flights provided by Hope Air, they were able to avoid the stressful and dangerous drive from Sault Ste. Marie, and could put the money they would have spent on driving towards Sherri's overnight accommodations so she could continue to support Gary.
"Hope Air has been a godsend for us. We can just fly in and not have to worry about highway conditions, accidents, and snowstorms,” says Sherri. “Hope Air takes so much stress off the patient and their caregiver, I can’t say enough about how great they are.”
It’s now been a little more than two years since the transplant, and Gary is happy to report that he has a clean bill of health. The Dukes can now turn to more important things in life, like spending time with their family and watching their three grandchildren grow up, something they would not have thought possible only a few short years ago.