I was ready to die but God had other ideas

Double-lung transplant recipient Michael Fattal remembers the night that saved his life

Late one night at the start of 2015, 27-year-old Michael Fattal was convinced that his life was about to end.

Although he had been placed a fortnight earlier on a register for a double-lung transplant, the lifelong sufferer from cystic fibrosis felt he was at death’s door.

“I remember praying to God, ‘Lord, we’ve come this far. This is obviously really hard. I’m totally cool to go to you tonight.’

“That’s exactly what I said – ‘totally cool,'” chuckles Michael. But he is absolutely sincere. “I remember turning to the book of Revelation; I’m reading about heaven and there will be no more weeping or sickness.

“For me, being in heaven with God is a phenomenal thing that I am really looking forward to.”

“The whole idea was to go home and be comfortable.” – Michael Fattal

A travel agent and tour guide in Sydney, Michael celebrated his 30th birthday last month by crowd-funding more than $30,000 for cystic fibrosis research.

He calculates that he has spent about a quarter of his 30 years in hospital. The disorder he suffers from is a life-threatening genetic condition that causes the lungs, kidney, liver and pancreas to steadily block, due to a thick mucus build-up. He and an estimated 70,000 others around the world don’t produce enough salt to break down the lubricating mucus inside their bodies.

Michael’s two younger brothers also have cystic fibrosis, which is unusual on two counts. Cystic fibrosis tends to be carried by people from an Anglo or European background whereas the Fattals are of Lebanese background; the familial factor is also not strong with only a one in four chance that a child of parents who are carriers will inherit the disease.

“It almost doesn’t exist in the Middle East,” explains Michael. “So, when my parents had me, it was obviously a massive shock.

“The two most amazing people are my parents and what they have gone through. Their Christian faith, their determination – they’ve just been phenomenally amazing parents.”

Despite trying hard to stay healthy and fit, Michael found that by 2015 his lungs needed to have external drains attached to them. He found it hard to breathe with only about a quarter of his lungs being functional and was constantly in pain.

“The whole idea was to go home and be comfortable,” remembers Michael about just how close death seemed to be.

Michael also requested in his prayer that the transplant happen as soon as possible.

But the keen cyclist and church volunteer enjoys life on earth despite its challenges. So in his death-door prayer in 2015 he asked God if he wasn’t going to take him then and there to “please get this transplant [to me] and, at least, make it work for a few years.”

Michael also prayed for the transplant to happen as soon as possible. Before going to bed, he even packed a bag ready to go to hospital. When a phone call came through at 4AM, Michael was still awake. He had been patiently waiting for the call.

Michael Fattal

Michael Fattal with his family, before the 2015 operation.

The double-lung transplant Michael immediately went to receive was the first of its kind in Australia. The “lung in a box” procedure (officially called Organ Care System) doesn’t involve the standard method of putting the lungs on ice. Instead, a machine ventilates and sustains the lungs before the vital operation.

Apparently, Michael smiled all through the operation. His recovery was good – he was back on his bike within two months – but most of 2017 has not been great. Michael’s immune system went into “overdrive” to fight a flu and it has continued to fight any foreign object. Michael’s lungs fit that category, so his lung capacity has shrunk from full to about 30 per cent. That’s the level he was at before the 2015 transplant.

“I’m thankful every day that I wake up.” – Michael Fattal

Michael wants to be an old man when he dies but only 60 per cent of double-lung transplant recipients survive after the first year. Life expectancy further diminishes after that.

He is on the list for a second transplant, which is rare.

For a young bloke whose life has been so shaped by the threat of death, Michael seems to be content and cheery. He’s the sort of person whose life seems easy and carefree, an impression he doesn’t disagree with.

“It feels easy because of Christ and I really do mean that. It’s probably the most cliched thing for someone to say … but I wake up every morning excited; I’m thankful every day that I wake up.”

Michael believes that his exposure to “big things” from an early age – serious sickness, prolonged hospitalisation, possible death – caused him to think hard as a child about what life and death were all about. He vividly remembers his first day at a Christian school, when he put his hand up in response to a teacher’s question about whether anyone in the class wanted to know and follow Jesus to eternal life.

“I said that I want Jesus. I want to be saved and I want eternal life. I wanted to know that if I died, I would be with him – because I was sick all the time.”

“Christianity is my crutch and without it I can’t do anything.” – Michael Fattal

Michael’s parents also raised him to know that if you want your life to have any meaning, you should live your life for Jesus and “he will make you useful. He will make you a tool.”

Continuing to try to live his life that way, Michael is happy to describe Christianity as his “crutch.”

“People can rip into me for that, but I don’t care what people say about religion and faith. One hundred per cent, it is my crutch and without it I can’t do anything.”