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The Lung Brothers

Two strangers share a set of transplanted lungs, become bonded like brothers.

The “Lung Brothers” Brad Ward and Lou Farren. Lou says, “It’s like we’ve been friends for 25 years.” (photo by Brittany Barbato)

By Michael Vitez

The waitress walked up.

“I remember you guys,” she said with a big smile.

“That’s right. The Lung Brothers,” said Brad Ward, 70.

“He’s left and I’m right — because I’m always right,” quipped Lou Farren, 69, who got the right lung.

“And I’m always left,” said Brad, who got the left lung. “I had to get rid of my GPS because it kept saying `turn right, turn right.’ ”

Lou and Brad could take their show on the road, and they do, often visiting other lung transplant patients at Temple University Hospital or those waiting on the list and sharing their story.

Going on the road would come naturally to Brad, a sixth generation circus performer, who met his wife on a trapeze.

“Your whole life changes,” says Brad. “You know those time lapse photos of flowers blooming? That’s exactly what it was like with me. My whole body just started branching out after I got the transplant. Everything started opening up. My whole system changed. All these areas that weren’t getting oxygen, suddenly were getting oxygen.”

The Lung Brothers only last spring were on the verge of death.

Brad had been rejected by 13 other transplant centers. He is from Arkansas, but sold his house and moved up here with his wife, Julie, and bought a trailer in Pennsauken and waited 15 months for a lung to become available.

Lou, from Philadelphia, who spent his life working in the building trades had been out of the ICU for only a few days when a donor lung became available.

Lou and Brad with Brad’s wife,  Julie. (photo by Michael Vitez)

Brad’s wife, Julie, was in one waiting room and saw a family in the next waiting room. She had been wondering if her husband was getting a left lung, who was getting the right lung.

She walked up to a woman in the next room and asked if a family member was getting a lung transplant.

“Yes. He’s getting a right lung,” said Lou’s daughter, Katie.

“My husband is getting a left lung,” said Brad’s wife.

Nurses told Lou and Brad they shared a set of lungs from the same donor.

The nurses also decided the men were so much alike — ornery and opinionated and outspoken — they put them together in the exercise room during recovery.

In addition to a lung from the same donor, Lou and Brad found out they shared many things: both were Vietnam vets, men of faith, and had great family support.

Brad says what they both had in common most was this: “The will to live, the fight to stay alive, to get through this.”

“It’s like we always knew each other,” said Lou. “Boom. It’s like we’ve been friends for 25 years.”

For the last few months, the Lung Brothers have met for breakfast regularly in a diner in Mayfair, off Frankford Avenue. Lou would come from Maple Glen in Montgomery County. Brad from Pennsauken.

“Once I left the hospital I never looked back,” said Brad. Even though doctors told him to wait six months, he went golfing after three. “Finally they shook their heads and said swing away,” said Brad.

“You know where I played my first game of golf?” said Lou. “In Saigon.

“I hit the ball, and hit it again — right into a mine field,” said Lou. “My buddy says you want to go get your ball? I said no. I knew enough to take a drop.”

Lou was Army. Brad was Navy.

“I was born in Iowa but I grew up in Vietnam,” says Brad.

“Lot of guys did,” said Lou.

Brad has a searing memory of destroying homes and villages from his ship. He recalled how an old man in a rickety boat approached their ship the morning after one attack. “He wanted to know — and this always stuck with me — `Why did you kill all our women and children? What did we do that you did this to us?’ ”

Brad believes his lungs went bad in part from the chemical Agent Orange he inhaled in Vietnam. The Navy agreed and he receives extra health benefits from the government. He wears his Navy cap now only to engage other veterans and widows and tell them about the Agent Orange benefits.

“I have helped 23 people so far get compensation they did not know they were able to get it,” Brad said proudly.

Lou’s lungs were afflicted with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He did not receive Agent Orange benefits.

The two men really have a mission now. They realize how fortunate they are. They want to encourage people to put on their drivers licenses that they want to be organ donors, and to “make sure their family understands and follows through,” says Lou.

In addition, when they visit people waiting for transplants, or considering transplants, they try to eliminate their stress and fear, emphasizing how quickly Brad bounced back, and how Lou would have come back even faster had he not been so sick beforehand.

Brad got permission from Temple’s transplant team to go back home to Arkansas, and he and his wife sold their trailer and drove home last week. He saw his great granddaughter for the first time. He will still return every four to six weeks to see his doctors.

Brad and Lou speak often by phone, and have already made plans to get together.

Michael Vitez is director of narrative medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.