Before undergoing surgery for a double-lung transplant in December, Don Hansen knew he might not make it through the operation. He told his wife Lori that he was thankful for the life they shared.
“I said, my only regret is that I didn’t get more time,” he recalled. “But now I get that time.”
Hansen recently returned home to Powell and is enjoying a new lease on life.
“I’m like a little kid again — everything’s new,” he said.
For the first time in years, Hansen can breathe without the aid of an oxygen tank. He also can walk without having to stop to catch his breath. And he has more compassion for people who face physical or mental health struggles.
“I’m a new person in more ways than one,” Hansen said, adding, “I have another person inside of me that I have vowed to take care of.”
Hansen doesn’t know the name of the organ donor, but he wrote a letter to the person’s family and hopes to meet them someday.
“I wanted to let them know it changed my life — but not just my life, but for my wife and my three kids,” he said.
Now the future holds the possibility of camping, fishing, hunting, watching his grandchildren in sports and just enjoying life.
Part of that future also includes serving on the Park County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees. Voters elected Hansen to a second four-year term in November, but just about a month after the election, he underwent the double-lung transplant surgery. Following several months of recovery in Colorado, Hansen came home in mid-March and returned to a school board meeting on March 26. He now will be able to regularly attend meetings.
“Unless it’s a doctor’s appointment, I’ll be there,” he said.
Hansen said he truly appreciates all the support from the community. A fundraising effort to help with medical bills and other expenses resulted in around $10,000.
“How do you tell a community thank you for everything?” Hansen asked. He added that he doesn’t have the words to say, but “the only ones I can come up with are thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
He said Powell is “pretty special … what we’ve got.”
Hansen credits his wife Lori, sons Bryant and Tyler, daughter Elizabeth and other family members, friends, caregivers and medical staff for helping him get through the last several months.
“It was a combination of a lot of people that got me through this,” he said.
Hansen was diagnosed with COPD several years ago, and his lungs were giving out. Doctors said he had about 5 percent lung function in December before the transplant surgery.
His health struggles and the months of recovery gave him a new perspective on what it’s like for people with mental health conditions.
“Survivor’s guilt is a real thing — why did I get this set of lungs, and another person didn’t?” Hansen said. “Luckily enough, I have a support group, a family, that gets me through all of this.”
He hopes to be an advocate for mental health resources in the school district. With counselors stretched thin, “I would like to see us hire at least one more, if not two more.”
Hansen also is encouraging people to consider registering to be an organ donor, if they haven’t already.
“That’s what I would ask anybody in this community: Be a donor, please,” he said. “Change somebody’s life. It changed mine.”