PHOENIX, Ariz. (KNXV) — An Arizona doctor has a lot to be thankful for after surviving a double lung transplant.
For more than 30 years, nephrologist Dr. Berne Yee has served as a kidney transplant specialist, helping to save countless lives.
In early January, just days after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, he fell ill.
"I had chills and loss of taste," Dr. Yee said.
Yee tested positive for COVID-19.
"Nobody else in the family got it, so my assumption was that I got it from work before I got the vaccine," he said.
Yee's health deteriorated quickly. The virus ravaged his lungs, forcing him onto a ventilator and into a medically-induced coma for nearly a month.
Dr. Ross Bremner described Yee's lungs as "awful."
Dr. Bremner advised Dr. Yee he had no other option but to get a life-saving double lung transplant.
"Initially I rejected the notion because I didn't know how sick I was," Yee said.
It took a sobering warning to convince Yee his condition was grave.
"If he didn't get a lung transplant, he most likely would have succumbed to the disease," Bremner said.
Yee was immediately placed in the Norton Lung Transplant Program and placed on the donor list.
In April, Yee got the call that a pair of lungs were available for transplant. His wife Lily was relieved.
"It was scary during that process, but I was optimistic," she said.
The surgery performed at St. Joseph's Hospital was a success, leaving the transplant doctor, turned transplant patient, with a new perspective on those he's treated in the past.
"Because now I've walked in their shoes," Yee said.
Yee has retired from medicine to focus on his recovery but says if he ever returns, he would be much more compassionate. He said he's developed a greater appreciation for each and every breath.
"I think there may have been some celestial intervention because we've seen people just as sick as I am [do] not make it," he said. "I was pretty sick but was able to get transplanted and I'm here today."
Yee says he's looking forward to the time when he can meet the donor's family in person to thank them for the life-saving gift.