Singer finds new life, new voice in transplant

Alex Pangman could barely breathe; but she always knew how to sing. The 38-year-old jazz singer was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a child. The genetic disease depleted her lung capacity almost continuously.

In 2008, she hit rock bottom when doctors told her she had a 50 per cent chance of living through the next year. Six months later, Pangman received a lung transplant. Through an organ donation, she was able to reclaim her life and her voice.

“It would be like you were used to riding a bicycle and then somebody gave you a Ferrari,” Pangman said.

Prior the transplant, Pangman sang with 25 per cent lung function. Today, she sings with 85 per cent function. Her voice changed, but, she said, for the better.

“(I) was able to grow as a singer,” she said and added that post-op she could manage sustained notes and make “bluesy hush sounds” that previously gave her a “coughing fit.”

Pangman’s husband Tom Parker, also a singer, often performs with his wife.

“She can sing naturally now. That’s what her voice should be like,” he said.

Pangman described the period waiting for word on a transplant as nearly losing her passion for life and song. She periodically required an oxygen tank and remembered times she was coughing blood between shows. Then, with the success of the transplant, things changed.

“I was reinvigorated with a zest for life, that I was unable to really enjoy before the transplant,” she said.

Pangman said she thinks of the lung donor on Mother’s Day, as someone else who now shares the miracle of giving her life. She sings love songs to her donor with lyrics such as, “I know why I’ve waited. I know why I’ve been blue. I prayed each night for someone exactly like you.”

Not all those in need of organs are as fortunate as Pangman. Versha Prakash, a spokesperson for Trillium Gift of Life Network, said in Ontario one person dies every three days while on the organ waiting list.

George Marcello, a long-time advocate of organ donation, has staged awareness campaigns for organ donation, including a walk from Toronto to Ottawa.

“Toronto has one of the lowest rates (of organ donation) as a city in the world,” he said. “It only has 15 per cent (of the city’s population) registered.”

Marcello insists that people should think of their loved ones in need of transplant.

“It’s probably one of the most unconditional acts as a society,” he said.

For Alex Pangman, that’s so.

“It definitely feels like an honour just to feel more normal again,” she said. “I didn’t get here without somebody donating their lungs.”