Army Staff Sergeant Serves Two Tours in Iraq and Receives a Successful Second Lung Transplant

For Will Thompson, 45, huge life events seem to come in twos. An Army Staff Sergeant, Will served as a combat medic/nurse during two tours in Iraq. When he returned home, he underwent two lung transplants over a four-year period to treat his chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a condition many believe was caused by the dust and smoke he was exposed to while on active duty in Iraq.

When Will got home from his second tour in 2010, he was treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for what he initially thought was pneumonia. He ended up staying for six months. The medicine he was taking for his lung condition wasn’t working, and Will and his doctors knew something more drastic needed to be done.

His pulmonologist at Walter Reed had recently rotated through Inova Fairfax Advanced Lung Disease service and recommended Will see the staff there about a lung transplant. “That same day I was told I needed a transplant was the day Dick Cheney had his heart transplant at Inova. I figured if someone like Dick Cheney with all the resources in the world picked Inova it was good enough for me,” Will says.

As Will waited for a donor, his condition worsened and he needed several hospitalizations. Will lives with his wife, Suzanne, who is also a nurse, and their son and daughter in Princeton, West Virginia, a five and a half hour drive from Inova. With the help of Suzanne, Will fought hard, followed his therapy and medication regimen faithfully and held on until a donor became available. He underwent his first transplant in June of 2012. Unfortunately he developed a chronic rejection of those organs. “I was a nurse all my life,” says Will. “I knew coming in that a transplant didn’t mean everything was going to be hunky dory. What was amazing is that the doctors on my team all decided I was a good candidate for a second transplant. They took a vote on it!”

“[Organ] rejection is such a hard thing to go through for these patients,” says Dr. Oksana Shlobin, co-director of the Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program and director of education, Advanced Lung Disease and Transplant Program at Inova Fairfax. “You relive the end stage lung disease all over again. But Will has remarkable perseverance and drive. His optimism and faith definitely helped him get through ups and downs of not one, but two transplants.”

In March of 2016 Will underwent his second lung transplant and is now doing great. He attends pulmonary rehab three times a week and is getting stronger all the time. He spends as much time as he can outdoors, often hunting with his son and other family members. “Choosing Inova was the best decision I ever made,” says Will. “From the doctors to the people who draw your blood to the receptionist there is not one person in that whole place I wouldn’t call five stars.”