HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Bob Kessner worked as an attorney in Hawaii for 46 years. For nearly all of it, he was a heavy smoker who couldn’t quit.
"Once you get hooked on nicotine it's terribly difficult to stop," he said.
The 70-year-old's lungs were a mess, severely damaged by a condition called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
He was on oxygen round-the-clock.
"You're gasping for air. You can't get enough air," he said. "No matter how much supplemental oxygen they give you you're always feeling a need for air."
Kessner was running out of time. His doctor said he had only weeks or months to live.
In January, wrapped in a pressurized blanket he was flown to Dignity Health's St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix for an emergency double lung transplant.
"They take out the bad lungs and put in the new ones," he said.
The Norton Thoracic Institute at St. Joseph's specializes in double lung transplants. Pulmonologist Dr. Sofya Tokman said this year alone the institute has performed 110 transplants.
"Double lung transplantation is one of the most complex surgeries period. We have exceptional surgeons here," she said.
Kessner’s operation took about five hours. He’s made a steady and solid recovery, and he can breathe again.
His wife, Yoko, sees the difference.
"This is extended life. This is a gift," she said.
Before the surgery, Kessner couldn’t climb a flight of stairs. In August, he went on a hike he would never have attempted when he was sick.
“We went to the north rim of the Grand Canyon which is 8,200 feet and we were able to hike about a mile,” he said.
With his wife's help and monthly checkups he's getting stronger. He works out at Kakaako Fitness and he started jogging.
“I haven’t jogged in 10 years,” he said.
Kessner is grateful to the organ donor who made his transplant possible.
The former chain smoker doesn't want others to experience what he has gone through.
“I would certainly encourage everyone to stop smoking if they do, and not take it up if they haven’t,” he said.