People of KHSC: Mike Berry

News / General
By J Pereira

People of KHSC celebrates individuals across the organization who capture the spirit of caring deeply for patients, families and each other

Having worked at KHSC for 13 years, carpenter Mike Berry knows our Kingston General Hospital site like the back of his hand. However in 2013 he began to see the hospital from a whole new perspective…as a patient.

Shortly after the birth of his son, while he and his wife were learning to balance life as new parents, Mike was diagnosed with end-stage interstitial lung disease. As his health began to rapidly deteriorate, he began the process of moving towards a life-saving double-lung transplant.

“It was terrifying news for parents of a newborn,” Mike says. “I’ve always been a strong person and it was really hard to ask for help, but my family, the community and everyone at KHSC rallied together to support us. I became eligible for a transplant at Toronto General Hospital and I was given the gift of life by my donor on March 31, 2015.”

“The phone rang and I needed to be in Toronto in less than three hours. The lung transplant surgery took close to 12 hours and recovery in Toronto was a pretty slow process. I was in so much pain and it was really difficult to breathe or stand. I was in hospital for about a month.”

All told, Mike was away from work for three years before he was able to make his way back to KHSC. A long journey rooted in determination and perseverance of the highest order.

“It was a difficult few years fighting infections and organ rejection, all while trying to build up strength and endurance to return to some level of normalcy. I tried to remain positive and motivated because things could always be worse.”

“My experience as a patient here at KHSC and in Toronto was excellent. My first year back at work was really emotional. Sometimes when I was at work I would try to find the people who were involved in my care and thank them for all they did for me. Everyone from the nurses, to the porters, patient care assistants and surgeons have been great. Especially my respirologist Dr. Heffernan, he saved my life.”

Now, several years later, Mike is achieving some major life goals.  

“I’ve taught my son to ride a bike and skate and I am coaching his hockey team. These are pretty exciting goals. I’m lucky to be here, I guess most people don’t recover that well and I met a lot of people along the way who didn’t make it through the surgery, or things didn’t go well afterwards. I lost a lot of good friends.”

Despite all the hard work on the road to recovery, being a lung transplant recipient, has made the COVID-19 pandemic extra difficult to navigate.

“It finally felt like everything was falling back into place, but then the pandemic hit I received a phone call from my transplant team telling me I had to stay home because there was too much risk with my suppressed immune system. This was devastating news, I fought so hard to return to work and had to be sent home again. It was a horrible déjà vu experience.”

Mike remained at home for about a year until finally some good news arrived, a vaccine was available and he would be one of the first to get the jab.

“It was another hard year, but we persevered. I have learned to enjoy time with my family, friends and coworkers. To not take things for granted and to be thankful for all the love and support my family has received.”

“But I am finally back at work again and I truly love my job. I know it’s been hard for everyone here at the hospital working through the pandemic and I just wanted to come back and help out. I don’t want to be at home any longer, this has all fueled me to help people any way I can.”