The former smoker was used to feeling out of breath, but this was something more.
Darcy Murdoch has played many roles in his life as an entertainer. An average encounter finds him effortlessly riffing between two of his alter egos, crooner Bobby Bacchus, and the King himself, Elvis Presley. But no role has challenged him more than that of patient.
His doctor suspected a chest infection, but x-rays proved otherwise.
With his outgoing personality and love of people, Darcy was well-suited for long careers in both catering and entertainment. However, the catering lifestyle took a physical toll. Long hours on his feet, rich meals at odd hours and constant heavy lifting were affecting his health. The former smoker was used to feeling out of breath, but when he began to wheeze and cough more frequently, he knew something more was at play. His doctor suspected a chest infection, but x-rays proved otherwise. In 2011, at the age of 54, Darcy was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF).
Darcy allowed himself some time to process his diagnoses.
A native of Saskatoon, he had no family nearby to support him, but a visit back home gave him the assurance that his family was behind him. “My initial reaction was fear, trepidation, anger, depression,” he explains. “I had my little pity party for about six months, then I snapped out of that.”
He would need a lung transplant to survive.
As he re-focused his mindset, Darcy began preparing for the role of a lifetime, with the help of friends, his respirologist, Dr. Nasreen Khalil at Vancouver General Hospital and support groups. Like all IPF patients, Darcy would need a lung transplant to survive. “I started working out like a fiend and shifted my way of thinking to positive.” Support groups helped Darcy immensely. “You are like a deer in headlights, but the first one I went to, there were three or four people that had what I had and had had transplants,” he says. “I was able to talk to them and ask questions. You get to know the people, it’s like a little family, there’s a closeness involved.”
As his illness progressed, it also took its toll on Darcy’s livelihood.
The entertainer was dependent on gigs to pay his bills, and his condition kept him from working as much as usual. “I would have five to eight 20-minute coughing fits a day,” he says. In September 2014, while he awaited transplant, he had a busy Christmas season lined up, including playing his roles as Santa, Whistles the Clown, and headlining as the singer at a newly opened restaurant in West Vancouver. Despite his worsening condition, he made the difficult decision to take himself off the transplant list for three months. He needed to save enough to be able to take time off while recovering from the surgery.
Thankfully, the stars aligned.
Darcy finished his final restaurant gig on December 22, 2014, paid his bills, and got the call for a transplant six weeks later. “I was ready to go in every way,” he says. “I was 58 and had a lot of living to do. For some reason I thought I was going to come out of this OK.” On January 30, 2015 Darcy underwent a bilateral lung transplant. Fittingly, as Darcy was being prepped for surgery, the OR nurses piped in Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me.
Exercise played a critical role in his recovery, both mentally and physically.
Darcy can’t say enough about the important role exercise has played in his recovery, both mentally and physically.“I worked out 400 times in two years at home, and I believe that’s what has put me in the position I’m in here today.” With a proper diet and daily sessions in his home gym, Darcy lost close to 40 pounds as he waited for his transplant. “Even if I didn’t want to, I did it,” he says. “I knew if I was healthy going in, it would bode well for me coming out.”
His positive attitude is highly contagious, but the journey was not without its challenges for someone like Darcy. Soon after diagnosis, he was on oxygen. “I resisted oxygen,” he explains. “There is shame involved, walking down the street with nose plugs, everybody looking at you. You are admitting that there is something wrong with you.”
Darcy’s story raises many questions that still need answering about IPF.
Is IPF hereditary? His father, a Saskatchewan farmer, died of the same disease at 58 - the same age Darcy received his transplant. They called his father’s condition “Farmer’s Lung,” which is caused by long-term inhalation of grain dust and moldy hay spores. “I can still picture him on heavy oxygen and looking very, very ill,” says Darcy. His father also had the same clubbed fingers that Darcy developed from long-term lack of oxygen. And looking back on his family tree, Darcy can identify other relatives who have had lung disease, so he is keen to help demystify it any way he can. While awaiting transplant, he participated in a study with Dr. Chris Ryerson at St. Paul’s looking at the importance of exercise. “They called me PFT (pulmonary function test) champion.”
Darcy’s positive approach to wellness and recovery has made him a transplant success story.
Whether he’s wearing oversized clown shoes or blue suede shoes, Darcy brings his heart and soul to whatever role he is playing. Likewise, Darcy’s positive approach to wellness and recovery has made him a transplant success story. “Life is amazing,” he says. “After transplant, there are always issues with medications, but those have eased off. On a scale of one to ten, I give life a nine.” BC Lung Association came to Darcy’s aid at this critical time. A grant helped him make car payments over his three-month recovery. He is back to his rigorous workout schedule and is once again booking gigs, including lending his services at BC Lung events. And he can’t wait to perform a free Bobby Bacchus show to express his thanks to the hospital staff this Christmas. “Santa Claus might even make an appearance,” predicts Darcy with a wink.