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Dan Spees wears a “lung transplant survivor” shirt after his double-lung transplant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Dan Spees wears a “lung transplant survivor” shirt after his double-lung transplant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Joyous Celebrations After a Double-Lung Transplant

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association Employee Plays Trumpet Once Again

It was an emotional moment for Dan Spees of Lakewood, Illinois, as the sound of the trumpet filled his Northwestern Medicine hospital room. Before receiving his double-lung transplant, he wondered if he would ever be able to play again.

“I am so pleased to have this option back because I thought it was gone,” says Dan.

In 2018, the 64-year-old husband and father was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, or scarring of the lungs. It was caused by hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a rare immune disorder that triggers an allergic reaction when specific allergens are breathed in.

As the director of Information Technology for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and an avid trumpet player, Dan found it increasingly difficult to keep up with his career and hobbies as his dependence on supplemental oxygen grew. By April 2023, he had to put down the trumpet altogether.

Four months after retiring his instrument, Dan underwent a double-lung transplant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. When Brittany Hatlestad, an occupational therapist at Northwestern Medicine, learned of his musical ability, she suggested involving the trumpet in his rehabilitative care.

“Playing trumpet requires the patient to take deep breaths in and forceful exhales out through the mouth, which is reintroducing the breathing pattern that we want our transplant patients to utilize,” says Hatlestad. “It was wonderful to know that what he loved to do was also improving those foundational skills.”

“Recovery after a lung transplant requires rebuilding both physical strength and confidence,” says Catherine N. Myers, MD, a pulmonologist with the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute. “Occupational therapists like Brittany are essential in this process, guiding patients to regain their independence and engage in activities that matter most to them. I am so happy Dan’s medical team could help him return to the life he loves.”

Making a Joyful Noise

Hatlestad monitored Dan’s blood oxygen levels as he played. His nurses and family watched as he warmed up with a few scales. Then Dan played “Joy to the World” at an ideal blood oxygen level of 98%. After hugging his wife, Dan shared that he texted his band director and told him to expect him back in the first chair soon.

“I was able to do much more than I thought I would be able to do,” says Dan. “It’s still a long way to get back to where I want to be, but I know I’m going to make it. I’m very, very happy.”

Dan Spees Plays Trumpet for 1st Time After Lung Transplant
Dan Spees Plays Trumpet for 1st Time After Lung Transplant

Dan Spees, 64, got two new lungs on August 3, 2023. Watch the moment when, with his Northwestern Medicine occupational therapist at his side, Dan tried out his new lungs on the trumpet he hadn’t been able to play in months.

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