Functioning with a chronic lung disease, Cannonville resident Peter Moore wants to send out a message of inspiration to other sufferers when he takes part in the river mile at the SPAR Summer Festival this month.
The 54-year-old will be testing himself in the disabled mile for the first time when the festival takes place in his home village outside Port Elizabeth on February 25 and 26.
Moore, who grew up in Welkom in the Free State, said his main message would be to encourage members of the public to sign up as organ donors.
“There are so many young people dying needlessly because of the terrible lack of donors in the country. We have one of the worst percentages of organ donors in the world.”
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Moore’s problems started 24 years ago when he ran into a room to close a chlorine gas cylinder that had been inadvertently opened.
At the time he was working at a crèche in the Sandton Health and Racket Club in Johannesburg.
“I did this so that the children in the play area could be timeously evacuated from the crèche, which thankfully happened without any harm to any child,” said Moore.
“At that time, being super fit, my intention was to hold my breath for the time it would take me to run into the room, close the cylinder and get out.
“Unfortunately I could not hold my breath long enough and as a result my lungs got burnt by the chlorine gas.”
Moore was told by a doctor that there was nothing they could do to repair the damage and it would probably only affect him when he was older.
He said about eight years ago he started feeling short of breath at times and put it down to his advancing age.
“In short, within two years I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and spent many months in hospital.
“I was medically boarded and was permanently on oxygen at home. I urgently needed a bi-lateral lung transplant, but due to being inactive and on so much medication, I was too overweight to be listed for a transplant.”
With a lung capacity that functions between 18 and 24 per cent, Moore said he faced “a life of hell” where simple actions such as brushing his teeth would leave him exhausted.
“I find it difficult to explain, but you just don’t get oxygen. You breathe in but you don’t get air so you basically suffocate and you just don’t know when you will get your breath back.”
Two years ago Moore said he decided that the “pity party” was over and he started a comprehensive programme to try to manage his condition.
“Just by tensing my muscles and doing breathing exercises, I managed within two months to walk on the treadmill for two minutes without stopping.
“Then I did a bit more every day. It wasn’t all plain sailing but I never gave up and have lost a total of 34kg. Now I can walk between 3km and 5km every day.”
Although he has lost enough weight to be listed for a transplant, he said due to lack of finances he no longer had private medical aid and state hospitals did not do lung transplants.
Looking ahead to the river mile, Moore said it would be the biggest challenge he would face as a COPD sufferer.
“Psychologically swimming is one of the hardest things I can do. I spend most of my life feeling as if I’m drowning a little bit at a time.
“Some days are better than others, but the feeling of not getting enough oxygen is always there.”
Moore said he was doing the swim to raise awareness for everyone who had breathing disabilities.
“I want to increase awareness of organ donation in South Africa through various print, broadcast and internet media campaigns and events,” he said.
“I want to share stories of donor recipients, those waiting for a transplant, and relatives who chose to donate their loved ones’ organs.”
He added he wanted to encourage people to register as organ donors and to communicate their choices with their families.
Moore said he would swim with his oxygen machine in a canoe next to him, with the flow of air being controlled by a friend dependent on his needs.
After some trial swims that Moore described as “fantastic”, he said he was ready for whatever challenge the swim might bring.
“I will in all probability do the whole mile without any problems, but with this miserable disease I have also learnt to always be prepared for anything.”
To enter or for more info go to www.zsports.co.za.