For Ken Fletcher, the simple act of breathing is the greatest gift.
Though it's something most people take for granted, the Riverside man has been on a long and arduous journey for a set of working lungs.
At about 27 years of age, Mr Fletcher was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Though doctors had tackled it with drugs, his lungs began to suffer years later. The first sign was noticing he was more short of breath than usual while playing sport. Then his health suddenly declined while on holiday with his wife, Jan, in 2014.
"We went on a caravan trip to Cairns and further up," Mr Fletcher said. "We were with some friends having a few beers, and I was good as gold. Jan's nephew asked me if I wanted to come around for a beer and some tea, I said that'd be good.
"He gave me - and I remember because I haven't had it since - a can of XXXX. I was drinking it, and I thought, 'jeez I've got a headache'. It took me forever to drink this beer."
The two flew back to Launceston the next day to attend a wedding in Hobart.
"I still had the headache and was feeling a bit lousy. We went to Hobart for the wedding and I said to Jan, 'I don't think I can go'," he said.
He went to the doctor the next day and was prescribed some antibiotics. Then a few days later was on the plane back to Cairns.
"Probably shouldn't have done it, but my car and my caravan were up there so I got on the plane and flew back, thinking, 'I'll get over this'," he said. "I really struggled to walk when I got off the plane in Cairns. I went to bed that night, got up about 6.30am, and said to Jan, 'take me to the hospital'."
Doctors found his oxygen levels had dropped to about 65.
"I don't really remember a lot after that," Mr Fletcher said. "I remember going to a ward, and I remember I was in a room with four other people and a lady fell out of bed, and I'm trying to ring the buzzer to get someone to come. Next thing I'm being wheeled out, and that's the last thing I remember for about four weeks, I think."
Mrs Fletcher asked the doctors why they couldn't just put him under.
"Eventually they did," she said. "I got a phone call that night from one of the nurses who said, 'Jan, I don't think you understand why we didn't want to put him under'."
"I said, 'why is that?'
"She said, 'because we don't know if we'll get him back'."
Mrs Fletcher said one day, they received a call to say Mr Fletcher wasn't going to make it.
Their daughter, Shannon McMahon, said while he was unconscious they discussed the possibility of donating his organs.
"We were talking about turning all of the machines off," she said.
"We got that close," Mrs Fletcher said.
After his lung capacity had been boosted up, Mr Fletcher was later taken to The Alfred in Melbourne to be considered for a transplant. He broke his femur while at hospital and had surgery, however it brought his lung capacity back down again.
"I was laying in bed, and little did I know apparently they hadn't given me too much longer unless I had a transplant," he said.
"It was the 12th day after surgery, I'm laying in bed in ICU.
"The doctor came in and she said, 'how are you feeling today? I think we might put you in this afternoon, because we have a set of lungs for you'."
Mrs Fletcher said three nurses nearby burst into tears.
"It wasn't a minor thing. They were really pleased he got to that point," she said.
His quality of life rose quickly following the transplant.
"I went from wheelchairs, to walkers, to crutches, to walking on my own," he said. "My breathing was so good. It was so nice to be able to breathe."
Mr Fletcher said that set of lungs lasted him eight to 10 months.
Mrs Fletcher said a lot happened in that time.
"Ken turned 60, our only son got married, Deacon [our grandson] was born, we had our 40th wedding anniversary, and Ken organised a surprise birthday party for my 60th," she said. "So those very significant things happened within the time he had those first lungs."
Mr Fletcher first noticed something was wrong when he became short of breath washing his car.
"It was the beginning of the end of that lot. What I was told was it wasn't rejection, but that the makeup of the lungs weren't right - they'd given up," he said.
Mrs Fletcher said they were asked if they would "consider" another transplant.
"We both went, 'yes, yes!' There was never any question."
Mr Fletcher again underwent the testing and was put on the waiting list.
"That went on for about 12 to 14 months," he said. "I was back in the wheelchair, back on the oxygen. Really starting to struggle."
Then one day at 3am, the phone rang.
"It was the coordinator from The Alfred, saying they had a set of lungs for me. We got excited, got organised, got out to the airport," he said.
"We're at Virgin and the girl at the desk was organising things for me. She was just about to hand us our ticket when the phone rang. It was the coordinator again."
"They said they were really sorry, but the surgeons and professor had a look at the lungs and decided they were too risky."
Mr Fletcher's health continued to decline.
"A while after, I got another phone call, 3am again," he said.
"We almost got to the airport roundabout and the phone rang again. And they said, 'we're really sorry, but it's not going to happen. There's been a dramatic change in circumstances'. So home we go again, devastated. I was really starting to get in a bad way at that stage.
"Two days later, the phone rang again. 3am. They said, 'come on over, we've got a set of lungs for you'."
On the flight over, Mrs Fletcher said they had a beautiful hostess who asked about Mr Fletcher's condition.
"We told her what had happened, and everyone around us was listening," she said.
"She said, 'but what if you get there and they're no good?'
"Ken said, 'then I think I'll be dying.'
"It was a really good educational moment."
IN OTHER NEWS
Mrs Fletcher said she was so nervous about the transplant being cancelled again that she almost turned the phone off.
"Even when we got to Melbourne, I was too scared to turn my phone back on. It was so nerve-wracking," she said.
In a turn of luck, Mr Fletcher was wheeled into surgery that afternoon.
Now, he thanks his donors and their families every day for the incredible gift.
"So many things have happened. I've been cut open a few times and new lungs have been put into me, but I can do things - I can bike ride, I can play golf, I can swim," he said.
Mr and Mrs Fletcher have also been able to travel again. The duo went to Europe last year, and visited Western Australia this year.
"I can do all of these things now because of the generosity of the donors and their families," he said.
"Pretty much everyone I see, I don't hold back - I tell them my journey and say to them, 'are you on the register?' or, 'have you told your loved ones what your wishes are?'"
Alongside thanking his donors and their families, he and Mrs Fletcher thanked their friends, family, and medical staff for all of their love and support during such a dark time.
Each year, thousands of Australian lives are saved through the generosity of deceased and living organ and tissue donors and their families.
Signing up to the Australian Organ Donor Register takes just seconds, and can be done at donatelife.gov.au.
DonateLife Thank You Day 2019 is on Sunday, November 17.