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(Photo: Taylor Yakowenko/WWAY)
(Photo: Taylor Yakowenko/WWAY)

OCEAN ISLE, NC (WWAY) — ‘Tis the season of giving and a year after surviving a double lung transplant Gene Norris is thankful everyday for the organ donor he never met who gave him his life back.

“It just started with a simple eye exam and the optometrist noticed something wasn’t right on my optic nerve,” said Norris. “So I went and had it checked, and they said cystic fibrosis sometimes caused what she was seeing.”

But it wasn’t cystic fibrosis. It was Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, a disease which causes a decrease in lung function that is often times fatal.

“It’s like I almost didn’t really understand what he said until my wife and I were leaving the doctor’s office that day. About halfway back to the car I stopped and I looked at her and I said, ‘I’m dying,'” said Norris, remembering when the doctor told him his diagnosis.

Gene and his wife Amy are fighters. They were determined to make it through this.

“I remember leaving the pulmonologist’s office thinking, ‘There is no way I’m going to be a widow by the time I’m 55.’ That was not in my realm of thinking,” said Amy Norris.

They immediately began applying for lung transplants.

“I didn’t realize how hard it is to be listed, just to be listed for a lung transplant,” said Gene.

The Norris’ were rejected five times, all the while Gene’s health was steadily declining.

“I got weaker and weaker. I was eventually on oxygen 24/7 and I was constantly having to increase the amount of oxygen I was getting,” said Gene. “Eventually I even became confined to a wheelchair and my wife had to push me everywhere we went.”

“It’s hard to watch someone that you love decline in the way that he did,” said Amy. “He was just barely able to get up out the bed.”

Finally, last year, Emory University Hospital in Atlanta answered their prayers.

“He said you’re listed. And as of right now, you’re number one on our list,” said Gene. “We had a little hope that this might be it.”

And it most certainly was. In November of 2014, Gene and Amy moved temporarily to Georgia to undergo the transplant and recovery process. Gene had to relearn things like breathing and walking again, and now that he is able, the Norris’ are working to raise awareness for organ donation.

“It is a great, great thing, and there’s just not enough,” said Gene.

“The science now behind it is amazing how it can give life to another person in a lot of different ways. We were blessed,” said Amy.

Amy said she’s been an organ donor since she was 16 years old, but she definitely thinks a little differently about the little heart on her license now.

“I wish it was bigger so that people would really know,” said Amy. “Surprisingly, once the conversation starts, people will really start thinking about it and they’ll come back and they’ll ask more questions sometimes. It’s a wonderful gift to somebody in need.”

This holiday season, Gene Norris said he is the most thankful for someone he never even met.

“That’s got to be the most selfless gift you can give someone else,” said Gene.

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