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PHOTO BY DON DENTON

POWERED POSSIBILITY

 BY JESSICA NATALE WOOLLARD

Fighting CF with a rumble and roar

I

T’S GOOD FRIDAY 2011, and Paul Underhill is being wheeled into surgery at Toronto General Hospital. Instead of being fearful — a typical response to a double lung transplant — Paul is cheerful. He’s singing. “I’m on my way, I don’t know where I’m going, I’m on my way!” Smiling from behind his rectangular, black-rimmed glasses, he sings me the Paul Simon refrain he performed for his nurses almost three years ago. Sandra Underhill, his wife of 15 years, joins in on this torrential January day in Victoria, but she wasn’t sure what to make of her husband’s playfulness pre-transplant. She was still in shock from it all — numb from months of cleaning blood her husband coughed

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up and traumatized by all the ambulance rides, not knowing whether he would survive the wait for new lungs. Paul was born with cystic fibrosis (CF), the most common fatal genetic disease in Canada. Most people with Paul’s type of CF don’t live to adulthood. The lungs that saved him arrived in the nick of time, the blessed news delivered by a nurse named Grace while Sandra’s father prayed for a miracle at the church across the road.

POSSIBILITY AND PASSION

It takes a special kind of person to face a seven-hour transplant surgery with a smile and a song. That’s Paul — a fighter. “The question inside of me is, ‘Why not?’” he says. “What I’ve learned about

myself is that I’m powered by possibility and passion for things that I love. I don’t let fear interfere with what could be.” Growing up in Oak Bay, Paul did his lung-clearing exercises twice a day, then participated in his favourite activities — running, soccer and cycling. At age 15, he competed in the BC Summer Games for cycling. At the University of Victoria, he met his wife, and graduated with a bachelor of psychology and a bachelor of laws. “Paul always had a cough, ever since I’ve known him,” Sandra says, referring to the characteristic feature of a person with CF. “When you find a partner and fall in love, you don’t think about things getting worse. I never thought about [it being fatal].”

INVENTING RUMBLE

By his early 30s, Paul’s health was deteriorating rapidly. He was forced to leave a job he loved, but he stayed active, even kite surfing as long as he could. (He

Boulevard Magazine - March 2014 Issue  

Boulevard Magazine is designed to capture the personality, culture and vitality that is Vancouver Island by focusing on the Arts, People, Tr...

Boulevard Magazine - March 2014 Issue  

Boulevard Magazine is designed to capture the personality, culture and vitality that is Vancouver Island by focusing on the Arts, People, Tr...

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