Dr. Joshua Sonett didn't believe Tim Sweeney when he told him he was going to run the New York City Marathon. Tim himself admits he didn't know if it would be possible when he said it.
Sure, Tim is personal trainer by trade, but he made that comment in the Intensive Care Unit of Columbia University Hospital. And he was just recovering from a double lung transplant. But just one year later, he crossed the finish line Sunday, with his surgeon at his side.
"I was so drugged up, I had no idea what I was saying," Tim says. "But in the back of my head I'm thinking, 'You know what? I'm going to do it.' "
The 33-year-old Fairfield resident suffers from cystic fibrosis, which slowly deteriorated his lung function throughout his life. Before surgery, Tim hadn't been able to run since he was 10 years old. In December 2008, just six months after his son, Timmy, was born, Tim got the prognosis. If he didn't get a transplant, he would die in 18 months.
Over the next year, Tim submitted to a battery of tests to determine his place on the lung donation list. By October 2009, his condition worsened to the point that he went to the top. Three times he heard there was a set of lungs available and he was prepped for surgery. But each time the surgeon determined they were not healthy enough to transplant. Finally, on Nov. 10, he got his new set.
Tim considers it a blessing that Sonett happened to be on call that day. He was able to perform the transplant with only two small incisions, and without cutting into Tim's ribcage. That allowed Tim to recover faster, slowly working his way from a 1 mph walk to the 26.2-mile run he completed Sunday.
Tim joined Sonett on the Covenant House team. It was the surgeon's fifth marathon to support the charity, which takes homeless teens across the country and sets them up with lodging, food, and other support systems to help them finish their education.
But Tim also had another motive for running Sunday. He wanted his story to continue to spread, so that others might be inspired to sign up as organ donors. Sonett says there is a serious shortage of viable donor organs, especially in the Northeast.
"I think there's some misconceptions about just how much it actually helps," Sonett says.
Tim said he's happy to have the extra support of his doctor by his side as he runs. "I have a feeling he's going to let me win," Tim said before the race.
Sonett corrected, "We'll cross the finish line together, holding hands."