Regaining Breath of Life

Regaining Breath of Life

It was a cloudy and wind-swept day, but the gray tone of the weather couldn’t keep Morris Days from smiling.

“It’s still just so amazing to me,” Days said as he walked through the doors of his Herndon office building and pressed the button for the elevator. “Do you see how I’m walking here? I was never able to do that before without wheezing and being all out of breath,” he said, simulating the heavy breathing.

Just one year earlier, things for Days, a Reston resident and legal consultant, looked grim.

After being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer in 1995, the resulting chemotherapy treatments had pushed the cancer into remission but hardened the lungs of the 53-year-old man. He was having a difficult time breathing, was on constant oxygen tank support and needed a double lung transplant.

That particular kind of surgery is rare and needed the help of a specialized team of health professionals, which Days found at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

But with the high specialization and complexity of the surgery, Days found a very large bill. It was then that the Muslim community of western Fairfax County stepped in.

WHEN DAYS MOVED to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area from Philadelphia about six years ago in order to be closer to veterans’ hospitals for healthcare purposes, he quickly sought out an outlet for his spiritual needs. A converted Muslim since 1992, Days found a welcoming community in the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center.

“Even though I was sick, they never made me feel disabled,” Days said. “There was always somebody around and willing to pick me up and take me to the mosque.“

“They kept me alive and kept me going through some of the real difficult times.”

It was through his worship at the ADAMS Center that more and more area Muslims learned of Days' condition and of his infectiously positive personality.

“You wouldn’t expect a man his age in his condition to be hanging around a mosque, but he was always there,” said Parvez Khan, the former operations manager of the ADAMS Center. “He was always bringing in food for everyone … and he was a very active volunteer with so many of our events.”

“He just has that kind of spirit, where you look at this person and see such a great member of the community.”

WITHIN A MATTER of months, the help started to pour in.

“Whenever there was a [healthcare] need, I had certain amounts that I needed to cover … and people would get together and raise money,” Days said, who added that he could not recall the number of fund-raising dinners that the ADAMS Center put on.

“It was really amazing how much the community joined together in terms of a fund-raiser,” said Khan, who organized several of the events. “With everybody putting in and doing what they can … it was just unbelievable how much we had grown and organized as a community in the area over that time.”

The efforts that took place over five years defined a lot of the early history of the ADAMS Center, Khan added.

“When you think about five years, that is a lifetime for us,” he said.

During that time, the Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Health (FAITH), another Herndon-based Muslim non-profit, joined in the efforts, particularly in assisting Days with the several thousands of dollars each month for medication.

Between the two organizations, “hundreds of thousands” of dollars were raised to help save the life of Morris Days.

IN NOVEMBER OF 2005, Days relocated with his wife to be nearby the University of Pittsburgh Hospital to be prepared for when donor lungs were to come in.

In March, the relief that Days had needed for more than a decade arrived in the form of two donor lungs from a 40-year-old Chicago woman who had died of a stroke.

Within a matter of hours Days was ready for surgery.

After coming out of the procedure, Days remembers one thing.

“That first breath, you take it and I remember thinking, I can breathe,” Days said. “There was nothing to me like that first breath.”

Within a matter of months, Days was back to living as healthy as he had before and the transplant was declared a success.

DAYS NOW SPENDS his time with his wife watching movies, cooking and driving golf balls 170 yards at the driving range. Even doing the most simple of tasks are considered to be a gift from God, Days said.

“Every morning I wake up, walk to the kitchen and I make coffee, and it’s amazing to me because I never used to do that,” he said. “Even something like taking a hot shower, I was never able to do that before, so I’m just so grateful everyday.”

“My wife is even having a hard time keeping up with me now,” Days laughed.

Days is once again employed, as well, working as the civil rights director for the Herndon-based Council for American-Islamic Relations.

For Margaret Farchtchi, treasurer of FAITH, the end result of her organization and the ADAMS Center’s efforts couldn’t have been better.

“If you could have seen him before, it has been such a transition,” Farchtchi said. “If he didn’t get this kind of assistance, he wouldn’t have had much of a future … and that is what our organization has been established for.”

For Khan, the greatest rewards are in Days' added contribution to the Muslim community.

“This is a man who is a law school graduate, he is a fantastic volunteer and he makes great food,” Khan said, laughing. “Sure we put in a lot of effort, but everything we get back by having him around is five-fold.”