Ken Peagam, 67, has always loved the simplicity of a long walk outside. The combination of fresh air and exercise is just good for the soul somehow. Ken and his wife Linda enjoyed a walk together almost daily – whether around their Fort Qu’Appelle, SK, neighborhood or on a sandy Florida beach in winter. But three months ago Ken’s daily walk became suddenly – and increasingly – difficult. The retired military firefighter felt short of breath. “When I got home from my walk I’d have to sit for a while to catch my breath.”
Soon even a short walk outside left him feeling exhausted and breathless. At his wife’s urging he went to his local emergency department. After a 10-day stay in a Regina hospital and a series of tests he learned he had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Two months later the diagnosis is still fresh. “This all just so new to me still…I feel like I don’t know what’s coming at me next.”
Ken is currently undergoing testing to determine his suitability for a lung transplant. Every week Linda takes him to several different medical appointments. The process is long and involved. Pre-screening for a lung transplant requires a detailed physical exam that includes several blood tests, chest x-rays, heart and lung tests, among others.
Ken must use oxygen 24/7 to help him breathe. His daily walks have been replaced with a daily ride on a motorized scooter. But he seems to take this in stride and remains thankful for small blessings. “I miss walking, but my scooter gives me independence…I can still get outside.” Ken is also grateful for the support of his family and friends. He is a proud father of three adult daughters and 11 grandchildren. Visitors come often to the Peagam home.
Like many others with IPF, Ken hadn’t heard of the disease before his diagnosis. He wonders if his career as a military firefighter might have triggered the disease. He fought many training fires during the course of his career in which aviation fuel, furniture, oil and chemicals were burned in a fire pit. “We wore a hood and no mask so we breathed in everything,” recalls Ken. “Did it cause my disease? I don’t know, but I do wonder.” IPF is a mystery. The exact cause of the disease is unknown. Researchers are working to unravel the mystery of IPF and its possible causes including occupational risk factors. Ken hopes his story will inspire further research – and eventually a cure.