IT WAS a first Christmas of sorts for cystic fibrosis patient Paul Wynne, who was given the best gift of all this year -- a set of lungs.
A year ago the 29-year-old father of one's chances of surviving the chronic lung disease long enough to see his baby daughter Ella open her presents weren't promising.
But thanks to an organ donor, the Co Meath man underwent a double lung transplant and he is no longer struggling to breathe.
Paul told the Irish Independent: "This is my first Christmas that I can function normally and not have to worry about getting out of the chair. It's the first time I could put up the Christmas lights and do normal things around the house."
It was a different picture a year ago when his lungs had deteriorated to the point where he could only breathe using a portable oxygen tank 24 hours a day and spent several months in hospital.
He never thought he would see another Christmas.
But his life changed last January when he underwent a double lung transplant after being on the waiting list since 2006 and he was among a record number of lung transplants done at Dublin's Mater Hospital this year.
"Before I got the call, I sat on the side of my bed and started writing a letter to my (unborn) child. I was afraid I wouldn't get to see her or be able to do the usual things I would do with a child. Then, low and behold, the call came through," he said.
Although he is not out of the woods yet and must take immuno-suppression drugs to ward off his body rejecting the donated lungs, he is looking forward to the new year.
"It's fantastic. I can go on long walks without being winded. I can run up the stairs without getting out of breath whereas before the transplant I'd struggle to put on a pair of socks," he said.
Brendan Gilligan, chairman of the Heart and Lung Transplant Association, said Ireland has come on in leaps and bounds since the first lung transplant was conducted here in 2005. "The expertise is available here now and we're now seeing the result of it and we're delighted," he said.
Lung transplant surgeon Jim McCarthy, director of the Mater Hospital's National Centre for Cardiothoracic Surgery, said his team conducted a record 30 lung transplants in 2013.
"Firstly, it's due to the huge generosity of donors and their families at this incredibly stressful time. It's also due to the fact that donors have been managed very well in the various hospitals, so that there is a good chance of being able to retrieve organs, which are in good enough condition to transplant," he said.
The team hopes it will beat its own record next year by using a new technique called Ex-Vivo Lung Perfusion, or EVLP, which in layman's terms is like recycling shopworn lungs.
"If a lung that is retrieved is borderline and not suitable for transplantation it can be put on a rig and fluid can be pumped through it over a number of hours and one can try to improve the condition of the lung. If the lung condition improves it can be transplanted a number of hours after being retrieved," he explained.