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Ben Hayes

Ben Hayes was 28 and dying of a rare lung disease. Just when he didn't think he'd wake to see tomorrow, an Ohio accident victim saved his life. Click here to sign up.

A double-lung transplant almost didn't come in time for Ben Hayes.

His ordeal began in 2003 when the young mechanic for Spirit Airlines in Detroit began experiencing shortness of breath, which became increasingly worse. Ben was diagnosed with a rare, mysterious and aggressive disease that was quickly scarring, damaging and blocking his lungs.

By late 2004, Ben's quality of life was waning. He couldn't eat, he was weak and breathing was difficult: “I was on oxygen 24 hours a day and I had that machine cranked up so high.”

His symptoms progressed so fast and hit him so hard that Ben and his wife, Karen, made an emergency trip to the University of Michigan Hospital in a desperate attempt for relief and more answers.

“I told my wife, ‘I'm not going to make it through the day,’” he said.

By the time they reached the hospital, Ben's resting heart rate was dangerously low and his lungs were failing. Doctors in Ann Arbor kept him alive just long enough to put him on the waiting list.

“My left lung had shut down and my right lung was down to 10 percent,” said Hayes, now 35 and living near Hale in northern Michigan. “I knew I was going to die and I made my peace. I was in God's hands.”

A call came several hours later that lungs from a Cleveland-area resident were a match. Hayes was flown to Cleveland Clinic for his surgery, his new lungs and his new life.

“I woke up and said, ‘It's a beautiful day, God is good and I love my wife with all my heart.’”

Today, Ben, who lives in northern Michigan, is able to travel, hunt and spend plenty of time with Karen, their new adopted son, Sherman, and the rest of his family. Ben also volunteers for Gift of Life.

“I do as much as I can do,” Ben said. “You have to live every day and every moment as if it's your last. So I've experienced more in the last four years than I have in my whole life.”