Vietnam vets become ‘lung brothers’

Two veterans receive a lung each from the same donor at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.

Listen 4:37
Lou Farren (left) and Brad Ward both served in Vietnam, and received lungs from the same organ donor.

Lou Farren (left) and Brad Ward both served in Vietnam, and they received lungs from the same organ donor. (Paige Pfleger/WHYY)

Fifty years ago, Lou Farren and Brad Ward were both overseas, fighting in the same war. They didn’t meet then. Instead, fate brought them together this year, in a Philadelphia hospital ward.

They had both been through lengthy illnesses. Farren is from Philadelphia, Ward had moved to the city from Arkansas to be treated at Temple University Hospital. Both were waiting for a new chance at life — and a donor lung.

“I got the call the same day Lou got it — and the same donor,” said Ward.

“I have the right one he has the left one. We’re lung brothers!” added Farren.

They soon found out that they have much more in common than that, Farren said.

When he awoke from his long transplant surgery, the nurses told him that a patient across the hall from him had a very similar story.

Ward got the same message from his nurses.

“They said they’d like us to meet, but they were not authorized to have us meet,” Ward said. “But they said, ‘Lou’s going to be at the therapy at 10.’ ”

The two men struck up an instant, easy connection. As they talked, they realized they were both Vietnam vets, deployed at the same time, in the same area.

Their lung damage and illness stem from exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange, which the  U.S. military used to defoliate trees during the war.

“I was on the land, and he was on a ship,” said Farren. “It turns out that where we were was  one of the most heavily sprayed areas in Vietnam, just north of the central highlands.”

They share the burden of their service, and they live daily with the consequences.

“All of us that were there, that served over there, that fought over there — we all left a little of ourselves there,” said Ward. “I was 17 years old the first time I landed, I had just gotten out of school.”

But they are also quick to crack jokes with each other.

“If you were 22 years old, you are an old man in Vietnam,” said Ward.

“Careful there,” countered Farren with a laugh. “I turned 21 over there!”

As they continue to recover, Farren and Ward want to encourage people to become organ donors — and they want to help other veterans who are waiting for transplants.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal