I have waited two years for new lungs..I'm on borrowed time now; BRAVE OLI'S TRANSPLANT HOPE EXCLUSIVE Be 1 in a million DAILY Mirror Join up now.
OLI Lewington thought he'd be dead by now. He was put on the waiting list for a double lung transplant on June 22, 2005, and doctors gave him two years to live.
Now, having exceeded their expectations, the 25-year-old believes he can continue to defy the experts. But he hasn't dared ask how much longer he can survive without a transplant.
"I don't want to know," he says. "But the fact that I've lasted more than two years gives me a little bit of hope. I've survived longer than they expected me to."
At the back of his mind though is the frightening statistic that half of those waiting for a lung transplant will die.
There are currently 268 people in the UK waiting for the life-saving op. The average waiting time is around 18 months but, because the donor lungs have to be a match for Oli's system, it's impossible to say how close he is to getting the transplant he gravely needs.
The longer Oli waits, the more his health deteriorates.
"I'm on borrowed time - it's as simple as that. I say that there's a guy outside my house with a bucket, just waiting for me to kick it.
"I have days where I think, 'that's it, my time is up'. I do try to keep my spirits up and have a good attitude. But, as time goes on, it's becoming more and more difficult." Oli, a theatre worker and writer, was just 18 months old when doctors found he was suffering from cystic fibrosis. Back then, in the early 1980s, he wasn't expected to survive his teens.
But advances in medicine and CF research allowed him to live pretty much a full life until Christmas 2002 - when a trip to visit friends in Texas sparked a gradual decline in health.
"Until then, I'd got on fine," says Oli, from Milton Keynes, Bucks. "I had to use nebulisers and physio but it was just part of my life and I accepted it. I hadn't known any different.
"But during my holiday, I suffered pneumothorax, which is a partial collapse of the lung. The lining had come away from the wall and it meant that I couldn't fly, as the cabin pressure could cause the lung to collapse."
Oli's health insurance meant he wasn't covered for the urgent treatment he needed in the US, so he had to hope that the lung would heal itself.
After an agonising three months he chose to take a cruise back to the UK. That journey took him two weeks and he eventually arrived home in early April 2003.
"I went straight to hospital and recovered fairly quickly on intravenous antibiotics.
"But I think the damage had set in and going for all those months without proper treatment had started me on a downward spiral." By Christmas the following year, Oli was in no doubt that things were getting worse. Suffering from exhaustion and an increasing number of infections, he was admitted to hospital. "At first, things deteriorated very gradually - so much that I didn't see it.
"My office was up four flights of stairs, which I never found a problem to climb. But about six months after I got back from Texas, I had to start having a sit-down to catch my breath after I'd walked up them.
"A few months later, I'd have to stop halfway up to take a breather. Another few months down the line and I'd started taking the lift."
HE recalls: "One time, I went to a rock concert with my mates. They were walking up the hill to the arena and I was lagging 50 metres behind. I couldn't keep up.
"Little things like that start adding up and it begins to drive home that you're going backwards."
Waiting for the transplant for two years has been frustrating and Oli, who lives with his 23-year-old girlfriend Kati, admits there have been low moments.
"The hardest thing about being on the list is the not knowing," he says.
"I keep my mobile with me all the time, just waiting for that call. That's what my life is now.
"But it's terribly frustrating because I know I'm only getting worse. I'm aware that I'm becoming more ill. Every day is a struggle.
"Of course, there are moments when it gets too much and I can't imagine how I'll pull through.
"If I didn't have Kati, I don't know what I'd do. I get a huge amount of support from her and both our families, and it helps to know that people are rooting for you. "I also write a blog, which is a boost, too."
Oli knows more than anyone about the importance of organ donation - which is why he's supporting the Mirror's Be 1 In A Million campaign, our bid to get a million more signatures on the NHS Organ Donor Register over the next 12 months.
"I've been following the Mirror's campaign and think it's fantastic," he says. "The most important thing is that it's raising awareness and getting people talking about it.
"Signing up to the register is so easy yet it can make an enormous difference. Some donors go on to save eight people through transplants. It's amazing.
"I'd urge anyone who believes in transplants to sign up. We're talking about the gift of life - the greatest and most precious gift of all."
Read Oli's blog at www.smilethroughit.com
It's tough. I know that every day I'm getting worse..
TO sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register, call 0845 606 0400 or log on to www.mirror.co.uk and click on the Be 1 In A Million link.
FITTER: Oli celebrates his 21st; STRUGGLE: Oli Lewington and his girlfriend Kati Picture: MIKE MOORE