08:00 AM

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association employee plays trumpet for the first time following a double-lung transplant


After receiving new lungs, 64-year-old Dan Spees regained the ability to practice trumpet with the support of a Northwestern Medicine occupational therapist

Dan Spees playing trumpet at Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Dan playing with Tessiturians band

Chicago – August 31, 2023 –  It was an emotional moment for Dan Spees of Lakewood, Ill., as the sound of the trumpet filled his Northwestern Medicine hospital room. Before receiving his double-lung transplant, Spees wondered if he would ever play again.

“I am so pleased to have this option back because I thought it was gone,” said Spees.

In 2018, the 64-year-old husband and father was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs) caused by hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a rare immune disorder that triggers an allergic reaction when specific allergens are inhaled.

As the director of information technology for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and an avid trumpet player, Spees found it increasingly difficult to keep up with his career and hobbies as his dependence on supplemental oxygen grew. By April 2023, he had to put down the trumpet altogether.

Four months after retiring his instrument, on August 3, 2023, Spees underwent a double-lung transplant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. When Northwestern Medicine occupational therapist Brittany Hatlestad, OTR/L, learned of Spees’ musical ability, she suggested involving the trumpet in his rehabilitative care.

Spees wearing lung transplant survivor shirt

“Playing trumpet requires the patient to take deep breaths in and forceful exhales out through the mouth, which is reintroducing the breathing pattern that we want our transplant patients to utilize,” Hatlestad said. “It was wonderful to know that what he loved to do was also improving those foundational skills.”

“Recovery after a lung transplant is a journey of rebuilding both physical strength and confidence,” added Catherine Myers, MD, pulmonologist with the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute. “Occupational therapists like Brittany are essential in this process, guiding patients to regain their independence and engage in activities that matter most to them. I am so happy Dan’s medical team could help him return to the life he loves.”

Hatlestad monitored Spees’ blood oxygen levels as he played. His nurses and family watched as he warmed up with a few scales. Then Spees played Joy to the World at an ideal blood oxygen level of 98 percent. After hugging his wife, Spees shared that he texted his band director and told him to expect him back in the first chair by January 2024.

“I was able to do much more than I thought I would be able to do,” said Spees. “It’s still a long way to get back to where I want to be, but I know I’m going to make it. I’m very, very happy.”

Patients interested in being evaluated for a lung transplant can contact the referral line at 844.639.5864. For more information about Northwestern Medicine’s lung transplant program, as well as advanced therapies, visit nm.org