‘It’s good to be alive’: Stouffville breeder goes from near-death to record year on the track
George Millar received a double lung transplant last February, but his new lungs had COVID-19
2021 was a year like no other for Stouffville resident George Millar, in more ways than one.
Last February, the 71-year-old owner of Millar Farms went in for a double lung transplant. Millar had pulmonary fibrosis and his situation was deteriorating rapidly. He had been called in three times for the transplant, but each time the lungs weren’t viable due to COVID-19. The fourth time, Millar got the go-ahead for the transplant.
What happened next is hard to believe. According to Millar, all the tests on his new set of lungs were good. “The next day after the transplant, they found my new lungs had COVID,” Millar said. “My body was trying to reject the lungs. I was delusional for five weeks. I thought the nurses were trying to kill me.”
The normal hospital stay for a lung transplant is two to three weeks. Millar spent three months at Toronto General Hospital, much of it being tube-fed. He couldn’t drink due to the lung transplant, so he remembers his mouth always being dry. “When they finally said I could have a drink of water, it was like Dom Pérignon,” he said. “When I got hospital food, I thought, this is the best food I ever had.”
Part of what got Millar through the hospital stay were pictures and video of his horses. His trainer Nick Gallucci sent him a video of a few horses, and Millar said he must have watched the video a hundred times. When his wife Facetimed him, Millar would often ask her to go up to the barn so he could see the horses. “When you see the horses, they are kind of like your children,” he said. Millar had raced with their mothers and grandmothers, some of which are still on the farm.
“Being on the farm was the best medicine I could get,” he said. So after recovering and relearning how to walk, Millar headed back to his farm near Warden Avenue and St. John’s Sideroad.
Senior horse improvement manager for Ontario Racing Sandra Snyder said Millar’s season was exceptional. “This is a rare year, really, for anyone,” she said. What makes Millar special is that he is still heavily involved at his age and you see him out there jogging the horses, Snyder added. “You see, he really loves them.”
Millar just completed his 12-month checkup post-surgery and is anxious to get on with a more normal 2022. “I hope I don’t have to talk about COVID as much this year,” he said. “It’s good to be alive, boy.”
Millar hopes to get another 10 years from his new lungs, which would take him to 80 years old. He’s already looking forward to 2022 and spending more time on the farm. “I want to bale my hay this summer,” he said. “I wear N95 masks in the barn now because I don’t want to get a fungus, but it’s a small price to pay to keep enjoying this.”
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Reporter Simon Martin went to hear the story of Stouffville resident George Millar, who survived a double lung transplant and COVID-19, and how his horses picked him up.