14 Dec 2023

Paul Weaver's second wind

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 14 December 2023
Paul Weaver and his daughter Molly

Paul Weaver and his daughter Molly Photo: Supplied

Paul Weaver is very happy with his new lungs.

"They're fabulous," he told RNZ Concert host Bryan Crump. "In fact, they're potentially better than yours."

Paul Weaver got his new lungs last year. He traded in his old ones because of emphysema (he'd been a smoker) complicated by a genetic predisposition to suffer lung damage.

Singing was one of the things that kept Weaver going with his old bellows, and one of the things that aided his recovery.

When the doctors told him his old lungs had about seven years of useful life left in them, Weaver – a regular fixture in the Wellington musical show scene – took up singing in rest homes.

"I made a deal with God. As long as I could keep singing I would hang in there. If I sat quietly with my guitar, I could sing for 45 minutes."

God gave Weaver not seven, but ten extra years with his old lungs – possibly because of all that rest home singing – but when the time came to get a transplant, he feared he might never sing again.

"I was really worried going in, that my larynx would get a hiding."

Entertainer Paul Weaver

Paul Weaver Photo: Supplied

He was right, but a few months into his second pair of lungs, found he still had a voice.

"[I was] absolutely rapt. That's my joy in life."

In the run-up to Christmas and on the day itself, lots of Wellington rest homes have booked Weaver and his guitar for a singalong session.

He does it partly because of the time he spent in rest homes helping to care for his mother who had dementia, and partly because singing is something he's always done.

He recalls sessions with the whole family: his father playing the "squeeze box". That's how he learned a lot of the songs he sings now.

"Dementia folk are lovely because if you play a song that they know, they come to life again."

Weaver's loving his second life too. From old lungs at 20 percent efficiency to second-hand ones which blow 120 percent, they're "better than expected".

He's well aware of the loss another family suffered so he could inherit a healthy new pair from a 32 year old.

"That fellow that save me, saved five other folk that I know of."

He hasn't met the donor's family, but he has written to them, expressing his deeply felt gratitude.

Weaver also expressed that gratitude through the work he took on after his transplant with the Wellington City Mission. As Assistant Missioner, he was in the thick of the work to find shelter and support for the survivors of the city's Loafer's Lodge fire.

He had to give the job up, not because of his lungs, but the side-effects of the drugs he has to take to stop his body from rejecting the new organs.

Weaver also expresses that gratitude through the energy he continues to put into singing at rest homes.

"Christmas is busy... I've got three services on Christmas Day."

Is he worried his lungs will hold up to so much work on one day?

"Oh, it'll be right. It's like doing a show – you get to the end, and then you collapse!"