Finding a job, commuting to work, going for a run: what most people consider routine may be entirely out of reach when you’re suffering from cystic fibrosis (CF). That was the case for Mike Mackay, Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services (AWS) – until a transplant changed his life.
Mike’s battle against CF, a genetic condition affecting more than 10,000 people in the UK, forced him to spend most of his childhood and teenage years inside a hospital. The condition, which mainly affects the lungs and digestive system, is degenerative, with many patients dying every year: “It’s like slowly drowning as your lungs lose their capacity,” he explains. “I wasn’t living: I was merely existing.”
Focusing on the future
Eventually, Mike was put on a waiting list for a lung transplant – which was no guarantee of overcoming the situation, due to the shortage of organ donors. Yet, he didn’t lose hope. “I used to tell myself: ‘When I am better…’. My friends at the hospital were planning their own funerals, but I refused to become just another statistic. I think maintaining a positive outlook has made a huge difference to my mental health.” Despite believing his chances of finding a regular job were slim, Mike started learning about web development as a way to focus and keep busy. As his health declined and his passion for coding grew, Mike would look at job postings to check what skills were in demand, and ordered books from Amazon to teach himself.
Then, in 2007, following a terminal diagnosis, Mike underwent a double lung transplant, a gift that would change his life forever. “It was like flipping a switch and, in a moment, my life was turned upside down. I went from being terminally ill to having all this future in front of me. It was surreal.”
A new chance at life
Mike was determined to make the most of all the new possibilities the transplant had opened up for him. “It is not the miracle cure: it isn’t without risks and it isn’t forever, but it can transform your life. Doctors advised me: the healthier you keep yourself, the longer and better you can potentially live.” Twelve weeks after the transplant, Mike set out to design a routine that would keep him active – and healthy. He got a job at a web development agency in London and found himself on a daily commute from Essex, something he had just dreamt of until then. “I loved coming into the office and being around people because I had been so isolated growing up. It was amazing: work has been therapeutic for my mind and body.”
Finding a job was just the beginning: in the years following the transplant, Mike has run the London Marathon, climbed Ben Nevis and Mt Snowdon, and even jumped from a plane – both to raise awareness and funds for the CF Trust, and also, simply… because he could. “Cystic fibrosis used to consume my life, to define me. Not anymore.”
“Cystic fibrosis used to consume my life, to define me. Not anymore.”
In 2017, Mike joined Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s cloud services business. As a Solutions Architect, his role is to support companies in their transition to the cloud, helping them find the right tools and services that benefit them and their customers. “Joining Amazon was a huge personal milestone. Fitting in was easy, everyone was friendly: it felt as if this was where I was meant to be.” He found the company’s entrepreneurial culture inspiring: “If you have an idea that could bring value to your clients, you have the freedom to run with it. It’s refreshing to be part of an organisation that encourages you to take responsibility,” he continues. “Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m working here. When I am on the train, commuting to work, with all these people around me looking miserable, I think I’ve got the best job.”
Something Mike loves about the tech world is its fast pace and ever-changing landscape. “I don’t know where I will be in five years, the only thing I know is that everything is going to change massively. The unknown is what excites me the most!”
Aware of the rare gift he’s been offered, Mike is keen to give back. He volunteers at the Royal Brompton Hospital, the place that saved his life, where he consults with doctors, nurses and dieticians on CF care management, and he raises funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. At AWS, he’s a member of the employee affinity group People with Disabilities, offering his unique perspective to help improve the daily life of colleagues and their families: “I don’t consider myself disabled anymore, but I used to be. I remember the struggle, and how even little things could make a really big impact.”
At 37, Mike has a 3-year-old son, a job he loves and a mortgage. “It may sound boring, but these things were never an option for me. That’s why they feel so special,” he says. “I don’t want anybody to think that I have wasted the tremendous opportunity I have been given, and that not many people are lucky to have. That’s why achievements like running a marathon or having a job at AWS are so important to me.”