VANCOUVER -- Up until five years ago, Nick Kanaan lived a relatively normal life.

He was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease with no cure that affects the digestive system and lungs.

"I was fortunate enough to spend the majority of my life, specifically while I was growing up, with very few symptoms," he told CTV News on Wednesday.

But then, shortly before he moved to Vancouver from Ontario, Kanaan began to feel something he hadn't before while he was out for a run.

"I got this bizarre winded feeling," he said. "It was almost like I couldn't recover and I couldn't take in more air to catch my breath."

He was immediately admitted to hospital and diagnosed with a bad lung infection.

"That's kind of where everything started to decline for me."

According to Cystic Fibrosis Canada, the disease can cause progressive lung damage from chronic infections. He lost two sisters to the disease in the mid-1980s.

"They were fairly young – about seven years old and about six months old," Kanaan said.

He estimates he's spent about two-and-a-half of the last five years in a hospital since the symptoms became severe, including when his wife was pregnant with their daughter.

Kanaan was away on a business trip at the time, and ended up being hospitalized for months with a bad infection.

"I was here on this end," his wife, Lindsay, said. "I was about 15 or 16 weeks' pregnant."

In April, Kanaan got extremely sick.

He'd been staying at St Paul's Hospital in Vancouver and had to be transferred to the Intensive Care Unit because his CO2 levels began to rise.

He says the levels increased to a point where it was "almost approaching fatal," and could cause other organs to fail.

That's when he was transferred to Vancouver General Hospital to receive a treatment called ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

It's a life-support procedure that replaces the function of the heart and lungs, and can be connected to either a vein or an artery, or to more than one vein.

ECMO keeps patients alive while they're waiting for organs to come available for transplant.

"I was honestly terrified because I just thought to myself, like, life support. How did we get here so quickly?" said Lindsay.

Dr. Hussein Kanji, co-director of VGH's ECMO program, explained how it worked: "We put him on this form of life support which essentially takes blood from the body provides oxygen and returns it back to the body."

Even on ECMO, Kanji said, "We weren't sure to be very honest about how well he would do."

The treatment gave him enough time for donor lungs to be found for Kanaan. Kanji told CTV News performing that surgery and seeing Kanaan improve has changed him.

"It's made my job and our job a little easier knowing that people like him are benefiting from all our efforts and it's everybody here."

For Kanaan, the biggest gift they've given him is time with his daughter and family.

Over the first year-and-a-half of his daughter's life, Kanaan said, "I couldn't spend any one-on-one time with her because I just wasn't physically capable of keeping up with her."

Now he doesn't have to worry about that.

"To think 10 short years ago this was not an available option," he said.

"And had this been 10 years earlier I wouldn't be here today," Kanaan told CTV News he owes it all to the nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and others at St Paul's and VGH.

"I would love to just say on record thank you to the medical staff at St. Paul's and Vancouver General Hospital."

He also said he wished to thank the donor and their family, who the Kanaans say they think of every day.

"The fact that I have that back in my life now is phenomenal. It's tough to put into words but I feel better than I've ever felt."

VGH is the first Canadian hospital to achieve a "gold level status" from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization for its ECMO program.