It was like night and day.
Before Matt Gregory underwent a double-lung transplant in 2011, he had to haul around oxygen tanks to help him breathe.
Afterward, the Richland man took medication, but he could ditch the oxygen.
His energy returned.
"It was like he was back to his old self," said Amanda Gregory, his longtime love.
The transplant gave Matt Gregory a new lease on life -- and hope for a future with Amanda and their daughter, Annika, 3, unencumbered by tubes and tanks.
But that future was cut short when Gregory died last week at age 30. He contracted viral pneumonia, and "by the time it was caught, enough damage had been done that he wasn't able to recover," Amanda Gregory said.
A memorial service is 2 p.m. Saturday at Kennewick First United Methodist Church.
Gregory was born with cystic fibrosis, but the genetic condition didn't keep him down.
As a kid, "he was a typical jock-y sports boy. He loved playing basketball," said friend Nicole Sand, who met him in fourth grade.
Even when, around the time Annika was born, he needed to start using oxygen, he wasn't one to sit on the sidelines.
"Any time he had even an ounce of breath, he was on the move -- a go-go-go guy," Amanda said.
Sand remembers when Matt participated in a fundraising walk for a cystic fibrosis organization. "He walked with his oxygen tanks the entire walk, and he finished with the group," she said.
And there was the time, not long before his transplant, when the die-hard Seahawks fan couldn't help but jump out of his chair during a particularly intense moment in a game, "oxygen in tow," Sand said. "I can still see him and hear him screaming at the TV."
Gregory was born in Vancouver, Wash., but moved to the Tri-Cities as a child. He met Amanda at a get-together organized by Sand more than 10 years ago, and that was it. "We were pretty much inseparable from the beginning," Amanda Gregory said.
Their family grew when Annika came along. She was the center of her dad's world.
"Their bond was incredible," and Matt cherished his time with her, Amanda said. He would be talking about sports one minute and coloring and playing dress-up with his daughter the next, Sand recalled.
The transplant in May 2011 gave him more than a new set of lungs; it also gave him the chance "to be the dad he always wanted to be," Sand said. "He got to run and play and didn't have to worry if he had enough oxygen with him or was feeling tired that day."
Almost two years after the transplant, the Gregory family was starting to exhale and think about the future.
"As boring as it sounds, (post transplant) we were really just looking forward to having a normal life and doing the things normal families do -- buy a house, settle down, go on vacation. Little things most people think of as normal, that we had to put on the hold the last five years," Amanda said. "We were getting to the point where it was that sigh of relief.
I feel like were just starting to hit our stride and ramp up for the future."
Now Matt is gone. Sand said it doesn't seem real. His personality was larger than life. His smile. His laugh that drew others in.
"He made everybody feel like he was their best friend," Sand said. "He was a great dad. A loving husband. He always hoped for the best. We were expecting him to stay around for a lot longer."
Matty's parents are Brenda Gregory of West Richland and Markham Gregory of Lynnwood; he also leaves behind several brothers and sisters.
He wasn't able to get life insurance because of his medical problems, and a memorial fund has been established. To donate, go to www.giveforward.com and search for Matty G Memorial.
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald