Wednesday, November 25, 2015


As we all go through the preparations for celebrating Thanksgiving, I get teary eyed thinking about Thanksgiving this year. This is the first Thanksgiving in 3 years that I am well enough to enjoy the holiday and BE with my family.  That's all I ever thought about when I was sick and waiting for my life saving lung transplant - more time with my family.

To have that time now, just brings tears to my eyes when I think about where I was the past two years and where I am now. Last year I had gotten my transplant but had only been home from the hospital for about 10 days and stairs were still off limits so, while the family was in the house and they all brought my tray up to me, I had to eat alone and spend a lot of the day alone as they all worked to prepare our dinner.

This year I get to be with everyone and spend precious time with my family. I treasure that time more than I can say.

I have so very much for which to be Thankful that I will be thinking about tomorrow. I am thankful for a family that stood by me, supported me, encouraged me (still does) and STEPPED UP to help out while I was sick and recovering after I finally got my transplant. Without my family, it simply would not have been possible. I am blessed to have such a loving and supportive family and I am so grateful for each and every single one of them.

I am so grateful for my organ donor and donor family. There really are no words that properly express how grateful I am that they believed in organ donation and gave me the ultimate Gift of Life. I would not be here without such generosity. I hope to meet my donor's family one day so I can thank them in person. But tomorrow, on Thanksgiving, I will have a quiet and special moment of thanks for my organ donor. 

I am thankful for how well I am doing one year post transplant. It's really hard to believe it has been one year since my transplant and to be doing as well as I am is a blessing. So many transplant patients struggle with so many complications. I have had some bumps in the road, but my lung is doing well and any of the issues I've had to deal with are medication side effects which my amazing transplant team always manages to get straightened out.

I am thankful for the many doctors, nurses, and medical staff that took care of me pre-transplant, during my transplant and stay in the hospital and the post transplant team as well! Each and every single one of them has been wonderful, caring and literally life saving. Without them, I would not be here.

I am thankful for all my wonderful friends who stood by me when I was sick and waiting for my lung. Many driving long distances to spend time visiting with me, keeping me company and doing their best to cheer me up and distract me for a period of time. It's a short list of people, but it's a high quality list. My friends called, visited, emailed and stayed in touch and supported me through the most challenging time of my life.

Thanksgiving is a special holiday where we are supposed to take the time to acknowledge the things in our lives for which we are grateful. Being a Lung Transplant recipient really puts an added dimension to the holiday for me. I am thankful for the Gift of Life every single day, and I think of my donor every day, but I will really take time tomorrow to think about all the things I wrote about above and acknowledge what they all have done to help me get where I am!

So tomorrow, when I am with my family just hanging out, having dinner, there will so very much for which I will be grateful. I likely won't be able to get words of thanks to my family out without crying (I cry at the drop of a hat!), but they will be tears of joy!

Thank you to everyone mentioned in this Blog; thank you to everyone who reads my Blog, follows me on Twitter and social media. I am SO grateful for this wonderful and special day. 

May you all have time with loved ones and take a moment to let those people in your lives know how important they are to you.


Me and my Amazing Family!

"The Thanksgiving Song" - Mary Chapin Carpenter

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


It's been a good few weeks (to make up for the crappy two I had earlier this month). First I got the good report on my last Bronchoscopy; all test results negative. I no longer have to have them every three months; in fact I don't have to have them unless the Transplant Team suspects there is an issue that needs to be checked. This week I had follow-up blood work to check my kidney function. It's finally dropped down below the "magic number" so that's good news!! I haven't had to have any infusions for weeks but my count has continued to drop (this is a good thing).

We have no way of knowing how long my kidney function will stay like this. My Coordinator still has to talk to my doctor about all the lab results and see about a plan. It's unlikely my kidney function will stay this way long term, so she wants a plan for how often to check things. I was told this is likely how things will go for me. Probably be a roller coaster where the kidneys are concerned but they always seem to get things back on track, so I have confidence that they can manage the situation.

I kicked butt at my 6 Minute Walk yesterday. So that feels good. I am still struggling with my fitness level and how I feel when exercising. I know I've made progress, but I don't feel I'm where I should be one year post transplant. So the hospital where I went for my Rehab also has a program and Fitness Center where you can get a 6 month program at a deep discount (since that's where I did my Rehab). I'll get a consultation with one of their Trainers, they'll evaluate me and make a plan for me to follow. Then I can use the facilities for working out and following the plan put together for me. They also have a salt water therapy pool and I asked my Transplant Coordinator if I can use it and was told yes! So I look forward to that. I am optimistic about making the progress I'd like to. I'm willing to put in the work if I can get back to a more "normal" fitness level. I may never get back to feeling or being like I was before my transplant, but I'm going to try to make as much progress as I can!

There will always be some sort of issue and I am getting used to that. It was something I've struggled with since the transplant. Learning to cope with issues like the kidney function, which is kind of scary, is difficult, but I've been talking about these issues with my psychologist and it's helping. Plus I think, as with many things, I'm just getting used to what it's like to be a lung transplant recipient.

This has been a journey that is very hard to put into words. But, even with the bumps in the road that I've had to deal with, I am really doing quite well. The Transplant Team is very pleased and that says that a lot to me. My lung is doing great. Any issues I've had have all been side effects from medication, which the Transplant Team always seems to be able to manage. I can't complain. In fact, it's really all good news after one year. I can't believe a whole year has passed and here I am, doing well.

Two years ago I'd been sick for about a week at this point. By December I was in the hospital and by February I was at Mayo getting my diagnosis and learning I would need a Lung Transplant. I never thought I could handle what one has to go through with a lung transplant, but I did it! I got through it and thanks to my donor, my life was saved and now one year later, I drove myself to an appointment yesterday and one today - not very far from home, but I did it. Really proud of myself.

Yes, one year post transplant, things are looking good!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


One year ago today I was re-born. Thanks to the ultimate Gift of Life from a 22 year old young man who believed strongly in organ donation, I am here today to celebrate the One Year Anniversary of receiving my Lung Transplant! I said at the time I felt "Re-Born" and we started talking about making it to one year and celebrating my "Re-Birthday".

It has been a very long 2 year journey to reach this very special day for me and my family. Being a Lung Transplant candidate and, if one is lucky enough to get their lung, a Lung Transplant Recipient, is not easy and it is not fun. As my Transplant Doctor said to me the very first time we met: "While a Lung Transplant can be a life saving operation; make no mistake, you are trading one disease state for another because of all the medications you will have to take."

He wanted me to understand - truly understand - what I would be facing if they accepted me into their Lung Transplant Program. The side effects from all the medications can cause real problems for transplant patients and I am dealing with a number of those today. 

As I sat through 4 different Transplant Education Classes before my Transplant, we found out the cold hard truth of what it's like to go through the surgery, recovery and rehab. What we must expect being immunocompromised. All the lifestyle changes we must make, that you would never think of, if we want to keep our Lung healthy and prevent rejection. 

One of the things about having a Lung Transplant is that they are the most difficult transplant to perform and they have the least successful outcomes. We are told this before we get listed for transplant. I tease my Transplant Team that they like to scare us to death before our transplants, and they admit they want us to know what we will be facing post transplant.

I will admit to being very scared heading into my transplant surgery. It was 11:30PM on Sunday night, November 2, 2014 when I got "THE CALL"; they had a lung for me. We were to get to Loyola as quickly and safely as possible. Most of the next nearly 2 days I do not remember. They keep you sedated while you are on the ventilator to make sure all is going well, monitoring everything there is to monitor. I am told they tried to wake me once but it didn't go well, so they put me back to sleep for another day. The next time they were able to wake me without incident, but being woken up after a major surgery like a transplant is not like waking up from any other surgery. I was restrained so I would not unconsciously pull at any tubes. I was still intubated and on the ventilator; I had two chest tubes coming out of my side, a nasogastric tube so I would not aspirate into my beautiful new lung, and a IV going into my neck as well as multiple IV's in my arms.

I was lucky and doing well and it wasn't long after being woken up they were able to extubate me and get me off the ventilator. Shortly thereafter tubes began coming out one by one. Chest tubes were removed, the IV in my neck, some of the IV's in my arms though not all. The ng tube was pulled. And as each tube came out, the discomfort they caused eased. However, the pain from the surgical incision was too much and required pain medication on a regular basis. 

They do not waste any time getting you up and out of bed. I believe it was Day 3 that they got me up and into a chair, even while I was still in the ICU. By Day 4 I was moved out of the ICU and to the Transplant Floor in the hospital. I started eating real food, sitting in a chair twice a day and the physical therapists began to show up to get me walking again. 

First Time Out of Bed!

This was HARD work. But if I was to recover, I had to do what the Transplant Team told me to do. But the amazing thing was, now I was doing all this without ANY oxygen at all! I was now able to breathe on my own from the first day I woke up! It was like a miracle. I had nearly lost my voice and was on 24/7 oxygen up until surgery day. When I woke up I felt like a normal person breathing again! It was amazing! I could talk again like I always did, which my family noticed immediately. 

My First Walk!

I worked so hard while I was in the hospital but the nurses and everyone kept telling me how great I was doing, and I guess I was, because only 7 days after receiving my lung transplant, Loyola discharged me! That's rare to get discharged so soon. Loyola's record for fastest discharge is 5 days, so for me to get to go home only 7 days after my surgery was amazing. 

Me Going Home!

Then we must begin the very long and slow process of Rehab and learning how to "live" as a Transplant Recipient. Rehab began slowly with a Physical Therapist coming to the house and having me do exercises laying on the bed. As I got stronger, he had me begin various exercises standing up. Finally after about 8 weeks, I was told I was ready for Out Patient Rehab, which would be 2 days a week for 12 weeks.

Out Patient Rehab Begins!

There was so much more to do as my recovery continued. My daily ritual that I am required to complete and track on a tracking sheet for the Transplant Team consists of taking my vital signs (weigh myself, take my temperature, take my blood pressure & heart rate and do my spirometry) every single morning. I also must be most vigilant about taking my medications every day, 4 times a day, and some are to be taken at very specific times! Then I must wait before I can eat. So I don't ever get to sleep in anymore. It takes about an hour to complete all my morning tasks and get my medication taken by the designated time.

Every time I leave the house, I must put on my mask to protect my lungs and me from either catching something from the people around me, or things blowing in the wind. I carry hand gel with me and religiously wash my hands or use my hand gel. You have to think about everything you touch, everything. Like money is one of the filthiest things we handle, so every time I touch money, I need to wash or sanitize my hands. It's amazing what I must be attentive to when I go out.

All of this has been and continues to be very challenging. One year later, my surgical incision still hurts. They tell me it can take from a year to a year and a half - or never - for that pain to go away. The medication side effects have caused numerous problems that have required constant monitoring, blood tests, infusions, shots in the stomach and antibiotics to name a few.

Getting an IV Saline Infusion for My Kidneys!

But getting to One Year Post Transplant is a big deal. While there are bumps in the road, and likely always will be, I have worked so hard to regain my strength and get back into decent physical condition after being sick for so long. I pushed myself, set a goal and as many of you know, I accomplished something that one year ago, I thought would be impossible: I participated in, and completed, the 3 mile Hike for Lung Health for the Respiratory Health Association on September 20, 2015! Only 10 months post transplant! And to make it even more special, my whole family surprised me and did the Walk with me in a show of their never ending support! It was such a special day for us all! To have faced death, struggled through surgery and recovery and rehab and be able to walk 3 Miles in less than 60 minutes is something I am so proud of! I wasn't sure I'd ever see a day like that again and it was one of the best days I've had since my transplant.

Video: The Hike for Lung Health

I have been struggling lately with some side effect issues, an infection, fever to name a few and have not been able to exercise for several weeks. It's been frustrating but yesterday and today I picked myself up, and went over to the Fitness Center and got myself back on the Treadmill for 30 minutes. As hard as it was, I am so glad I did it and proud that I keep fighting and working at being as healthy and strong as possible when you consider what I've been through the past 2 years.

My family and I are having a quiet but celebratory dinner tonight to mark this very special date in all our lives. I'm not the only one that this affected; my whole family went through this with me. So it's appropriate that we get together and have a nice family dinner, which is all I ever thought about when I was sick. Just more time with those I love and that's what I'm getting. 

I am truly lucky and blessed. Our thoughts and a toast will go out to my organ donor and his family in his memory. Without organ donors like the young man who donated multiple organs and saved multiple lives, I would not be here. I am forever grateful.