Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I made it a year!! Lets look back...

I celebrated my 1yr lungaversary 10-10-15!!!! Wowee!! (Imagine me doing cartwheels)

When the weather starts to change in September, memories start creeping back as well.  And many of those memories from my early transplant days are not easy to go back to.  I think that's why its taking me a bit to start to write this, I've had time but just couldn't do it. I'm having trouble even as I'm typing now. This is hard, this is very hard.

The first 6mos after my double lung transplant were not smooth, they did not go as everyone expected, and because of this I do believe I have some post traumatic stress from those months.
I'm going to go back month by month and try and write a synopsis of the last year--anyone that was a part of this feel free to leave comments about what you remember.
I will be posting very personal pics that are not easy to share and to be honest I have trouble looking at them still.
Ok, here goes...(GULP!) Warning: It will be long.

October 10, 2014-a Friday

We just moved into our current house 3wks ago--things are a mess, boxes are everywhere, and tons of errands to run related to moving/changing address, etc. I met Greg at the secretary of states office on his lunch hour and we were in line forever to change our address on our drivers license. We were walking out after ~1hr wait, it was about 1145 am. It was bright, it was sunny, and pretty warm for October.  My phone rang, I looked down and saw the 608 area code (Madison, WI), I wasn't expecting a call from my coordinator but knew I had to answer.  I don't even remember the persons name but they asked for Joyce Jensen -- I said that's me--she said something about "We have lungs and the surgeon has determined you are the best match."  I said something along the lines--'Are you sure he means ME??!?! They are a match for ME????" She said-'Yes, do you accept these lungs?"  My mind is racing, I'm flagging Greg over as he's about to get in his car. I reply, "Yes, I accept" She then tells me something about getting there in a certain time, Can I do that? My mind is going crazy-I tell her I have to call my pilot.  I call Randy-he answers right away, asks if I've called Herb (the other pilot), I'm like No-I'm still in shock and he was the first person I called. Randy says he will call Herb. I'm quickly calling other people, Greg is calling other people, Randy calls back -Herb is all set and they both are heading to the airport. Everyone is answering the phone just like they are suppose to. This is literally happening all in a matter of MINUTES!! I call Wisc back-I tell them my transportation is all set. I am jumping in my car--I haven't eaten lunch-Wisc has told me I can't eat. I'm really not hungry-I'm just rushing to get home, still making phone calls, still feeling like I'm on speed.
I get home, I'm thinking I have to shower and shave my legs--who knows when I'll get to do that again! (Little did I know it would be MONTHS before I showered again unencumbered) My phone is blowing up with texts, I cant stop and read them-we have to get to the airport! I think about Eric-he gets out of school at 3:30--we won't be able to say good-bye. That was difficult and it still saddens me as I'm typing this because it would be many weeks until I saw him again.
I can't find my transplant binder I'm suppose to bring with me, we have a suitcase already packed and ready. Where is this damn binder?? I give up my search and get to the car. We make it to the Riverview Airport a bit over a hour from when we get the call. Randy and Herb are there and ready. Mehgan and Scott are there (Mehgan was flying over with us, however she was not as ready as our trusty pilots to fly those bright blue October skies). You see, both of us had discussed our fear of getting into this tiny plane and flying over the huge Lake Michigan--you can imagine where one's thoughts go.
I'm not sure why Greg is so confident with the thumbs up sign, Im of course doing something silly, and you can see Mehgan's look of fear. See we were very cozy inside this plane, and I remember it being very loud inside as well. We arrived safely-the weather was perfect and it was ~1hr 15min ride (Thank you Randy and Herb--they are very capable with tons of experience) and we hurried out of the plane and into our waiting cab. The cabbie rushed us to the hospital--I really don't remember much of the cab ride. We went to admissions-everything was ready and we were there for a matter of minutes and the admissions lady escorted us to the floor.
I remember the charge nurse Alice greeting us with a big hello and a personal escort to my room. I liked Alice immediately and she helped calm my insides with her warmth-I found out later during a different admission that Alice and I were kindred spirits when we sang together loudly in my room and the neighboring patient complained. The nerve we said!
Wisconsin is 1 hour behind Michigan in time and it was about 3pm there.  There were so many people in and out-I couldn't keep track. I was asking EVERYONE about my donor--how old were they, where were they from, was it male or female? I couldn't get any info, some may not want to know but I wanted to know something about these lungs that were about to become part of me. Finally, one of the cardiothoracic fellows came in and told me they were coming from central Wisconsin and surgery would be around 8pm. Believe me, I tried to get info!
Throughout all this, I had to take a Betadine shower from head to toe, give a trillon vials of blood, and do an enema. (Sorry you had to help with that Mehgan!)
At about 8pm they wheeled me down to the OR-the first thing I saw was a bunch of people lining the hallway in scrubs. Wow-things just got very real-these were people all involved in my surgery. I also go to meet my Friday night date--my cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Maloney.  I had met the other surgeon during my eval, Dr Maloney was smaller than I expected for a surgeon about to cut me in half. I asked him if he had eaten and had caffeine-I didn't want him passing out before our big 8hr date! I was in this holding area for what seemed like 5-10min then said good-bye to Mehgan and Greg and was off to OR.
I told everyone along the way that I was a difficult intubation because of my fused cervical vertebrae (which means very little to no hyperflexion of my neck) and that I take A LOT of medicine to knock me out. During other procedures, I've been called a baby hippo because of the amount of sedative it takes to knock me out. I'm not sure why--I've never been on chronic pain meds before...part of the complicated puzzle that I am I guess.
The next 24-48hrs are much of a blur for me. This is where having people comment would be great. The surgery went well I'm told, it lasted about 8hrs or so and I believe I was out of the OR at 4am Saturday.  The transplant team likes to extubate (remove breathing tube) in the first 24hrs (less risk of infection) but they kept my in because I was such a difficult intubation and to be safe they kept my tube in until Sun evening.  I would awaken at times while being on the ventilator and was VERY hard.  I heard stuff like, ' her pressure is low, she needs more blood.' I barely remember family and friends coming in.
At some point I was less sedated and remember communicating by writing out words on people's palms. This didn't work out that great. At this time they also lowered some of the vent settings and I was breathing more on my own but after awhile I told the respiratory therapist it was too hard so they set the ventilator back to do all my breathing for me. Personally, being awake and aware of a tube down my throat was the worse experience for me. I HATED every moment. I guess they couldn't sedate me more because my blood pressure was too low.  I know this is one of the memories that it is very difficult to dwell on and causes me anxiety. I never want to be on a ventilator again.
                                                        Not a pretty sight...(Intubated)

There are lines and tubes everywhere. I had 4 chest tubes, multiple IV lines including one in my neck, and a catheter.
The team wants you up and walking as soon as possible. I remember them saying I had to sit in a chair for 3hrs and I thought they were nuts--it was exhausting. On one of my walks, my transplant doc (Dr Cornwell) came by to say hi. I said it feels like I've been hit by a bus and he gently nodded and said thats what many of our patients say. I don't remember hearing this before transplant.

                                                             Soon after extubation.

                                                                My first walk

On Tuesday I was sitting up, trying to get the many pills that were now going to be my norm. I wasn't feeling very confident in my swallowing after my prolonged intubation (vocal cords were swollen) and was taking it slow. I swallowed one larger pill that I wasn't feeling too good about and lo and behold that bugger got stuck and I was choking. My sister in law screamed my name, I was desperately trying to swallow--praying and finally it went down. The nurse came and took away the pills and ordered a swallow study. I of course failed and a feeding tube was my next torture session.
Check out that neck-I was relieved to get that line out

During this stay in the hospital, I remember lack of sleep, the start of diarrhea (from some of the immunosuppressants and my tube feeding), and blurred/decreased vision and other visual disturbances from the massive dose of steroids I was receiving. I would be looking at the wallpaper and the flowers would be spinning or the design of someone's pants would be moving--all common with high dose steroids.
I also remember coughing with a bit of wheeze--the docs were concerned about the right lower lobe. Dr Maloney said it looked 'heavy', I asked if from trauma and he replied no. So it must have come with questionable infection. I've been asked-why did they transplant it then? All I can say, I'm not the expert, they know what they are doing and I knew God was in control of all this. Everything happens for a reason and sometimes we never know that reason.

I was getting a lot of bronchs, they went in and cleaned out as many secretions as they could. I tried to cough them up but I was so weak-I remember one pulmonologist telling me that I wouldn't have been able to cough them up because they were too deep.
I was trying to do everything they wanted, it was such an effort. The respiratory therapist would make his rounds and make me do my breathing exercises--ugh it was so hard! That 10min felt like forever-and again I was so sleep deprived that my body was exhausted! I rarely slept for more than 1hr at a time--the steroids along with the constant interruptions --the chest xray people came at 4am everyday! The residents and interns make their rounds before the attending--so many were there at 6am. And those rooms don't get dark enough--theres always light shining in somewhere.

There was one night that I got up to hurry to the bathroom (diarrhea), I had still so many tubes (down to 3chest tubes) and I didn't make it in time. How embarrassing! Plus I was a bit delusional and making up weird stories--just ask Greg. Sleep deprivation and high dose steroids with at least a dozen other meds= bad news bears. There is something called sleep psychosis and I was in that territory.
But, I was getting a bit stronger everyday. I begged daily to have the chest tubes removed--most of the time they are all gone in 4-5days. But I still had too much drainage or a lung wasn't fully inflated.

The feeding tube was driving me nuts, I couldn't wait for my repeat swallow study. I was doing my swallowing exercises and was determined to pass that thing. I think I had that tube in for about a week. By this time, I was getting restless from being in the hospital, I wanted to get out of there. Some nice nurse asked me if I would like my hair washed after about a week and I was so excited. I think I wrote about her in a previous blog.
                                                                 Yea for clean hair!

Oct 22--Eric had a few days off from school so my mom brought him over to Wisconsin.

On Oct 23, I finally got to be discharged to a local hotel, I had to go with 2 chest tubes but I got to leave the hospital!  I was beyond excited. Those hospital beds are anything but comfortable and no hospital food--wahoo! I can't say I was very hungry but anything but hospital food is good news. To be fair, UW did have a pretty good selection of food.

                                                              Discharge Day!!!!

I didn't get to leave the hospital until after dinner, I had to wait forever for pharmacy to get my meds ready-but I was leaving and thats all that mattered.
We stayed at a nice Marriott Extended Stay--the bed was heaven! The staff were so nice. My exercise would be walking around the 2nd floor. I would go for ~ 6minutes but felt like forever. I was also going to pulmonary rehab 3x/week at the hospital and my transplant coordinator would come see me then as well. The drive from the hotel to the hospital was about 20min but I was still a bit nauseous with car movement and would have to semi-lie while riding. During one of my pulm rehab sessions, she checked my blood pressure and it was 80/40--I got to get rid of my water pill and lower one of the others. My heart rate stayed high after transplant and they put me on a med to lower that but can also lower the BP.
While back at my extended stay, one of the receptionists asked about my chest tubes. I told her I had a lung transplant 2wks prior and she said-"Oh my! Shouldn't you be in bed?" I thought that was funny, I guess seeing someone who just had a lung transplant isn't a common occurrence.

While Eric was in town, we went to Target to get his costume. The transplant team encouraged outings. I didn't want to go--I had 2 chest tubes that I was lugging around but I went. I didn't want to be dropped off at the door, it was busy so I walked in from the faraway parking space. I was self conscious from wearing a mask and carrying these nasty containers around. Boy-did I get stares! I wasn't feeling the greatest -was feeling a bit lightheaded and definitely awkward. I couldn't take the stares anymore and my mom and I left while Greg and Eric picked out the costume. I was determined not to pass out-I made it back to the car, laid all the way back in the seat, and focused on my breathing. I wasn't going to do that again anytime soon!

I continued with my pulm rehab and follow up appts, asking when I could go home. Not yet, not yet was what I kept hearing. Greg had been with me daily at this point, I encouraged him to go home for the weekend for Halloween. Eric would be excited and he had some stuff he needed to do renovation wise before I came home (remember we just moved in). He reluctantly went after much reassurance from myself and Mehgan. I knew he needed to get away. This wasn't easy for anyone involved, he had been sleeping on a cot for 2wks then by my side at the hotel. Thankfully, his work was being supportive.

I don't know the date, but sometime in November I had a follow up with Dr Maloney. They decided they were going to try and pull one of the two chest tubes. They asked me to come back later that day for a follow up chest xray. I had my CXR and got a call a few hours later from one of the residents--your lung is collapsed-we need to put the chest tube back in. I didn't feel more short of breath, hmmmm, ok. I went back into the hospital that day, had the chest tube placed early evening and had to stay overnight. ERGH!  At this same time, they decided to bronch me again in the AM and after I could go back to the hotel.
A few days later, on a Saturday, I got a call from one of the on call pulmonologists. My culture from the bronch grew out pseudomonas--this is a very nasty bacteria. He needed me to start on oral antibiotics ASAP. The following Monday, I had a follow up in the transplant clinic--my CXR was looking weird in the right lower lobe so they decided to get a CT scan.  I told my transplant doc I had been feeling good and really needed to get home, it had been a month and I was desperately homesick.  First we had to do the CT--I got the scan done around 4pm and got a call from Dr Cornwell himself about a hour later (never a good sign). He told me the CT scan didn't look good-the right lower lobe was necrotic (starting to die) and full of infection. I needed to be admitted the next day to start on IV antibiotics and I needed to go back into surgery to have that lobe removed. I was crushed! I was just starting to feel better, get stronger, and had to take huge steps backwards. I WANTED TO GO HOME!!! We were thinking we would be leaving Madison in a day or two instead we had to go back into the hospital--it was a definite blow.
We woke up the next AM, stuff all packed up to check out of our home away from home, we were waiting for Wisc to call with further instructions. I knew they would be calling first thing--I looked at my phone and it was dead. Couldn't turn it on, blank screen--DEAD! Come on! What else! Greg called the transplant team to let them know to call his phone and they said they had already called me and left a message. Thankfully there was a Verizon store close to the hotel and we stopped there on the way to the hospital--it needed a hard reboot-something weird that Iphones do ocassionally.
We went back into the hospital on 11-10, I was still feeling kinda low.  I had worked so hard and now I had to go back to surgery. And this was very serious, I had a serious infection with an immunocomprised (and still sorta in shock) body and a dying lung.
They wanted me on IV antibiotics for a week before they took me to surgery--needed to kill some of the infection. I got a PICC line for the antibiotics. Dr Maloney consulted a plastic surgeon as well for the upcoming surgery--the plan was to make an incision down the side of my chest to remove the lung, they then wanted to put a muscle flap in that area to fill it in. This is where plastics came in-they would remove some of my ribs and bring some muscles from behind my shoulder blade down into that space. Why do they have to remove the ribs to do this? Because if the muscle is placed between the ribs it could get pinched and cut off its blood supply and subsequently die. Someone from anesthesia came and talked to me about an epidural--I was all about it if I didn't have to feel the post-op pain.

Nov 17: Surgery day -Right lower lobectomy with muscle flap
I was not looking forward to being intubated again, it terrified me out of everything. I only remember being in the OR holding room and talking with anesthesia and making sure they know I was a difficult intubation. The next thing I know is that I was back in the ICU on a vent. I was up all night looking at the light completely aware of that horrible tube down my throat. Sure I was in and out, but I can distinctly remember biting on that tube, hands tied down, the nurse telling me not to bite on the tube, my lips were so dry, watching the clock and praying for the morning to hurry up and get here. It was horrible-thats the only adjective that clearly describes my feelings.
Around 6am the next day, the said they were going to take the tube out. Was I ready? A resounding YES! They said when they pulled it out to make sure to cough and not swallow any secretions as they could go in my lungs. Man I was scared of doing something wrong. I don't remember being this awake when I was extubated after the transplant. Please Lord help me! I did it and thankfully all went ok. They gave me my incentive spirometer to work my lungs and I did that guy faithfully--I didn't want to see another intubation tube for the rest of my life!
The epidural wasn't working and I remember the pain being pretty difficult. Since the epidural wasn't working I just had them pull it the next day.
The first time I looked in the mirror and saw where my ribs were removed, I cried. I was shocked, this huge crater in the side of my chest was not what I was expecting. I don't  know what I was expecting but this wasn't it. I felt deformed. I still have trouble looking at it. So the pics below take some courage to post because they are not pretty but they are me. I post because I want you to see what I've survived.
The main scar from the transplant surgery--armpit to armpit-the scars in front lower right are from chest tubes
                           The right side where ribs are removed, also can see where chest tubes were
                     right side-additional view-that incision goes up and down starting right under my armpit

left side--chest tube scars, can also see the transplant scar (upper left)

Ok so thats what it looks like today. Last November not so much.
I got out of the hospital Nov 24 with 2 chest tubes (still from lung transplant),a JP drain from my muscle flap site, and a PICC line for IV antibiotics. They were going to reluctantly let me go home to MICHIGAN!!! I was beyond excited. The trip home was long and trying to hide chest tubes in your winter jacket while you used a reststop--lets say interesting. My IV antibiotics were every 6hrs, so at some point I had an antibiotic bag hanging from that handle that is above the door going down the highway. I wonder what people thought if they looked over and saw that.
I also had weekly visiting nurses to draw blood and change my PICC line dressing.

But we made it home 2 days before Thanksgiving and I was grateful for that. I was scheduled to return to Wisc in 3wks.
So I was home finally, tending to daily dressing changes--bathroom sink baths, and still trying to acclimate to these meds.  I still didn't feel quite well.

It was around Dec 7 or so and I was making dinner. It was annoying with the 2 chest tubes--hanging them on a drawer handle and trying not to trip over the drainage tubes. But I was home!!
As I was flipping the turkey burgers I felt a wetness on the right side of my shirt--what could that be?
I went into the bathroom and the next thing I saw was one of my chest tubes on the floor! Did that just come out of me? Do I shove it back in quickly? Am I going to start feeling short of breath? What do I do with this gaping hole in the side of my chest? These are just a few of my racing thoughts. I called for help and my mom came. We needed to get to the hospital! I called my transplant team and let them know that I was heading to the hospital. An ambulance was coming. While waiting for the ambulance my cardiothoracic surgeon-Dr Maloney called. He asked what happened. I said "Evidently one of your residents doesn't know how to suture in a chest tube" (Residents get the boring jobs at the end of cases including suturing) He wasn't expecting that answer and laughed. I was feeling pretty calm, no breathing trouble-I was good.
He told him to keep him informed, have the ER doc call him, and off I went in an ambulance to Butterworth ER.  I was most worried if the lung collapsed and would need the chest tube replaced.  If you want speedy service, we all know the ER is not the place.  I couldn't believe how long it took to get a CXR done or see a doctor. Evidently a newly transplanted lung patient isn't high priority. Dr Maloney was texting me because he hadn't heard anything. I finally got a CXR-yep lung is collapsed then a CT scan then I was admitted.
Wisc was still worried about the right lower lobe area--the infection was so bad prior to lobectomy that it got into the fluid that surrounds the lung. 
I had the chest tube placed late the next day. My own pulmonologist was on call that week and I got to see my first familiar face from my medical team. That was so nice!
I asked daily when I could go home. I was in Butterworth for 3days, I got out on a Friday and had my already scheduled appts for Wisc the following Weds.
We traveled to Wisc and were expecting to travel back home the next day. Packing up all my meds, all the IV stuff, and nebulizer stuff took time. All my meds needed to be taken at very specific times-traveling wasn't very conducive for this.
  My first appt was with the infectious disease doc (because of the pseudomonas), my most recent labs showed an elevated white blood cell (WBC) count--this can happen with infection. He didn't seem too concerned because my inflammatory markers were not too high.  He wanted me to recheck the CBC later that afternoon. I did that then headed back to the hotel to hook my IV.
I got a call from the transplant team--my WBC were quite elevated, they needed to admit me and work me up for an infection. I had been on IV antibiotics continuously since my November admission/surgery--was there another source of infection? 
Devastated wouldn't even describe my feelings at this point. I couldn't go in the hospital again! We packed up all my stuff and headed back to the hospital.  I had to submit blood from my PICC line to check for infection as well as a seperate site, a urine sample, and stool samples. My blood cultures were neg, my urine was neg, and my stool was neg for infection. All good news but where was the source of infection? The CT scan of my lungs I had done showed 'pockets' of fluid around the muscle flap site. The next step was to go in under CT scan while the radiologist placed drains into those pockets of fluid. He would obtain fluid samples to send off for testing. This took 2-3hrs.
The testing showed pseudomonas---ugh! Still!!!
I'm not sure how long that hospital stay was. I got to leave but we had return office visits every 2-3wks.

I got one of the tubes out-which was triumphant. A few wks later (late Jan) I got the rest of the tubes out and the sutures out from my Nov surgery. WOW! After 3 1/2 months I was finally without drains. The only tube I had left was my PICC line. I could finally shower but would have to wrap the PICC line. But I could shower! I could shower! I could shower! 3 1/2 months of sink sponge baths -finally gone. I could shower! I could shower!
This was a big deal! I could walk without making noise my chest tubes clinking together. I could finally lie on my right side without feeling the prick from my tubes. This was GLORIOUS!

I was still struggling with intense diarrhea (7-8x/day) which has been going on for a few mos. It is a known side effect of one of the transplant meds so they lowered the dose. Also being on strong IV antibiotics for so long does not help the gut.
I'm having routine CT scans to watch right lower former lung area -I find out during one of these CTs that the right middle lobe has collapsed ---the infection/trauma overwhelmed this finicky area and he decided to throw in the towel. A bummer indeed--the loss of these 2 lobes will affect my lung function.
On one of my visits back in Wisc the doc tells me we can stop the antibiotics at the end of the week, and get rid of the PICC line.
I will finally be completely drain free!!! Now I can shower without a plastic wrapped right arm (its not the easiest to shampoo with saran wrap from wrist to shoulder). OH GLORIOUS DAY!! WAHHHOOOOOOOO!!!!!! 
I'm also working out daily and building up my strength.

I return to work for two days a wk-starting at 4hrs each day. I cannot see patients with fever or other respiratory issues. I'm still nervous as it is a doctors office and viruses travel. After the last few mos I'm a bit paranoid and terrified of returning to a hospital.
I wanted my stool checked again for c-diff and I feel something has changed.  The testing comes back positive for c-diff.  C-diff is a nasty intestinal bacteria, it occurs when all the good bacteria is eaten up and the bad bacteria takes over. I have to start an oral antibiotic x4wks.
I'm getting weekly labs -all is stable. Stable is a word I've come to adore.

Monthly visits to Wisconsin. I am bronched again in June with another CT. The CT is stable, labs are stable, all is looking good.
Late June-I get a call from Dr Cornwell (remember not a good sign). My fungal culture from my bronch 2wks prior has grown out some weird rare fungus (fusariam) and we need to change my anti-fungal medicine to a stronger one with potentially nasty side effects. (Fungal cultures can take 3-4wks to come back with final results)
Ahhh-just when I thought I was in the clear. I also have to get another CT to look for any fungal growths and get more blood drawn. Sometimes these fungal results can be from a contaminant-clinically I'm well and we have to watch closely.
My CT again looks stable-thank you God!
The transplant team wants me to see Infectious Disease in Wisc.

At the end of July I see the Infectious Disease doc, my labs have all been good, my CT did not show any new growths, and I'm feeling fine. All good news. I understand the need to see a patient in person, I just wanna escape ASAP.
The doc decides with above findings that I can stop the newer antifungal and return to the other. She wants another CT in 2mos to eval for any new growths.

Working out daily--1hr cardio a day: 12-13 miles on bike 1-2x/wk or treadmill 3.5miles 5-6x/wk
Feeling stronger, working on my paranoia of catching something. I still hear every cough that is in a 5mile radius. 

Repeat CT--stable! I'm so thankful. Labs have been looking good as well. 

Every now and then I see others that have had a double lung transplant and their function is 100+% (I know that sounds weird but you can have 110% lung function) or others that have 80, 90% lung function and I will never have that.  I went through this massive surgery and won't have what I wanted most--normal lung function.  It doesn't seem fair, but I cannot dwell on these thoughts forever. My left lung (I named Charlie) is holding on strong and I will continue to push with my 1 1/3 remaining lungs. I am grateful--I have reached 60% lung function and this is probably the best it will be. I was at 17% at my lowest-I've tripled!! This is huge and so I will focus that.

Oct 2015
I've made it a year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Its a very big deal. I have my 1yr testing with bronch on 10-12-15 and all looks well. I'm still holding my breath for those fungal cultures but God is in control. Cold/flu/school season are here and I'm admittedly scared.
My co-workers surprised me with awesome lungaversary cakes and continue to spread the word about organ donation with T-shirt Tuesday!!

As if I haven't shared enough unflattering pics--sweaty me after treadmill- I will never understand the selfie thing.

I really can't thank everyone enough.  This journey has been downright terrifying at times and I couldn't do it without you.  I am so grateful for the support and love!
I thank you for the love, the prayers, your time, help around the house, financial support, cards, but most of all for standing by my side.

What have I learned in the past year?  My husband is the best-God knew what he was doing when He put Greg in my life. He has stood by me through it all and it isn't easy, he has been a constant and unwavering presence.

God is in control, TRUST, TRUST, TRUST.

Remember those you love and treat them well.  The old cliche rings true-you find out who your true friends are when hard times hit.  Its not an easy realization but its part of life.

If you're thinking about someone-let them know. You are not guaranteed another day.

Slow down and be---be happy--be joyful--be content--be grateful---just be.

Breathe--take a breath-appreciate it-take a deeper one and be thankful.

Don't look at someone wearing a mask like they have the bubonic plague.

Don't pretend like me having a double lung transplant is the elephant in the room--if you have questions-ask. Ask how I am, ask about the transplant, just don't pretend it didn't happen.

Just keep living until you feel alive again...after many months-I'm starting to feel alive again.

Never give up!

                             Live life, love life, give life!!!!!

To register to be an organ donor visit: www.organdonor.gov
Click on your state in the upper right hand corner


                                                              On my bathroom mirror

Please comment below on your thoughts/experience during the past year from YOUR view.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Thank you Donor

This was sent off in early August, you cant give out your full name or address. I'm not sure if this will show up well, but hopefully you can enlarge to see.
Thank you for the gift of life, I pray memories are giving you some comfort as you mourn your loved one 1yr later.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

To Whom It May Concern...

Dear person with the cough,

COVER YOUR MOUTH! I never understand how people are so inclined to share their germs. I get children have a hard time covering or may not be quick enough, but a grown adult?!?!?!
Kids are back in school, germs are shared. Cold and flu season are rapidly approaching and germs are shared. But one does have the control to: a) Stay home from work until you are over your illness, b) WEAR A MASK if you insist on strolling in public places, c) Wash your hands!
Now, I hear the rebuttal--I can't afford to stay home from work, masks are hot, I can't breathe, I don't have a fever...
Can you afford to infect your co-workers and then have to do their work while they are gone?
I assure you 100% that you CAN breathe thru those thin paper masks. And you don't have to have a fever to be contagious.

 How do you think you got your current symptoms--from someone not covering a cough or a sneeze, a contaminated computer keyboard/mouse/pen/glass, talking to someone, etc.


Yes, people stare and ask questions but once you tell them you are preventing the spread of germs, they are thankful for your proactiveness.

What is the first thing you see in many doctor offices and hospitals? COVER YOUR COUGH and they provide masks--but I've never seen anyone grab a mask. You're coughing all over and you don't think you need to contain your germs a bit??
Coughing into your elbow (not your hands) helps a bit but guess what--those tiny microscopic respiratory droplets can spread up to 9ft!

I work in a doctors office where patients want protection from other sick patients, coworkers want protection from sick patients and other coworkers, yet there is so much grumbling about wearing a mask.
Example: Adult coworker cough, cough, cough, I have a cold, my throat hurts, I have the chills.
2nd coworker: Better not let Joyce hear...
The more adequate response should be: You should wear a mask and protect others if you are going to stay here.
My bat ears hear a cough from a mile away.
I don't care if you aren't right next to me, germs travel. And you should think of protecting everyone not just me. Be an example of what is right to do.

I've worked my butt off to come back from this lung transplant and the serious complications that happened. I've worked hard everyday to get to my 60% lung function and you think its ok to not wear a mask because its uncomfortable?!?
This may be no big deal to you but a simple little virus to someone who has NO immune system can be detrimental. Hospitalization, permanent loss of lung function--the lung function that I've worked so hard to obtain- I don't have as much wiggle room with my function as some due to my complications.

Why put myself at risk working in a doctors office? I pray for protection everyday, my job is to help others-this is my calling. Am I not allowed to have some semblance of normal in my life?

A cold is no big deal to you but I have a 7 yr old that needs his mommy, I have a husband who needs his wife, I have a family that would like to see me be well and live long.

I don't enjoy the stares or questions when I wear my mask but its part of the deal. And if it means I can stay healthy then I'm doing it. I swallow 30pills a day, exercise daily, do my lung exercises daily, and am trying to stay alive. Its not a joke.

So for others around you, please cover your cough.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The roller coaster of life called transplant

I've passed the 9mos mark since my transplant and the 1yr lungaversary is just around the corner. My 40th bday is days away (gulp) and I can't help but reminisce about this past year.
Before you are transplanted the team warns you about various probable setbacks that occur after transplant.  When you hear those things, I thought those sound horrible but doable-I can't breathe anymore-what could be worse?!?! I was told by the social worker before transplant that 'everyone rejects in their first year', I still remember that and I'm just waiting for that to HIT me one day. But then I realize just because she said it doesn't mean its going to happen. She is nice and wonderful but she cannot predict the future. She doesn't hold my future in her hands.
The last 9 1/2 mos have been a major roller coaster rider with the last 2 mos more smoother.  When I think back to that call that came on a beautiful sunny mild afternoon in October it makes me emotional.  All my docs pre-transplant said I would do great and I believed them but I forgot they don't my future either and what happened post-op was definitely not great. Chest tubes weren't coming out or if they did my lung would collapse and I had to go back for another, my CXR on the right still looked funny. I wasn't able to get back to GR, MI as soon as I thought I would. And just when I was feeling stronger and getting semi-used to all the meds I was being pumped full of (and my eyes were back to normal after seeing squiggles on the walls and peoples pants from the huge amounts of steroids), I was told I had to go back to surgery and reopen the right side of my lung so the RLL could be removed and a muscle flap could take its place. That was devastating-I'm crying right now thinking about it. When I first saw that wound (on top of the original that stretches armpit to armpit) on the right I cried. I have a indentation where ribs were taken out and I thought I looked like a mutant. Looking at it now still upsets me.
I finally got to come home days before Thanksgiving with 2 chest tubes, somehow one fell out a week later and I ended back inpatient at the local hospital Butterworth.
I continued to battle the nasty ever changing bacteria pseudomonas--this was found on numerous bronchs during my hospital stays and I had to stay on IV antibiotics until this past Feb (4mos). I then developed a nasty colon infection that occurs from antibiotic use called c-diff early March. I haven't had a normal bowel movement since before transplant.
In June, my bronch grew out some rare fungus and worry again ensued my transplant team. We are still watching this closely but thankfully after much more testing things look stable.
You are warned pre-transplant about all these possibilities but nothing could ever prepare you. I am certain I have some post traumatic stress from my experiences from last fall-I didn't mention it up there but when you are awake with a tube down your throat it is the most AWFUL experience and I've made it clear to many around me don't ever want to be intubated again.
I could also go into the ICU psychosis that develops post op from the meds, shock to your body, and severe lack of sleep. Greg has good stories he's keeping.
The point being not only do I have a healthy fear of hair, now I am paranoid about catching any germ, bacteria, fungus, allergen, etc. I walk in anywhere and can hear the cough/sneeze 3 aisles down, 10 booths away--those with me don't hear it but its like I have Bat ears--the sonar always working.
 I don't want to have acute rejection and be pumped full of high dose steroids and potentially lose the precious lung function I 'm working so hard to gain. That's the other thing--when you have 2 healthy lungs and God forbid you do have rejection and lose some you usually have something to work with. I don't have a lot of wiggle room with Charlie (my left lung) and I haven't named my remaining healthy right upper lobe. (Suggestions welcome)

So thanks to all your prayers and support currently I'm doing good besides the paranoia that I'm working on.  I also want to encourage you to take care of yourselves. Do you worry about what you put in your mouth--was that vegetable cleaned? Is the meat cooked thru? That's part of my life now, it is was it is but just be aware.  Also, I find it very disheartening when able bodied people don't take care of themselves. There is nothing physically wrong with you and you don't exercise because you don't want to ? Its too boring? REALLY?!!! S*@*@*#*@#*@ How lucky you are to have that choice and shame on you for not treating that body like the well oiled machine it is. I hate sweating and I've never sweated like I do now, and I can honestly say that exercising is not some great fun activity for me.  I've heard all the excuses-but there is always something you can do positive for your body--can't run or walk-then bike-don't have access to a bike-do chair exercises-walk up 3 stairs a few times a day-DO SOMETHING. You don't have to agree with my opinion, that's fine. I have a responsibility to these lungs to take care of them, as well as to my family so I can be here for them.
These lungs of mine--given to me by someone's grieving family--think hard about that...it is almost an impossible concept to wrap one's mind around. Someone has died so I could benefit.
Thank you letter next on my list to my donors family, how difficult...

The roller coaster is taking off again--hang on tight!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Almost 9 mos...

It will be my 9 mos lungaversary on July 10.  Everything is measured in time, 3 days until Friday, 2 wks until vacation, 1 mos until a birthday.  Time consumes us- how many times have you said " if only there were more hours in a day?"  Time - it will get away from you, and what I have learned the past several mos is to appreciate every minute.
My post op course was very difficult and just thinking about it now makes me teary eyed.  I'm so grateful to be home and have family and friends near.  Being able to do housework- grateful ! Being able to sleep in my own bed- grateful ! Being able to drive - grateful ! Taking a shower- grateful! Going to work- grateful ! Being able to make my own food- grateful!
Learn to be content with what you are able to do and what you have,  don't sweat the small stuff, love hard, play hard, laugh harder.  Look around you and be grateful, because as cliche as it sounds it could be gone in a moments notice.
Believe !

I'm so grateful I had a good report from my Wisconsin check up this past Monday, it's nerve wracking for me every time. Having the scope down my airway looking at my lungs is especially anxiety inducing - the doc said my lungs looked "pristine"--GRATEFUL! Returning home to Michigan in downpours and traffic back ups- grateful!

Thank you for all the support and prayers.  I couldn't do it without you- each of you. My heart is grateful! I am grateful!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hair, hair-- it's everywhere!!

People that really know me know that I have a healthy disdain for hair.  Hair that is not attached to the body grosses me out.  I can go into what seems to be a spotless space and my eyes find the one hair that is in the corner out of most people's sight.  When I go into a hotel room the first thing I do is pull off the top comforter that is never washed (everyone should), I then pull back the sheets and look for hair. If I find one that bed is now off limits.  Going into bathrooms, I have to check out the tub, the sink, the toilet, and the floor.  Almost always there is hair somewhere in there taunting me.
When it's slushy or super rainy weather and you walk into a public place and see hair on the floor clumped together---- stop the press- I can't walk over that!

 I am in a current state of mourning for my own hair.  It's falling out and it's everywhere - all over my clothes, all over the house, on Greg's clothes, on Eric's clothes, in hair balls after pulling clothes out of the dryer, on the counters... Ahhhhhh- it's EVERYWHERE!!!
One of the side effects of my meds is hair loss.  It's a bummer.  I'm not a high maintenance girl but it was nice to get my hair colored and cut, now I'm scared to wash it.  Every time I touch my head, hair comes out. The transplant team says this is common and it will come back. I pray this is true because right now there is no end in sight.  I'm fortunate I started with a thick head of hair but that is not the current case.
If only the hair loss would be from my legs....

Friday, April 10, 2015

Today is my 6mos lungaversary!

It was 6mos ago (10-10-14 @ 1151am) that Greg and I were leaving the Secretary of States office after waiting forever that I got the call.  We had just moved ~ 3wks prior to call so we were changing our address. The weather was sunny and beautiful and I was ready to go eat lunch. God had other plans for my lunch--nothing!

I remember making phone calls to family, friends, work--trying to talk through tears and hyperventilation. Racing thoughts--was I ready for this, could I shower (who knew at the time that would be last real shower for many mos), I wouldn't get to say good-bye to my son--he was in school, were the pilots ready, was I ready (yes I know I said this).  So many thoughts...
Well the pilots were ready, the flight went seamless, the cab was waiting at the airport, and I was still a bit shell shocked. God had His hand in it all. I got to Wisc around 230-3pm Mich time.
The staff on the floor (B 4/5) at  U of Wisc were very welcoming and that helped my nervousness. I saw many providers involved in transplant care.  One of the cardiothoracic fellows informed me that the clamshell incision is the worse incision of all a person could get. Fantastic, I'm really going to go through with this.

Clamshell incision

I tried to get info on my donor from everyone but they either didn't know or were very tight lipped.  The same fellow did inform me the lungs were coming from Central Wisconsin and they were 'young lungs'--I asked to clarify their definition of young and got under 40.
 I didn't go into surgery until about 8 pm Wisc time (they are 1hour behind Michigan).
After a very long stretcher ride, I got down to the OR suites and there were like 10 people lined up along the wall all looking at me, I didn't know who they were but I knew they were a part of this transplant.  I  also got to finally meet the cardiothoracic surgeon who was going to do the surgery (I had met the other CT surgeon during my initial transplant eval). Dr Maloney--he wasn't very big, but he had a sense of humor.  The OR RN also had a sense of humor, he was had a bit of a punk flavor so I jokingly asked him to play Backstreet Boys in the OR and he quickly declined. 

Who knew that the next 3 mos would be a roller coaster. I had some very serious post-op complications with the right donor lung and acquired a life threatening bacteria (had to be on IV antibiotics for 3mos).  I had a handful of returns to the hospital as an inpatient the most serious being 11-17 when I had to go back to surgery to have the right lower lobe removed.
It was devastating, I thought we would be going home and had to have another major surgery. We did finally get to go home 2 days before Thanksgiving accompanied with a PICC line and chest tubes but we were home.

It has been a very difficult 6mos, but today I celebrate I am alive and my lung function has tripled. I imagine the donor family is still grieving and I will continue to push myself as I was given a gift while someone lost theirs.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

You're Not You

This was a movie I watched last night on Netflix - it has Hilary Swank, Josh Duhamel, and Emmy Rossum.  It came out in 2014 and I don't recall it, but oh was I snotting all over the place!
Swank plays a woman in her late 30s who develops ALS and her husband played by Duhamel dresses, bathes, puts on her make up, etc.  Swank finds out he cheats on her, feels guilty as she can't give him the life he deserves or the life they thought they would have when they first married.
ALS eventually takes away your breathing ability and you end up on a ventilator. Swanks character did not want to end up on a ventilator, she wanted to die on her terms at home even though her family wanted different.  Her friends also distanced themselves as they didn't know how to deal with Swanks condition.

I related to this movie on so many levels.  When you first marry your beloved you dream and discuss all the great things you are going to accomplish together.  The places to go, the children to raise, the world to conquer.  Then BAM you develop a life altering condition that slowly takes away things you love to do.  I have the greatest husband who has stood by me through it all, yes he gets tired, yes he gets cranky, but I know he's there.  I've said to him he got the raw end of this deal, and his response is that he definitely didn't -God put us together for a reason.  I've helped him through things and made him who he is today and he's here to help me and loves me very much. How did I get so lucky?

Gratefully I do not have a progressive neurological condition, and I can walk.  But while I was in the hospital Greg never complained about adjusting my pillows with all my chest tubes or cleaning my butt because I couldn't reach back there.  (Wiping a spouse butt is on a whole other level for both parties involved). But I do feel bad I can't give Greg everything he needs right now.
We have a whole new lifestyle to adjust to with meds, side effects, routines.
We have seen people distance themselves and that hurts but they must have their reasons.
The ventilator issue is a hard one for me- I was intubated twice (2surgeries) and was awake and that was horrible! I don't ever want a ventilator again! I'm also a difficult intubation. I truly believe I have some post traumatic stress from the complications that occurred post-op. I have a constant fear of getting sick and ending up back in the hospital and away from home. I was away for so long and it was so incredibly difficult.  I cry thinking about it now. But I have amazing supportive family, friends, co- workers and that makes life easier.

Be thankful for your body and what it can do and treat it well - it can do amazing things.

Watch the movie , it's worth it.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

National Donor Day/Happy Valentines Day

Today is a day to represent love and one of the most loving selfless acts you can do is give life to another human being.
Stop and think what the medical community can do: so much of our body can be paid forward when God sees fit to call us home.  It's a crazy thought that I have someone else's lungs inside of me.  They are helping me breathe better and have given me color back.

So take time on this national day of love and tell each other how you feel.  Spread some love and consider spreading that love after you are gone as an organ donor.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015!! Here we come

A new post has been long overdue but the end of 2014 was rough.
I received my double lung transplant 10-10-14, was in the hospital roughly 2 wks and discharged home with 2 chest tubes on each side.  We stayed in Madison as they didn't want me too far away so they could keep a close eye on me. 
The right lower lung was always imperfect and it continued to worsen.  Just when we thought we were going to be able to go home, I had to get a chest CT which showed a bad infection and dying tissue in the right lower lobe and I had to be scheduled to have it removed.  Thus I was readmitted to the hospital November 11, received a PICC line for IV antibiotics and had to have my chest reopened on 11-17--they also took muscle from right upper chest to place where the lung use to be so there wasn't empty space for bacteria to breed.  To do this muscle flap procedure they also removed part of my upper ribs so I have an indentation there.  They kept me on the ventilator overnight and being aware of intubation is extremely difficult.  They couldn't sedate me as much as my blood pressure was already on the low side.
Man -this was  a big bummer and I was feeling a bit defeated.  I wanted to go home, I needed to go home--I hadn't seen my son in wks and facetime just isn't the same.  I was determined to get better.
I was able to go home on 11-25, right before Thanksgiving and that was so awesome.  It was so good to be home and be in my own bed even if I still had chest tubes.
I was cooking some dinner on 12-1 and one of my chest tubes fell out!!!! Yes -it fell out! How does this happen?!!?!? I ended up in Butterworth ER and was admitted there to have chest tube replaced. I was discharged on 12-3.
I had follow up in Wisconsin on 12-10 and they found my white blood cells to be elevated and needed to admit for work up as elevated WBC can be a sign of infection.  I had another chest CT which showed 2 small pockets of fluid/infection in that right lower lung area.  They decided to put 2 chest tubes in those areas to drain the fluid and the IV antibiotics continue.  I was able to leave 12-15 and continue with IV antibiotics at home which I'm still doing.
I went to Wisc 12-28 and the CT was improved and I was able to have one of the chest tubes removed!!! Yeah!!! I go back to Wisc on 1-7 and hope to have the last tube pulled. I've had tubes somewhere in my chest since October!!!!!
My labs from today are all normal--yea!!!!!!!!!

So Oct-Dec were very rough, and I pray 2015 is much smoother. I take a lot of meds which have all kinds of side effects---hot flashes, tingling/numbness in fingers and toes, headaches, memory issues, tremors, etc.  But I have new lungs and its starting to feel good to take a breath!  My chest has many scars and am starting to get some feeling back where the incisions are (nerves damaged when cuts are made).  The initial incision that was made for transplant goes from armpit to armpit and I was told it is the worse incision to have (as it is so long and they cut through sternum).

I so appreciate the support, you do find out who your true friends are when you are traveling through the valley.  Be kind and please take care of yourself and those you love around you.  We are not guaranteed another day.

Breathe and be thankful for that breath.