Angela's Double Lung Transplant

 

Breathtaking and Giving

 

After enduring a frightening battle with my lawnmower in which it won, I decided it was time to
see an allergist. That appointment in August of 2008 quickly escalated to a chest x-ray, then an
immediate consultation with a pulmonologist. I just knew this had to be a lupus complication,
because it always has been. After another couple scans and x-rays, the venerate Dr. Jim Curlee
of Georgetown, Texas took me back to his office where we spent two hours looking at results,
doing online research, and drawing pictures of what “it looks like” and what “it should look
like”. He didn’t normally deal with patients like me, but my condition – which was later
diagnosed as Bronchiolitis Obliterans - caught his attention. The mention of lung transplant
made me think he had lost his marbles. The insistence of wearing oxygen 24/7 made me drive
home in tears. Today, I can’t thank him enough.

 

For 11 years I had been a secondary school English teacher, and I’d finally found the town,
community, and district where I wanted to settle down. At age 35, I bought my first house and
loved the workload my little school piled on me. The students in Llano, Texas had sealed the
deal; this is where I’d retire. Little did I know how soon that would be. I taught my high school
English and debate classes with my 02 in tow for one semester. It may have gotten me out of
parking lot duty, but it didn’t get me through the day. Having to “retire” at age 37 while still
making mortgage payments that were 99% interest scared the hell out of me. Teaching is all
I’ve done, and I have bills to pay and a dog to support! I loved my career and my students were
so important to me. This was all wrong, but somehow I knew this “choice” was not optional for
long… this was my chance to live and my body wasn’t ready to give in.

 

 

When I first went into the University Hospital in San Antonio’s transplant clinic waiting room, I
wanted to crawl inside myself and refused to admit I was like those other people. Little did I
know I’d be the lady singing the praises of the angels behind the door. I met with those doctors
and nurses who would later become my lifelines, listened to all kinds of frightening possibilities
and freeing probabilities, and made the decision to begin the process not a moment too soon.

 

My wait lasted a little over six months for two lungs, with one false alarm. I agonized daily over
where I was on the list, grieved over not being in my classroom, and suffered from boredom
and restlessness while I lay on the couch. I was called at 4 and a half months, raced in tears to
the hospital two hours away, was stripped, prepped, and put out only to be brought back to
hear, “We couldn’t do it.” That day seemed like an omen; I came to find out a month and a half
later that it was a good one.

 

During my wait, I also rejoiced in marriage to a man who has the patience and understanding of
a saint, and the work ethic of an army of one. I repeatedly gave Scott the opportunity to run
away – leave with no guilt on his conscience – and I can honestly say that this was one time in

my life I enjoyed hearing the word “NO”. I also was blessed with the great fortune of being
joined with a soul lung-sister who has become my closest and dearest friend, and was
comforted by the community support of my little town and school district. This experience has
become the greatest of hardships and confirmations. It has affirmed my faith that God does
indeed have a hand here on earth, and that I am constantly surrounded by the priceless
generosity and selfless capabilities of my dear family and friends.

 

The real call came on August 13, 2009, my parents’ 47th anniversary. I was home in ten days
and sleeping in my own bed. That first night was memorably peaceful – no concentrator
rattling made me cry, waking up in the morning on my own pillow made me cry, swallowing
pills without choking made me cry… then I realized it was probably the steriods making me cry.
Mom’s 73rd birthday was fifteen days later and I was able to sing to her! That made us both cry.

 

The process from discovery to recovery took one year. I am still amazed by the blessed luck
and skill involved in my transformation. Every time I sneeze or yawn, it makes me smile. When
I complain about having to “get up” or “go do”, I rejoice in not having to unwind myself from
the tubing. Funny story: Upon returning home after transplant, my husband said, “Where are
you? I can’t find you anymore!”

 

I am not yet back to teaching, and am certainly not ready to even consider anything that may
remotely jeopardize my new life. The risk of infection in a classroom is very great and may
eventually become less of an issue as I move forward post-transplant. I am now two and a half
years out and still feeling like new.

 

My extended family who works at the University Hospital is made up of an incredibly diverse
and talented bunch of loving people who tirelessly lend their lives to their transplant patients
on a daily basis. There is no greater confidence than knowing your life-saving team is also a life-
support system. I have also met and enjoyed the company of several pre- and post-transplant
patients while spending my mornings there, and the stories are always the same: IT’S A
MIRACLE. And that it is.

 

I have not had any contact with my donor family, but I hope that chance will come for me. Of
the very little information I was given about her, I know she was 17 and quite possibly could
have been one of my own classroom children. I have made our community aware of the
necessity to increase the number of organ donors in Texas, and campaigned and spoken
whenever asked or the opportunity arises. I volunteer when I can to promote organ donation
registration, and am always happy to speak to groups about the need. But it will always be
difficult to fully describe the feeling of carrying a “gift of life”, because it truly is the gift that is
carrying me.

Angela Lewis

BLT : 8-13-09

 

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