Many people who have had an organ transplant, or loves someone who has, could tell you a thing or two about the challenges of being patient.
It’s a challenge that can present itself during the many hours spent in doctors’ offices searching for the correct diagnosis. It tests you while doctors determine if an organ transplant is necessary. The most agonizing wait comes after – as healthcare professionals search for the right donor organ that can save a life. As the sister-in-law to an organ recipient, I know these challenges well. She, of course, knows them better and has faced them all with courage and determination – twice.
Just three years ago, Maureen, who’s married to my youngest brother, was living the active life of a busy 50-year-old mother of three: working part-time, serving in her community and spending time with family and friends. But she gradually found herself having trouble breathing. Everyday physical tasks like climbing stairs and walking short distances would leave her gasping for air.
After performing months of tests, doctors finally had a diagnosis: pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). It’s a condition that leaves arteries leading to the lungs scarred or blocked due to high blood pressure and can be life threatening. Initially, we had hope that she would be able to overcome the disease with recommended treatment of anticoagulants and supplemental oxygen therapy. But it soon became clear that a far more complicated treatment would be necessary to alleviate her PAH – a double lung transplant.
After getting over the shock of the news, our family set out to learn as much as we could about transplantation and what it would mean for Maureen. She was put on the donor list in January of 2016 and a match came relatively quickly with an unexpected phone call a month later. My brother rushed her to a Philadelphia hospital and the 15-hour surgery was an initial success. It was a nerve-wracking, yet hopeful, moment. But our optimism was short-lived. Two days after the transplant, infection set in. Later, her body began to reject the transplanted lungs. She did make it home from the hospital after five months, but more complications arose. Within one year, we were told, for a second time, that a double lung transplant would be the only way to save Maureen’s life.
Maureen returned both to the hospital and to the donor list, with the same determination as before. This time, the news of a match came on Halloween. As my brother walked into the hospital, he caught a glimpse of the helicopter landing on its roof and delivering his wife’s new lungs. This time the procedure was a true success. Maureen was home just before New Year’s and we all had many reasons to celebrate. She got another chance at life. We got more time to spend with her in ours.
Maureen is often in my thoughts as I help manage our talented workforce at CSL Behring. It makes me proud to know that some of the people I see around the office are working on potential treatments that may one day help save lives by extending the life of transplanted organs. It’s also heartening to see that my company is an active supporter of the transplant community. In April, we sent a team to the Gift of Life Donor Dash. In July, we sponsored the Transplant Games of America, which brings together recipients and family members of donors. I am grateful to know that CSL Behring’s lifesaving medicines may one day include treatments for before, during and after patients receive transplants.
I am also grateful for the family of the donor who gave Maureen another shot at life. When the time is right, we hope to meet that family and tell them how they helped save a beloved wife, mother, sister, aunt and sister-in-law.
Diane McCabe is a Senior Human Resource Business Partner with CSL Behring in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.