Monday, June 23, 2008

About Me...Part IV and Final Post

It was Sunday night before the transplant. I was really sick, and didn't know much of what was going on around me. I remember my Dad and brother coming up to see me that night, but that was it. I don't remember anything from that point forward. Evidently, the decision was made to precede with the living donor transplant. Although my parents claim they told me about it, I have no memory of that and seriously had no idea I was about to be transplanted. I think this was another blessing from God, as I didn't have to worry or experience anxiety like most everyone would before a major surgery like this. God held my hand through this and took all the pain away. The doctors "gave" me just a few days to live, so in order to save my life, this is what had to be done. On Monday, things kept getting worse, and my CF doctor decided that I needed to go ahead and be put on the ventilator. The transplant was scheduled for Wednesday morning at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. I would fly by MedJet Tuesday morning along with my Mom and my other donor. My Dad would fly out there with our back-up donor, and my donor's brother, would fly out as well.

On Monday, my mom and my other donor had to undergo numerous tests at UAB, so a nurse and close friend stayed with me Monday. My CF doctor came in to discuss putting me on the ventilator and told me that about 50% of CF patients who go on the ventilator are not able to come back off of it. My response to that (as I was told...remember I have no recollection of this)was "That means that 50% DO come off of it, right?). I held my CF Dr's hand as they took me down to ICU and prepared me for the ventilator. My Dr. let me use his cell phone (or someones..not sure who's it was) to call my Mom, who was at UAB at this time. My Dad was preparing for the trip to California (there was a lot that needed to be arranged). I called my Mom and told her "Bye" and that I would see her soon with my new lungs. My Mom said she could hardly hold herself up at that time, being away from me, and knowing that there was a pretty good chance of me not making it through the night.

Tuesday morning came along, and the doctors called my parents early that morning. The plan was for everyone to meet at the airport, but plans changed. They didn't think I was going to be stable enough to transport. My CO2 level had already risen to about 4 times normal and things didn't look good. By the grace of God, things began to stabilize enough and my Dad said that I had never looked so peaceful as I did that morning. At that moment, he knew everything would be ok.

Upon arrival at USC, I was immediately sent to the ICU. Mom and my other donor had to do some more tests to prepare for the next morning. Shortly after arrival at USC, I began to deteriorate and one of the Transplant Nurse Coordinators tracked down my Mom and told her that the only way I was going to live until morning, was to be placed on ECHMO, which is a heart-lung bypass machine. This machine performed every bodily function for me. At this time, my CO2 level was 5 times normal (211). A person with this high of a CO2 level does not live. God helped me hold on until the next morning, February 25th, 2004, and the transplant was a huge success. I was told my lungs crumbled into pieces as they were removed from my body. The surgery definitely had it's worries and concerns. Imagine from my Dad's point of view: his wife, daughter, and best friend all in surgery at the same time, and are running the risk of loosing their lives as well because of the risky surgery. But again, by the Grace of God, everything went smoothly. I made it through the surgery with "flying colors" but I wasn't out of the woods yet. The transplant team expected me to have brain damage, kidney damage, etc., because of the record CO2 level and being placed on ECHMO. Once again, God had a plan for me, and I didn't incur any of those complications.

The recovery process at USC was the most intense and painful experience, both mentally and physically. I stayed on the ventilator for about 4 more days after surgery. As soon as they took the breathing tube out, I realized I could BREATHE...one of the most awesome feelings EVER for a CF patient. Because I was so sick and weak prior to transplant, and with the addition of paralytic drugs, I was completely paralyzed afterwards. I couldn't move any part of my body by myself. This was the most frustrating thing, as I depended on everyone to do everything for me. My arms were so swollen and filled with fluid, they were too heavy for me to lift them up on my own (same goes for the feet/legs). About 2 weeks after transplant, I began to experience stomach issues. I ended up having an intestinal blockage, which required immediate surgery. This was performed about 1 month after the transplant, and in my opinion, was some of the worst pain ever experienced, even more than the transplant.

Because I was paralyzed, I had to re-learn how to walk again (yes..not just strength but even the technique of walking). It took a long time before I could feed or bathe myself. Because of the lengthy and painful recovery process it was hard for me to realize I was improving. But I did, each and every day. We had millions of people praying for us, and an awesome team of surgeons, doctors, physical therapists, etc. at USC. I didn't think it was possible for me to walk again. But then again, God proved me wrong.

I spent 3 months in California, before returning home to Birmingham. I missed every one at home so so much, especially my brother. It was a truly hard experience but I wouldn't trade it for anything. And if you don't call this a miracle from God, then I'm not sure how you explain it. I truly am a miracle from God and are alive today to share this with others and continue to glorify him in everything I do. As of right now, I was the sickest patient USC has ever transplanted, and had a record CO2 level that anyone at USC, Children's and UAB had ever seen.

Currently, I'm doing pretty well. I have had my share of post-transplant complications in addition to several other things. But transplant complications are so much different that what CF patients experience, and in my opinion, are far easier to deal with. I will post about some of those issues with the next day or so.

2 comments:

Katelyn said...

Katey,
I found your blog through Nate's CF Husband blog! I am about to turn 23 and I have CF and I am trying to finish college too. I hope that we keep in touch through the blogger world!
www.katelynharlow.blogspot.com

Jennifer said...

I also found your blog through Nate's blog. Reading your history was hard! It reminds me that all of us CFers have pretty major stories, and yours was (and is) pretty amazing.