I am Humbled by the Gift of Life
Reflections on receiving a lung transplant:
In late autumn 2004, I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. This typically fatal restrictive lung disease involves the progressive scarring and subsequent stiffening of the lung which causes breathing to become increasingly more difficult. Although I became tearful when I heard the diagnosis that I would live for only three to five more years – in that moment the time span appeared to be lengthy.
Months passed, and I worked vigorously to remain healthy. My entrepreneurial skills and creativity helped to build a fledgling fiber art business while two preschool-aged grandchildren were a playful diversion from the stark reality of my illness. Despite being on disability from my full time counseling position at a major university, I was able to live a relatively normal life. I did not look sick; my disease was “invisible.” My resilience and strength had not yet been sapped.
In the summer of 2010, my disease was moving rapidly. To breathe, I required an exceptionally large amount of oxygen – four liters – all day every day. The equipment was heavy, cumbersome, and all too necessary. I was dependent on it to breathe. I would pass the large antique mirror in the front hall of my home in central Ohio, look at myself in the glass, and quickly turn my head away, for I did not like what I was seeing: a seemingly permanent oxygen cannula delicately inserted into my nose. I would fall asleep each night wondering what daily tasks would be snatched away as I lay sleeping. It became increasingly frustrating to complete even basic daily tasks: laundry, grocery shopping, and caring for my house and garden. Even taking a shower and washing my hair was a challenge.
It was difficult to accept that I was dying and that I had limited control over my health. I used portable oxygen regularly. It felt awkward and cumbersome. More poignantly, the oxygen was a visible acknowledgement of my progressing disease. In late August, 2010, following completion of the testing and evaluation, I was placed on the UNOS transplant waiting list.
I live each day feeling such gratitude for the gift of the day. Diane
My thoughts frequently turned to my impending death, unwritten obituary, and unplanned funeral – and apparently I wasn’t the only one contemplating these issues. As my son, Andrew, and I were having lunch at the Cleveland Clinic in August, he courageously blurted out, “What kind of a funeral do you want, Mom?” I was stunned with the question and I struggled with tears in my eyes to answer. As an active Episcopalian, all I could say was, “Formal and I want everyone to be treated with respect.”
I was haunted by thoughts of what I had to teach my son and what I wanted my two young grandchildren to know about me before I died. The philosophy of never giving up was an important life lesson to be passed on to all three. I thought this would be my spiritual gift to them. My mother, who had died ten years earlier, left me with memories of never complaining as she battled multiple illnesses. My father (still living) had always been a determined and, in truth, stubborn soul. These qualities were natural and effortless for me; I had known them and seen them demonstrated in many forms all my life.
On the evening of October 9, 2010, while accompanying a friend to his 50th class reunion party, I received “the call” that a probable lung was available. Later that evening as we drove to Cleveland, I became aware for the first time that it was now time to begin to contemplate how I would spend the magnificent gift of life which I was about to be given by an unknown donor.
Within minutes of arriving at the hospital, feeling both overwhelmed and numb, I was wheeled away on a gurney through double doors to begin the six hour surgery. On the tenth day of the tenth month of the tenth year of the 21st century, I was about to become one of 1771 most fortunate people in this country to receive a lung transplant. Days later I discovered the person who had given me a right lung had also donated a left lung and two additional organs. The left lung was given to another 68-year-old woman from a small Ohio town. She had been on the UNOS list for only ten days! The two lung transplant surgeries occurred simultaneously in adjacent operating rooms. Both my family and the other lung transplant recipient’s family were in the waiting room at the same time and they even had the opportunity to meet and visit with each other. Amazingly, she and I had adjacent rooms on the hospital transplant floor and have enjoyed similar, rather rapid and uneventful recoveries.
Learning to live with a chronic illness has in many ways freed me to live my life feeling such gratitude for each new day. I am truly humbled by the gift of life. This alone inspires me to be worthy of the trust placed in me by God to use this precious gift with the utmost integrity.
I live each day feeling such gratitude for the gift of the day, whether I am working as a counselor, enjoying lunch or dinner with friends, working out, marketing my soon-to-be published book, “Humbled by the Gift of Life, Reflections on Receiving a Lung Transplant,” planning a next fiber art project or enjoying time with my grandchildren and family. I am hopeful in the next year as my life has stabilized, to begin travel, returning to places which I love and exploring new destinations.