Support is the key to transplant success
Lung transplant doctors say patients need a strong support system to have a successful transplant. Barbara Pease is living proof.
Pease, 66, of Anderson, MO, was desperately ill and in the hospital during most of early 2007, as she waited for a lung transplant at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. But her support team included her husband, Joe, her 87-year-old mother, seven children, 39 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
And the team grew to include other patients either had recently had transplants or were waiting for a transplant, and who stayed with their caregivers at the St. Louis RV park in downtown St. Louis.
Patients on the waiting list for a lung transplant need to be within two hours of the hospital so that they have time to be prepped for surgery when donor lungs become available. After transplant, patients need to stay near the hospital for about three months to undergo rehab, monitor for organ rejection and to adjust their medications.
As a result, many out-of-town patients and their caregivers, such as Pease and her husband, temporarily move to St. Louis when they become sick enough to go on the transplant waiting list. An option for patients who own RVs is to live in the RV park, which is about 10 minutes from the hospital. The patients who live there form a close-knit community.
“They were just like a support group,” Pease said. “They’d be checking in on everybody else, making sure everyone had dinner.”
Pease’s had been a smoker and had worked in chicken houses for several years. But she never had lung problems until she became ill with pneumonia in 1997. She went on oxygen afterwards to help her breathing. She continued to work into 1998 though, until she came down with pneumonia again.
She was diagnosed with emphysema, a progressive lung disease with no cure. Pease saw her family care physician, Dr. Larry Barnes, of Neosho, MO, regularly, and also consulted with a pulmonologist. Her condition steadily worsened.
In 2004, Dr. Barnes brought up the possibility of undergoing a lung transplant. Pease was hesitant at first. The pulmonologist wasn’t convinced that a transplant would extend Pease’s life. But Dr. Barnes disagreed and urged Pease to look into transplant.
After researching lung transplant and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Pease came to St. Louis to be evaluated for transplant in December 2006.
In the coming weeks, her condition deteriorated. In February 2007, Pease had to be admitted to the hospital in Joplin. In March, she and Joe moved to St. Louis. Over the next two months, she spent most of her time in Barnes-Jewish. The lung transplant community at the RV park supported Joe and their children who took turns coming to St. Louis to visit.
In May 2007, at 6 a.m. the day after Mother’s Day, Pease lay in a hospital bed when she was awakened by a commotion out in the hall. Her nurse burst into the room saying, “Mrs. Pease, are you ready for your new lungs?”
She received her lung transplant later that day.
Although she was sore and a little scared to get out of bed after surgery, her breathing was better. Within a few days, she was walking the halls of the hospital with some help. Within three weeks, she was out of the hospital. Three months later, she and her husband headed back to Anderson.
Since then, said Pease, life has been good.
“I’m home, I do housework. I babysit,” she said. Life is normal, although a broken leg she suffered in May sidetracked her for a while.
She sees Dr. Barnes for most of her care. In addition to taking medication every day to keep her body from rejecting her new lungs, she has blood drawn about every six weeks and receives an infusion of IV anti-rejection drugs.
“Dr. Barnes watches me pretty closely,” she said.
Pease is now a big supporter of organ transplant and organ donation. All she knows about her lung donor is that he was a teenage boy. Pease said she thinks everyday about the family that made the decision to donate their son’s organs and gives thanks.
“I thank God every day that I got it done,” she said.
For additional information or to begin a transplant evaluation, call