When Marcie Barton was hospitalized with pneumonia in 2018, she assumed she would quickly recover and get back to living her life. Barton is a busy mom of three—two boys and one girl—and she also works as a teacher’s aide in a special education class at an elementary school near her home in Cody, Wyoming.
Unfortunately, nearly a year after being released from the hospital, Barton had not fully recovered and was struggling to breathe.
“It got to the point where I was walking from the kitchen to the living room and was out of breath,” Barton said. “I decided it was probably time to go and see my primary care doctor.”
Barton’s doctor ordered some tests and referred her to a pulmonologist, who prescribed an inhaler and a few other medications. After several months of treatment, nothing seemed to help.
The results of a lung biopsy showed inflammation in her lungs.
“My doctor decided I was likely dealing with silent aspiration in my lungs,” she said. “I went to see a GI doctor, and they also found that I had a hiatal hernia.”
Gastric bypass surgery was proposed to fix the hernia and help Barton get to a healthier weight.
I was right on the border of qualifying for the surgery, so we decided to go for it. My pulmonologist was hopeful that in the months following surgery my lungs would start healing and the inflammation would go away.
Instead of improving, Barton’s health continued to deteriorate. She decided it was time to get a second opinion. With family in Utah, it made sense to get a referral to a pulmonologist at University of Utah Hospital.
“When I met with the pulmonologist at the U, they told me that they would have done everything that had been done up to that point,” Barton said. “They switched up a few of my medications and we tried that for six months.”
In August 2021, Barton’s pulmonologist referred her to the lung transplant team at University of Utah Health.
“Nothing was working,” Barton said. “I had to get back on oxygen again.”
In November 2021, Barton hit a low point. Her body was working so hard to breathe that she lost a substantial amount of weight. At her lowest, she weighed in at just 109 pounds. To qualify for surgery, she would have to gain at least 20 pounds in order to survive the surgery.
“I had to have a feeding tube put in,” she said.
A few months later, Barton hit her weight gain goal. In February 2022, she was notified that she qualified for a double lung transplant and would be put on the wait list as soon as she could relocate to Utah. The next month, she left Wyoming for Utah to live with her husband’s brother and sister-in-law. She immediately started monthly visits with the transplant team and pulmonary rehab twice a week.
Less than eight weeks after being put on the list, Barton got the call. The surgery was a go.
My sister was at the hospital with me when we first met Dr. Selzman. She was so excited, she asked if she could give him a hug. We were so overwhelmed and grateful that the surgery was going to happen.
For Barton, it didn’t come a moment too soon.
“I knew if I didn’t end up qualifying for a transplant, or if it didn’t work, I would be leaving behind three children and a husband,” Barton said. “I felt like this was my last chance to be a better mom, a better wife, to be more myself, and to be able to do the things I wanted to do.”
After surgery, Barton was only in the hospital for eight days—almost half the time of the typical hospital stay after a double lung transplant. Soon after, she began a rigorous pulmonary therapy program to help condition her lungs and train her muscles. Normally, patients do pulmonary therapy three days a week for 10–12 weeks and are then given exercises to do on their own.
Barton continued to track ahead of schedule and graduated early from therapy. She was also ready to move home to Wyoming three months earlier than planned.
“The team told me to plan on staying in Utah for at least six months after surgery,” she said. “But I came home in August, right before the 90-day mark. I was able to go to all of my boys’ football games and all of my daughter’s basketball games. It’s been pretty amazing.”
Even though she’s home, Barton continues working hard to improve her overall health. She works out three to four days a week for 90 minutes and frequently walks her dogs around the lake near her home.
“My recovery has been amazing, with hardly any ups and downs,” she said. “I was admitted to the hospital once after surgery, but other than that I’ve been doing great.”
In March 2023, Barton went back to work full-time. Her students immediately noticed how far she has come since surgery.
“When I first came back to work at the school, the kids were asking me why I look so different,” she said. “It’s because I’m not sick anymore.”
In between work and spending time with her husband and three children, Barton continues to come to Utah for regular follow-up appointments.
Matthew Morrell, MD, one of Barton’s transplant pulmonologists, has witnessed her transformation at her follow-up appointments.
Overall, Marcie is doing exceptionally well since her surgery. At the time of transplant, she was on oxygen all the time and was very limited. Now she’s grasped her new future by the horns and has quickly gotten back to her life. It’s been really inspiring.
Since she hit the one-year anniversary of her surgery in March 2023, she now visits every three months. Eventually, she will only have to visit Utah once a year for follow-up. Not that she minds coming back to see her care team.
“My experience with everyone at the University of Utah has been amazing,” she said. “The care just went above and beyond. I felt like the surgeon, the nurses, my doctors—really everyone there—knew who I was and truly cared about me. Now they’re almost like a part of my family.”
Even more important than the care she received is what it means for her future.
“The best part is having my life back,” she said. “I have energy to go to work, exercise, and go to my kids’ activities. I feel like myself again, and I’m no longer tethered to an oxygen tank and so tired that I can’t be there for my family.”
The most important thing of all, however, is the ability to breathe.
“The day they took me off the ventilator was pretty amazing,” Barton said. “I could breathe. That was the best feeling ever. I had been sick for so long; I don’t think I realized how bad I really felt when I was at my sickest point.”
Barton is also excited to be a champion for organ donation.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my donor,” she said. “It’s an amazing blessing you are able to give somebody else—a real second chance at life.”
Written by Katie Cummock