Double-Lung Transplant Breathes New Life Into Cystic Fibrosis Patient
Though the prospect of a double-lung transplant sounded terrifying to Julie Hendrickson, she was even more frightened by her doctor’s diagnosis that without the transplant, there was an 80% chance that she might only have five more years to live. The cystic fibrosis that plagued Julie’s lungs and pancreas with thick, sticky mucus is a life-threatening, genetic disease that severely reduced Julie’s lung capacity. She required oxygen at all times, which tethered her to an oxygen machine, and experienced frequent infections which resulted in being admitted to the hospital for two-week stays every other month. As a new mother to twin boys, the disease made caring for her babies especially difficult. “I couldn’t get up during the night with my boys. My husband had to get up every night,” Julie says. “I had to get my rest to heal, and I couldn’t be sick.”
Julie followed her doctor’s counsel and underwent testing to determine her eligibility for a new pair of lungs. The tests were successful and her name was added to the lung transplant waiting list. She met with University of Utah Health Care’s Lung Transplant Team that included her surgeon, Craig Selzman M.D., and her doctor, Barbara Cahill, M.D., as well as a pharmacist and a social worker. Six weeks later, on March 6, 2011, Julie got the call that her new lungs were ready for her and she went in for surgery. The new lungs were a perfect fit and Julie healed rapidly, leaving the hospital after just nine days. “I consider myself quite lucky,” says Julie, noting that it “was pretty remarkable” to be out of the hospital so quickly.
The lung transplant has drastically improved Julie’s lung function. Before the surgery, a pulmonary function test revealed that her total lung capacity was around 40%. Now, post-surgery, it’s up to 90%. Julie cares for her lungs by taking anti-rejection medication, participating in physical therapy three times a week, and working closely with Cahill. Julie says of Cahill, “I feel comfortable with her. I feel like she knows what she’s doing. She has a dedication to her patients and her work, and I feel like she really cares.”
Just four weeks after the surgery, Julie asked her physical therapist if she could start running. Julie’s physical therapist replied that she hadn’t been asked that question so soon after a transplant before. After consulting with Selzman and Cahill, Julie was allowed to run, and now runs a mile every other day. “It’s just a blessing that I can do that,” Julie says, “because before it was just so hard!” In addition to running as part of her physical therapy, Julie is also able to go hiking and golfing—activities she wasn’t able to participate in before. Everyday activities like keeping up with her twins, now three-year old toddlers, are also easier. “The transplant has changed my life,” she says, “I feel essentially like a normal person. I feel like things have gone really smoothly and I would recommend University of Utah Hospital to anybody.”
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