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Miracle transplant saves Fleming Island woman's life

8:05 AM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A Fleming Island woman receives a miracle transplant at the Mayo Clinic when she found a lung match from a donor down the hallway.

"A miracle upon miracles that all lined up perfectly for me and thank God for that donor or I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you today," said Shirley Thompson, a double lung recipient.

Thompson, 48, is breathing today, something we do effortlessly, and is the one thing she never knew she'd have trouble with before she was diagnosed with Pulmonary Artery Hypertension, a disease that creates high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs and can lead to heart failure.

"The first thing I did was Google it, which is the worst thing you can do because it gives you the worst case scenario," said Thompson.

That was in March of 2012, but her disease was under control until she went into a hysterectomy surgery in October. Her disease progressed quickly after surgery and she went into respiratory and cardiac failure.

"It became obvious that if a solution wasn't found relatively fast, she was not going to survive," said Dr. Cesar Keller, Medical Director of the Lung Transplant Program at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.

Dr. Keller had to put Thompson in a medically induced coma to stabilize her with a ventilator and maintain her vital signs. Within 48 hours, she was placed on a waiting list for a double lung transplant. And only by what can be described as a miracle, there was a match within four days and right down the hall.

"Actually the donor, by pure coincidence was in the same unit," said Dr. Keller.

A patient on the same floor had passed away and happened to be an organ donor. The miracle is that the donor's lungs were a perfect match for Thompson.

When Thompson woke up four weeks later, she had no idea she had a double lung transplant and open heart surgery.

"I had to learn how to walk again. I couldn't move so that was pretty scary," said Thompson.

She went into the hospital October 22 for an overnight hysterectomy and left December 11th with a new pair of lungs. A terrifying journey for her husband and two children, ages 19 and 29, who were told many times to say goodbye. But Dr. Keller says this was a miracle and a case with a happy ending.

"I've also been on the sad situation that sometimes similar cases, we work very hard, we line up for transplant and then the donor just never comes soon enough and that's unfortunately the reality for a lot of people. There is always a much larger amount of people waiting for donors that the number of donors available," added Dr. Keller.

In Florida, the average wait time for a lung transplant is seven months. Dr. Keller said in some cases, patients even wait a year to two years for a donor match.

First for you, click here if you'd like to sign up to be an organ donor.  

First Coast News

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