Thus began a journey that ultimately would take Mary, a retired forensic accountant, to Shands at the University of Florida for a rare double-lung transplant. Mary and husband Billâ€”twice chairman of the Bethesda Hospital Foundation and a founding member of both the Drug Abuse Foundation in Delray Beach and The Haven in Bocaâ€”share excerpts of that journey in the Our Town section of May/June issue of Boca Raton. Here is the complete transcript of that story.
Mary: My whole life I have worked at looking good. Itâ€™s like Billy Crystal used to say: Itâ€™s better to look good than feel good. I donâ€™t understand young people walking around like slobs. How long can it take to look presentable? Have a little pride!
Bill: With Mary, everything is black or white. A shovel, to her, isnâ€™t an â€œagricultural tool.â€ I knew she had the perseverance and strength of mind to whip this.
Mary: The doctors put me on Prednisone, which kept me alive for the next eight years. But early on, they told me I had to be on oxygen. It was in a container that I could throw over my shoulder. I was embarrassed. It took me a few months to get over it, but Iâ€™m not one to sit home. Finally, I walked into the front door of our club, held my head up and said, â€œHere I am.â€ Thatâ€™s what you have to do. You have to face life head on. If you do, itâ€™s amazing what you can accomplish.
Mary: Vera Bradley makes these elegant looking backpacks. I bought every color they had, and I would hook the oxygen tank into the Vera Bradley. I could match all my outfits.
Bill: When weâ€™d go dancing, Iâ€™d sometimes have to hold the bag because sheâ€™d turn so fast on the dance floor and that tank would swing. That thing was dangerous.
Mary: I found a pulmonologist at Shands. In 2009, she told me that I needed the transplant to stay alive. I was a little overweight at the time, so they asked me to lose 20 pounds.
Bill: The testing and regimen they put her through was severe. She had to build up her leg strength, for example, because following a transplant the rejection drugs destroy your muscles. She was fit and ready.
Mary: I lived with a terminal condition for nearly 10 years. So Iâ€™d already faced death. To worry about the transplant wouldnâ€™t have been productive. If I had to check out, Iâ€™d check out. You know what was tough? Losing 20 pounds in two months.
Mary: The operation took place Sept. 24, 2009. It lasted seven hours. While I was being prepped, the surgeon was at another hospital in Florida to harvest the lungs. He put them in a cooler, packed it with dry ice, jumped in a helicopter and flew back to Gainesville. ... They cut me from under the armpit, down under both breasts and back up the armpit. They break the sternum and lift it up like a breadbox. Then they attach the new lungs, pop the sternum back down and adhere it with super glue.
Bill: It was surgical glue. People are going to think that your chest is held in place by Elmerâ€™s Glue.
Mary: They took me off supplemental oxygen after three days. Those lungs had to go to work. ... After 10 days, my oxygen levels werenâ€™t where they were supposed to be. The night nurse told me I was having an anxiety attack. I said, â€˜Young lady, I donâ€™t have anxiety attacks. Thatâ€™s not in my makeup.â€™ ... Turns out I was having a rejection episode, my only one.
Bill: When you have one rejection, chances are high you will have another. Mary hasnâ€™t. She hasnâ€™t missed a dose of any rejection medication. Sheâ€™s followed the book like a trooper.
Mary: Iâ€™ve never been terribly tolerant. Iâ€™m a perfectionist. But I find myself enjoying life moreâ€”and because of that, Iâ€™m kinder to other people than I ever used to be. I think Iâ€™m a better person.
Mary: I donâ€™t know who the donor was. Iâ€™ve written a letter trying to find out. Iâ€™d love to know.