Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lung recipient says my life is "really, really good"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Woman’s ‘good life’ is all relevant

By Dianne Williamson, Worcester, MA

Maryanne Jackson and her son David were 30 miles outside Buffalo yesterday, cruising in David’s Toyota Corolla with the radio off, talking about grandchildren, summer jaunts, and real estate.

“We’re making plans,” David said happily.

For much of Ms. Jackson’s adult life, plans were a luxury reserved for others. It was 1989 when the mother of two was diagnosed with a life-threatening, incurable lung disease that robbed her of the ability to do the simplest things — travel, take walks, even breathe. An oxygen tank was her constant companion, along with a fear that she wouldn’t live long enough to see her new grandson grow.

One year ago, I told you Ms. Jackson’s story. How she and her husband of 20 years divorced four months after her diagnosis. How she picked herself off the floor and got her first full-time job at age 42. How, in 1995, illness forced Ms. Jackson to sell her beloved home near Tatnuck Square and move to a subsidized apartment in Westboro.

Despite everything, she managed to maintain the optimism and sunny disposition that earned her an army of devoted friends.

“I had two choices,” she told me last February. “I could either lie down and die, or get back on my feet … But I have a good life.”

Today, she has a better one. A year ago she was on the waiting list for a double lung transplant; yesterday, she and her son were headed to the Cleveland Clinic so doctors could check on the healthy pair of lungs she received in November.

“It was a very hard process,” Ms. Jackson said. “But the doctors called it a textbook perfect transplant, and I’m getting stronger every day.”

The illness is called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, a genetic disorder in which a protein that helps protect the lungs can’t get into the bloodstream. Last year, the Cleveland Clinic put her on the waiting list for a double transplant and prepared a Lear jet to pick her up at Worcester Regional Airport.

Last May, the first call came. Ms. Jackson was flown to the clinic and prepped for surgery, but the lungs weren’t viable. On Nov. 9, however, she flew back to Ohio and underwent a successful transplant with lungs from a young girl who Ms. Jackson believes died in a car accident. After a year she can learn the identity of the donor if she’s willing, Ms. Jackson said.

In December, while recuperating in Cleveland, Ms. Jackson’s mother died and she was unable to come home for the funeral. Ms. Jackson was born on her mother’s birthday, Feb. 11, and she just turned 62. With the transplant, doctors said she has a 47 percent chance of living five years, although many patients live longer than that.

But it’s the quality of her new life that she marvels at.

“I can hold my grandson,” she said. “I can take a shower without suffocating. I can take a walk. I couldn’t do anything before. There’s not one special thing that I want to do. I just want to have regular days like a normal person.”

Yesterday, her son David was at the wheel for the 10-hour drive to Cleveland. Sons David and Paul have stayed by her side throughout the medical odyssey. David’s son, Cale, is one year old; Paul is expecting his first child in June.

“It’s like I have my mother back,” David said. “A month ago she picked up Cale and it was amazing to see how he cuddled right up to her.”

David doesn’t mind the long drive. He and his mom have talked about the summer trip the family will take to Maine. They talk about children and grandchildren. David told her that he and his wife want to find a home with an in-law apartment, so Ms. Jackson can move in with them. He said he wouldn’t trade the drive for a first-class seat on a luxury jet, because it allows him to reconnect with the woman who overcame enormous challenges to give him and his brother a normal life.

“You know that T-shirt that says, ‘Life is Good?” Ms. Jackson asked. “Well, my life is really, really good. I’m going to have to make a new T-shirt.”

Donations may be sent to the Maryanne Jackson Transplant Fund, Bank of America, 306 Turnpike Road, Westboro, MA 01581.

Merv's note: Maryanne Jackson, when faced with adversity, said “I had two choices, I could either lie down and die, or get back on my feet … But I have a good life.” I highly recommend an amazing video of someone who was faced with unimaginable obstacles but through sheer willpower and a determination to never give up and make the best of what life handed him, succeeded in overcoming his adversity. click here to view

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