Monday, March 02, 2009

A lung's lease on life

Lacey, New Jersey man recovers from double lung transplant

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Andrew Penna Jr. was so weakened by his emphysema-plagued lungs that he couldn't even shower without assistance.

"There was so many everyday living things that I couldn't do," said Penna, of the Forked River section of Lacey. "It was so difficult for me. Everything was a struggle. When you can't breathe, it's a really miserable existence."

Penna's prayers for a better life were answered on Jan. 25 when he had a successful double lung transplant at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, performed by the team of Dr. Lawrence McBride, Dr. Sean Studer and Dr. Christine Migliore.

Newark Beth Israel is the only hospital in the state that performs the procedure, and Penna was the fifth person in the state to have it done.

"I feel like I have been reborn, like a new person has come out of my body and taken over," Penna said. "I get all choked up when I think of what those doctors did for me."

Penna now must undergo a three-month pulmonary rehabilitation program at Community Medical Center in Toms River. He walks on a treadmill to build up stamina, uses a device called an Ergometer to strengthen his arms and pedals away on a recumbent stepper to keep his leg muscles firm.

Debbie Jeffers, pulmonary rehab coordinator at Community Medical Center, said patients go through the exercises to improve aerobic capacity, strength and endurance.

"We want to keep them working out, because if they just sit around after surgery, they become deconditioned," Jeffers said.

Penna was on the lung donor list for just three months before a suitable match was found. Eileen Garrity of Forked River hasn't been so lucky.

When her lungs collapsed in December 2007, she was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for surgery. She is waiting patiently for either a single lung replacement, or a double.

My left lung is worse than my right one because of radiation for breast cancer," said Garrity, 64. "I have a lot of faith. God didn't bring me this far between breast cancer and this (emphysema) to just drop me on my head now."

Garrity said she smoked cigarettes for 45 years, and a lot of what she is going through now is "self-inflicted."

"Let's be honest: nonsmokers are higher up on the donor list," Garrity said. "I am moving up the list slowly and hoping and praying. I am also going to sign up for the donor list at Newark Beth Israel, which will give me two chances to go along with my donor list at the University of Pennsylvania."

Penna, who smoked cigarettes for 15 years, said his goal at the end of rehabilitation is to walk the entire length of the Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk.

"This rehab is really stimulating my lungs," Penna said. "When I am not here, I try to do a lot of walking. They tell me walking is great to build up your stamina. One day, I am going to finish that walk on the boardwalk. You just wait and see."

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