Sunday, November 22, 2009

Surprise lung transplant gives mom renewed hope

By BARBARA TURNBULL Staff Reporter - The Toronto Star

"Be brave. Even when you are scared. Be Brave. Whatever it is, you can do it. Manage it. Overcome it."

– Natalia Ritchie

Just weeks ago, John Boguslawski was stoically waiting for his sister Natalia Ritchie, 30, to die of cystic fibrosis, the disease that was gradually destroying her lungs.

"I like it that there's an end to the road," he said then in a Star story on her harrowing ordeal. "I know that sounds cruel ... if she gets the lungs, this gets better. If she doesn't ... she goes and she doesn't have to continue (the fight)."

But on Saturday night he was Tweeting relatives and friends that Ritchie, the mother of a 4-month-old daughter, Scarlett, was about to undergo a 10-hour double lung transplant at Toronto General Hospital, giving her a new lease on a life.

"We just found out that the transplant is a go!!!" Boguslawski wrote on Ritchie's blog, Journey of a Lifetime, at 5:49 p.m. Saturday. "Please say a prayer for the family of the donor, someone just made the ultimate gift, but had to pay for it with his/her life."

Word of a possible transplant came around noon Saturday, three months, two weeks and a day after Ritchie was placed on the transplant list. Just days ago, her condition was so tenuous that doctors had placed her on a Novalung, a cutting-edge machine that oxygenates her blood and acts as an artificial organ, and can serve as a bridge to transplant when a situation is at its most critical.

"The surgery is going ahead. The lungs were deemed to be good and it should take about 10 hours," Boguslawski emailed triumphantly as surgeons prepared for the operation.

It is another chapter in what Ritchie herself has described as, "More than anything ... the story of great hope."

Last month, when she could still speak, Ritchie spoke of her hopes, and the knowledge that, whatever lies ahead, it won't be easy.

"If we get an extra five years or 15 years, those are going to be good years," she said then, filled with the hope conveyed by her medical team. "We're committed to making sure I get out of here in good form."

But, just in case, Ritchie has also spent hours writing her 4-month-old baby – born to a surrogate in July – telling Scarlett in words she cannot yet comprehend just how hard her mom is fighting to see her grow up.

"I have been thinking about how I can possibly write to you, about you, about us, when you are so tiny and brand new, knowing that you will read this when you are so much older," Ritchie wrote in one post.

"It's a funny thing. But I think about you in the future often, and think about what I will say to you when you're 5, 15, 25 ... I want to be there to say the things that I want you to know, but I might not be."

Last night Ritchie and her medical team took a giant step on the road to making possible that wish, to speak to her daughter years from now, to demonstrate that the power of love can sometimes vanquish even the worst of the body's betrayals.

But it won't be easy. Ritchie herself forecast the difficulties ahead.

"I want to do everything possible to protect this child from harm," she blogged last December of Scarlett, then still a dream for herself and husband Martin.

"Yet I know that my reality is theirs," Ritchie confessed.

"I know that they will always know more about illness, hospitals, IVs, infection, transplant, and the tough part of life than many of their friends.

"Yet I'd like to think that our little baby will also know so much love! They will see human will and the power of hope and determination. The power of faith and the power of family. The power of medicine, and our belief in it. The power of the country that we live in that makes sure I am as well as I can be.

"I could go on, and sometimes I do, to help myself overcome the fears that I have otherwise," Ritchie confessed.

She's already had a foretaste of what life, post-surgery, could turn out to be like.

In September, shortly after Scarlett's birth, Ritchie blogged of the joys of motherhood.

"I can sit her up on my leg and it's so nice for me! I can actually hold her without getting breathless."

Read her blog at:

Follow her brother on Twitter

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