North Carolina girl beats the odds
April Cogdell, 18, from Bunker Hill High School, gets help from her mother, Sherry, during a cap and gown fitting.
CONOVER - April Cogdell has fought her body to get this far in life. Graduation from Bunker Hill High School on Saturday will mean a few more steps on an incredible journey.
The 18-year-old was born with cystic fibrosis and underwent a double-lung transplant 10 months ago. Cogdell didn't show symptoms of the disease until she was 5.
Her mother initially thought Cogdell had allergies or asthma. She'd had bad coughs, mucus, bronchial infections and polyps in her nose — a key symptom of cystic fibrosis. Cogdell's doctor told her to have a sweat test done at the hospital.
"If you have cystic fibrosis, your sweat has more salt in it," Cogdell said.
Two tests at an area hospital yielded negative results. The doctor urged Cogdell to go to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to get the test done. When she did, Cogdell's results were off the chart.
She was in and out of the hospital occasionally the next few years, usually when pollen was bad. For a few years, Cogdell didn't need to go to the hospital at all. She participated in dance and tumbling.
However, the older she got, the worse her cystic fibrosis became, as well.
Every day, twice a day, Cogdell had to hook herself up to a machine for 30 minutes to improve her breathing. The machine restricted her travel, because Cogdell had to haul it around with her.
"Unless we were going somewhere by car, we really couldn't travel anywhere," she said.
Then, in October 2008, Cogdell had her first collapsed lung. In December, it collapsed again. Cogdell was on oxygen at night from October 2008 through May 2009. She was allowed to go to school only if there was an oxygen tank available for her, in case she needed it.
After May, Cogdell deteriorated, and was placed on oxygen 24 hours a day.
"In June, I was with my friends and I coughed. When I did, I felt something pop," Cogdell said. "I could only breathe if I leaned over on my pillow."
A month later, on July 21, Cogdell and her mother were staying in an apartment in Durham for pulmonary rehabilitation. Again, she started to feel bad.
On Aug. 2, Cogdell's health took a turn for the worse.
On Aug. 2, Cogdell's health took a turn for the worse.
"I took a bath and laid down on the bed. I decided that I needed to go to the hospital. I was too weak to walk down the stairs. My boyfriend had to carry me," Cogdell said. "At the hospital, they said my right lung was expanded and so full of air that it was putting pressure on my heart."
Doctors at Duke University Medical Center said she needed an immediate double-lung transplant. Cogdell's need was so dire she was moved to the top of the transplant list. On Aug. 6 at 1:30 a.m., Cogdell was taken into surgery for a transplant. Seven hours later, she had new lungs.
She had to have a vocal cord implant, as well. Because she needed a ventilator for so long, it damaged her vocal cords.
While in the hospital recovering, Cogdell had time on her hands. She had a clinic appointment every week and rehab for several hours a week. However, Cogdell also wanted to keep up with her classmates in school. She spent her extra time with a teacher who helped students in the hospital. She took classes, including U.S. history, honors English and honors anatomy and physiology.
When Cogdell returned home to Conover in November, she was continued her subjects at home until she could return to Bunker Hill for the second semester in January.
"It felt really good to be back, when everyone was changing classes," Cogdell said. "I was a regular high school senior again. I missed homecoming, but I didn't miss prom."
Cogdell said she has no regrets about what happened.
"I would have a lung transplant all over again," she said.
Because of the transplant, Cogdell is currently cystic fibrosis-free in her lungs, although the disease still affects the rest of her body.
Cogdell graduates Saturday a member of Bunker Hill's Beta club as well as an honor graduate. She also has a medal for being a North Carolina Scholar. She said she worked hard to get where she is.
"I had determination. I wanted to graduate with my friends and I didn't want to stay an extra year," Cogdell said.
She plans to go to UNC-Greensboro this fall to become a nurse.
"I want to be hands-on with the patients," Cogdell said.
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