East Wenatchee woman receives new set of lungs

For the rest of her life, she faces the possibility that her body could start rejecting her transplant.

By Tony Buhr / The Wenatchee World

EAST WENATCHEE — After several years of waiting, Caroline David has a new set of lungs.

David, 56, underwent surgery for a double lung transplant in March in Phoenix and is now recovering and doing quite well, she said Tuesday. She was diagnosed in 2016 with pulmonary fibrosis, a condition where her lungs were covered in scar tissue and decreased in size.

“There’s so many emotions, because while it is life changing for us and joyous, the donor family is dealing with their grief,” David said, her voice breaking with emotion.

In 2019, David and her sister Donna Taylor were working to raise money for David’s $1 million lung transplant. David’s insurance would cover the cost of most of the surgery, but they also faced expenses for David’s recovery.

David would need to live near the hospital where the transplant took place for a while, due to the need for repeated check-ups, she said. They tried to raise about $50,000 and got $26,000, she said on Tuesday.

David thanks the members of the community who supported her including co-workers, family and organizations.

The original plan was for David to get her lung transplant at the University of Washington, but after two years on the waitlist for an operation, she decided to look elsewhere. The lung transplant might not have taken place if it wasn’t for COVID-19.

“When COVID hit I started working from home and I had been on the list with University of Washington in September of 2020 for two years,” David said. “I decided that since my employer had us working from home remotely anyway I thought this is my opportunity to look at other programs.”

David’s ability to do her job from several states away allowed her to check out the program at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center — Dignity Health in Phoenix, she said. The medical center has a larger pool of potential donors and so the chance of getting an organ was higher.

David was accepted into St. Joseph’s lung transplant program in November, she said. On March 11, she got a call that they had a pair of lungs for her and went in to prep for surgery.

“Only to find out that the lungs weren’t viable,” David said. “With lung transplants, the lungs are very fragile. And sometimes when they retrieve them or during transport, something happens.”

Then the next Monday, David got the call again, she said. She came in prepped for surgery and this time the lungs were good.

“You never know until you wake up and have all that equipment and stuff attached to you that it’s actually happened,” David said.

David is still in Phoenix and plans to remain there for the following year as she undergoes testing to make sure her body doesn’t reject her lungs, she said. It is too far from Washington state to return home and come back every few months.

In the first year, doctors are able to stop most types of rejection, which is where the body’s immune system attacks a person’s lungs.

“Once you go beyond that year point it is considered chronic rejection and some they can treat, some it’s something you have to live with and could potentially lead to an additional transplant,” David said.

For the rest of her life, David faces the possibility that her body could start rejecting her transplant, she said. She will have to take immune suppressing medication to prevent her new lungs from being rejected.

So far everything has been going well, except she is experiencing altitude sickness at above 7,000 feet, David said. She found this out when taking a trip to Colorado after the surgery.

“My right diaphragm is a little elevated and it is not moving quite the way it should,” she said. “So it is keeping my right lung from fully expanding and filling.”

It should eventually resolve itself, though, David said.

When David gets back to Washington one of the first things she wants to do is go on a hike, she said. She discovered she had pulmonary fibrosis when hiking up to Clara and Marion lakes at Mission Ridge in 2016.

“I went up to do it with some friends one morning and we got up to Pipeline and I was like, ‘I’m just not feeling right, something’s wrong,’” David said.

Now with a new set of lungs, she’ll be able to return to the trails she loves.

“I’d love to get up to Saddle Rock, I haven’t been up there in years,” she said.

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