Health Update #2

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Thanksgiving 2017 in the hospital

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I know many of you have wondered where I went. I post a photo to my Instagram account everyday with more frequent updates. You can see my Instagram feed on the right sidebar under my photo. If you click on the picture, it will redirect you there. I am going to try to figure out another way to post the daily updates to my blog so you are notified. But until then here is another health update.

A lot has happened since my last health update. I wrote it all out and realized it was way too long and boring so I’m going to give the short version. I spent 6 weeks in the hospital (with a 2 day break) from October – December. I had sinus surgery, 2 surgeries on my hip, had pneumonia and was in a medically induced coma for 3 days, got rid of the pneumonia, recovered and left the hospital in time to visit the White House. I’ve been feeling really good the last couple of weeks and have been getting out to see friends and have some fun.

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White House Christmas Tour; December 2017

My hip has been the biggest issue. Originally, from MRI scans, my doctors believed I had Avascular Necrosis (AVN or bone death due to lack of blood supply). But we’ve discovered that the bone died because the fungal infection is in the head of my hip bone and has been in the joint fluid surrounding the bone. The infection has likely been there since my transplant or even before, no one knows because I had absolutely no symptoms until March 2017. Then after the washout in March 2017 I had no symptoms until September 2017. During my last hospitalization I had 2 washouts and a large hematoma (accumulation of blood) in my pelvis muscle (SO painful, let me tell you) removed.

Each time they do a surgical washout and put me on an IV antifungal, after stopping the IV antifungal the infection comes back with more force. They need to get this fungus out of my body to prevent it from spreading. And the thing about this fungus is that it is extremely rare. We are talking only 13 reported cases of it in the lungs and a little over 100 reported cases ever. When a doctor hasn’t come across something, they research in medical journals and get information from what other doctors have done. In my situation, there isn’t any of that…so they’ve been working with little to no information. They’re doing an amazing job and they’ve kept the infection confined to my hip.

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Winery fun with friends; January 2018

Yesterday my entire transplant team and orthopedic surgeon met to discuss a plan of action. I was anxiously waiting a call from my infectious disease doctor after the meeting last night. The plan is for me to finish my course of IV antifungal then get another hip aspiration in the beginning of March. (The aspiration only tests the joint fluid. If the fluid is infected that means the fungus has spread from the bone to the joint.) If that comes back clear they are going to put a spacer in. A spacer is a temporary hip replacement that has the IV antifungal stored in it. Slowly, it will release the antifungal directly into my hip. The reasoning behind this is to 1. Get the infected bone out of my body (they cut off the femoral head just like they would in a hip replacement) 2. Make sure the fungus is completely eradicated. I will have that for 4-6 weeks. By the time the spacer is ready to come out it will be April. Then comes the actual hip replacement. I’m seeing my orthopedic surgeon on Monday for more information about the spacer and hip replacement so that’s all the information I have for now.

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Eating a beignet at Bayou Bakery in Arlington, VA

I’m not gonna lie, on the phone with my infection disease doctor, Dr. K, and after we hung up, I cried. Why? Because I am missing my best friends Bachelorette party, plans to visit my brother in Boston and aunt in Colorado. My life is again being put on hold and plans cancelled. It was hard to hear and very upsetting. But I know in my heart that this is the right plan. I know this fungus needs to get out of my body and I’m not going to risk it spreading (and risk my life if it does). It really sucks but I let out all of my tears last night and I’m ready for what’s to come. I’m going to stay positive and find things to keep me busy. Before I know it, I will be walking with my new hip this spring. I’ll be OK…I have been until now after all.

My Mom is Simply Amazing

Mom1November is National Caregivers Month so I thought this was the right time to post about a very special person, my mom. I don’t even know if one simple blog post will do her justice, but I’ll try. Being a caregiver isn’t easy. It means you’re committed to helping someone, before you can help yourself. It means that you’re willing to put someone else’s needs before your own. Being someone’s caregiver is a choice, it’s not a requirement. And the decision to be one is done out of love. My mom is not only my caregiver but she is also my Dad’s, who has muscular dystrophy.

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NYC Summer 2017

The thing is, my mom didn’t chose this life. When she married my dad neither of them knew he had MD and they definitely were not expecting to have a child with Cystic Fibrosis. She has never once complained about the life that was chosen for her. She juggles taking care of my dad, myself and finding time for things she loves. If you walk into her bedroom you will find lots of yarn, spinning wheels and a weaving loom. Textiles are her thing and she is an amazing knitter. She can make anything from a simple scarf to a complex sweater. When she has to miss a knitting retreat or dinner with friends to help my dad or me, she says that she wants to be there with us. That she would rather be there to help us get through our struggle than go have fun with her friends. If that’s not pure love, then I am not sure what is.Mom3

You see, I’m alive today because of my mom. As a child you never want to do hours of treatments a day or spend time in the hospital. But my mom ensured everything got done and would spend every day with me in the hospital, finding ways to entertain me during it all. She kept my medications ordered and organized over the years and has spent hours at a time working through insurance issues. Now a days, I manage my own medications but that is because my mom set me up for success when it was my time to take it over. She prepared me for when Cystic Fibrosis would become my disease and when I would have to do things on my own.

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Mt. Vernon Rehab Hospital (Oct. 2016)

Last summer when I was in the hospital she came every single day. My mom’s presence made me comfortable. Some nights after she would leave me for the evening, I would be uncomfortable and unable to get to bed. I would send her a text telling her I couldn’t get comfortable or to sleep and she would jump back into the car and come back to the hospital until I fell asleep. Her presence made me comfortable. Her presence makes a lot of people comfortable.

Everyone who knows my mom can attest to the type of person she is. She is a firecracker and knows how to handle a tough situation. When I was in the ICU last summer, the nurses knew she was a ball of fire. She taught kids in drug rehab and every single one of them loved her, they learned from her and they graduated high school because of her. She knows how to give that tough love that many people need. My mom is also very loving. She always wants a hug in exchange for a glass of milk and would never let go if it was up to her. I still notice her frequently embracing my dad even though he can’t hug her back. That’s the thing about my mom, she does things out of the kindness of her heart and never expects anything in return.Mom2

So this month, for national caregiver month, I wanted to make sure everyone reading my blog knew how amazing my mom is. How amazing of a caregiver she is. How kind of a person she is. And how I’m alive today because of her. If you’re ever privileged enough to meet her, you’re one lucky person.

The Letter to My Donor’s Family

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My donor, Samantha’s, mom & I
On Monday I shared with you the letter I received from my donor, Samantha’s, mom. Today, I share the letter I wrote to her. I had wanted to hand write my letter (I had already typed it up) and was planning to snail mail it after the 4th of July holiday when I received Angela’s. I decided to reply that same day via e-mail because I was so anxious to get the letter to her. Next week I will share with you my personal experience meeting Samantha’s family for the first time. My letter to Angela:

“Angela –

I’ve imagined writing this letter to you ever since I woke up and found out I had been transplanted. I’ve been curious about who my donor was, the type of person they were and their interests. I’ve thought of what I would say and the words I would use to thank them and their family because a simple “Thank You” is not enough. I’ve had my letter drafted, prepared to send after the 4th of July holiday, when I received yours. I had always wondered if I would hear back from my donors family. One of my biggest fears about writing is that I wouldn’t receive a reply but decided I had to write because they needed to know how their loved one saved me and how grateful I am.

Thank you for telling me about Samantha, I can only imagine how lovely of a girl she was.

Samantha saved my life on June 21, 2016. I received both of her lungs.

I’m 25 years old and was born with a genetic disease called Cystic Fibrosis that causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, causing frequent lung infections. These infections scar the lungs and cause a decline in lung function. I have lived my life as normal as possible despite my disease…attending college, having fun with friends and starting a career. There have been plenty of large speed bumps along the way but I just moved over them and kept going. I knew transplant was going to be in my future but was not expecting it for a few more years.

My lungs took a rapid and unexpected turn for the worse in June 2016. I was placed in a medically induced coma on June 13, 2016 with the hope my lungs could rest and work again on their own. I made the doctor promise me that I would wake up again. My lungs completely failed me days later and I was placed on an external heart and lung machine (ECMO), doing all the work for my lungs. My doctors decided the only hope that I would ever wake up again was a transplant. And so, with the help of my parents and older brother, they listed me for a double lung transplant. Without Samantha’s lungs, multiple nurses told me, I would not have made it another night. I was very very sick.

I won’t say this last year has been perfect, I was in the hospital for 4.5 months after my transplant and I had to build the strength to do everyday life things again like walk and hold a fork to eat. But I have made such great strides and am going to the gym regularly, something I despised before transplant because I would become out of breath. I am back at work part time after 11 months off – it is such a great feeling to be contributing to something. I am hanging out with my family & friends who mean so much to me. I have travel plans for this year to visit my brother, Byron, in Boston and my aunt in Colorado. I enjoy doing art and have a new found interest in taking pictures/videos on my GoPro and creating movies. I have Samantha to thank for this. I want you to know that my body is accepting Samantha’s lungs and I have not had any signs of rejection. Her lungs continue to breathe for me.

A day hasn’t gone by where I haven’t thought about my donor and their family. Now, I finally have a name. I know every day I have here is because of Samantha. I will know that for the rest of my days. I call her my angel looking over me everyday.

I want you to know the type of person I am. I could sit here and write what I think of myself but I wanted you to know from an outside perspective. So I’ve asked a couple of my closest friends to write honestly about me. Here is what they said:

“Jackie makes LOVING life look effortless – because for her it really is. She’s a person who has a true lust for life and all the adventures it brings. She’s the person who won’t give up when there are obstacles in her way or the odds are against her. She’s the person who will, despite everything, find something, some-reason to love life and honestly, she’s contagious in that way.”

“Jackie’s thirst for life is far greater than anyone I’ve ever known. In the midst of her constant hardships with CF, her optimism shines through as she continues to feel immensely grateful for all of life’s gifts. Having had the experience to attend a best friend reunion vacation with Jackie recently brought an insane surprise amount of joy to all of us. The miracle that she is with us today is one we are forever thankful for. I can’t wait to see what life accomplishments are in store for Jackie. She is an absolute warrior, and her strength is inspiring to all. The quote ‘keep on keeping on’ is one she lives by. And she does so with a huge heart, and a smile on her face.”

“I met Jackie when I was 12 years old when she was randomly assigned to my soccer team. At first I thought who is this wild child. She had so much energy it was almost annoying. I remember the day we became friends. We were hosting a soccer party at my house and all he girls on the team were downstairs while the parents were upstairs, with the exception of Jackie. It felt wrong so I went upstairs to talk to her and started a friendship that grew into family. Jackie is my only friend brave enough to tell me like it is and kind enough to want the best for me the same way my parents do. She will tell me if a boyfriend is no good, demand I ask for a raise at work because she knows my worth and refuses to ever let me settle. People like Jackie help the ordinary see all the extra out there in the world. She has taught me to value myself and live everyday to the fullest. She may be a control freak, but its only because she knows exactly what she wants out of life and isn’t afraid to go after it.”

I am happy that you wrote you would like to meet, because I also would like to meet you and your family. I want to hear more stories about Samantha and what she liked to do. More about her big heart and what seemed like amazingly kind soul. I am going to ask that they release my personal email address to you so we can continue to communicate that way. Thank you so much for writing Angela.

Sincerely,

Jackie”