Procedure worth the wait, lung transplant survivor says
Published Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:44AM EDT
Margaret Benson still remembers the moment she took a full, deep breath for the first time in her life. It came with an ease she had never known before.
Lying in the hospital's intensive care unit in the late 90s, Benson recalls placing her hands on her chest and marvelling at the results of her double lung transplant.
"There wasn't that gurgling, there wasn't that drowning feeling," she told CTV's Canada AM on Tuesday in an interview from Vancouver.
Lung transplantation, which is made possible by organ donors, was Benson's ticket to a longer, fuller life. Now in her early 50s, she hopes a 20-year-old Ottawa woman who just underwent the procedure will experience that same satisfaction.
Helene Campbell is recovering from a lung transplant after going public with her battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that hardens the lungs.
While her crusade earned her a spot on the Ellen DeGeneres show and Twitter acknowledgement from Justin Bieber, it also struck a chord with Benson who emailed Campbell a letter of support.
"I just told her it was worth the wait," said Benson. "To just create new normals for herself and to be patient."
Patience is a virtue Benson has been practicing since age 14, when she was first diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes mucus to build up in the lungs.
"I lived everyday coughing all the time, doing physiotherapy, taking lots of pills."
The odds were seemingly stacked against Benson, who says the disease's life expectancy at the time was age 15, a statistical deadline she was determined to break.
"I remember saying ‘Oh no, I'm going to live until I'm old and grey,'" she said.
But mortality confronted Benson again in 1998 when both of her lungs gave out. Doctors gave her two options: Undergo a lung transplant or die.
The procedure is not without risks -- it's invasive and there's the possibility that the recipient's body may reject the transplant. But like any high-risk gamble, Benson says the payoff is huge.
"I remember a tear came out of my eyes because, for the first time ever, I was able to breathe as normal people do," she said.
Benson still remembers recovering from the procedure in hospital, hooked up to "hundreds" of different tubes. But most of all she remembers the breathing, a sensation she hadn't experienced fully before.
She says she's optimistic Campbell will experience the same success.
"To hear that she's already wiggling her toes and writing on a writing board, that's way farther than I was in those first 24 hours."