Loyola Medicine lung transplant patient Catherine Horine

I'm Thankful to Live and Grateful to Breathe

November 24, 2016

By Catherine Horine
Lung Transplant Patient

I have lots to be thankful for and to smile about this Thanksgiving!

Earlier this month, the Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series after 108 years. For me, a long-suffering Cubs fan, it was the greatest sports victory ever. The next day, November 3, I awoke smiling not only because of the Cubs, but also because it was a very important day for me: the two-year anniversary of my lung transplant.

I can't believe it's been two years. Every single day I wake up grateful for having been given this Gift of Life!

Thanksgiving is that much sweeter because I get to still be here with my family.

Three years ago, Thanksgiving was pretty lousy. On November 11, 2013 (I always remember the date), I suddenly came down with a terrible cough that quickly worsened. By Thanksgiving Day, I was too weak to come downstairs for the holiday dinner.

Bronchitis was suspected and then pneumonia, but those were ruled out. By February 2014, after many trips to the doctor, to the emergency room and specialists, I was told I had a serious lung disease and would need a lung transplant by the end of the year.

Though I have had chronic health conditions for many years, I had not had any problem with my lungs. I even ran the marathon years back. In three months, I went from being fine to being told, “You need a lung transplant.”

I looked for a transplant program and came to Loyola. Dan Dilling, MD, and the lung team helped me prepare (i.e. get healthy enough) for a transplant. By June they said I was “ready,” and so I waited for “the call” – the call that a matched organ was available. I am grateful for my friends who visited, phoned and reached out to offer support during that long wait.

By October, the year was tick-tocking away, and I began to think maybe it wasn't going to happen. Then the call came, and on November 3, I received a new lung.

When you get a new lung, it’s hard to believe you were that close to dying. There are people who are sicker than I was, but I was pretty sick. At the time of my transplant, my lung function was about 18 percent. Now it’s 100 percent.

My dream when I was sick was, first, to live (of course), and to go for a walk on the beautiful trails near my home. Now I enjoy the trails every day I can. That and my new lung are all I need to be happy.

When I was ill, I figured out what I was supposed to be doing: helping others. I volunteer for the Respiratory Health Association. I’ve spoken with lawmakers about tobacco and clean air legislation backed by the association, and I've walked in the 3-mile Hike for Lung Health last year and this year.

In my mind, I keep a list of what I’m grateful for and a list of my challenges. The number of challenges is greater, but the things for which I am thankful are so much larger, including being alive.

This journey is nowhere near over – there are always medication adjustments, side effects and testing to deal with. For example, a side effect that apparently is from one of my anti-rejection drugs has interfered with my regular 3-mile walks. But that's OK, even when it gets hard, I think of the family of my donor and what they gave me to save my life.

How do you thank someone whose death allowed me, and other organ recipients, to live? How do you thank the family of my donor, who was only 22 when he died? There are no words to fully express my gratitude. Yet I wrote to his family to say how grateful I am for their generosity, and to let them know that I will do all it takes to care for this Gift of Life. They thoughtfully wrote back, and the letter would bring tears to anyone's eyes.

On my dresser, I keep the “lung” pillow given to me by the transplant team and signed by everyone on the floor. I took it with me to every hospital stay. Beside the pillow I keep a reminder of my gift of life: a photograph of the plaque that bears my donor’s name.

In addition to the donor family, and my own family and friends, I am so very grateful to the Loyola transplant team, who has done everything they could to keep me alive. They continue to help. They never leave you. I cannot thank them enough, and I wish I could hug each member of this very large and caring group.

I am thankful for my transplant surgeon, the operating room team and those in the intensive care unit and recovery who helped and encouraged me as I slowly made progress each day after the transplant.

I thank my transplant pulmonologists, Dr. Dilling and Sana Quddus, MD, who cares for me now. They are so patient when they answer my many questions and listen so thoughtfully to my concerns.

I thank my post transplant nursing team – APN Erin Mahoney and my coordinator Erica Dixon. They both work so tirelessly to help all of their patients with never ending patience and a smile.

Today, my family and I will take a moment to thank everyone and to raise a glass in celebration of the gift of life.