Transplant like a breath of fresh air

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Transplant like a breath of fresh air

Cam Fortems
Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Kamloops: When the phone rang at Dawn Stradecke's home Sept. 21, it was a call that would one day return the bedridden Kamloops woman to a life she once knew.

On the other end of the telephone line was a specialist from the University of Alberta Hospital's lung transplant program. Her more than two-year wait was over.

"On the 21st they phoned me and said, 'What are you doing today?,' " recalls Stradecke. " 'Do you want a double lung transplant?' "

A specialist team headed by pulmonologist Dr. Dale Lien was ready to perform a 12-hour procedure to replace Stradecke's diseased lungs with those from a healthy donor.

For the past two years she's relied on her husband Lyle and three children - particularly 18-year-old Carol, who she calls "my inspiration" - to perform simple tasks.

Carol took last summer off to care for her ailing mother.

"My kids and hubby were behind me all the way," Stradecke said. "If today was a day I couldn't get up, then it was a day I couldn't get up."

Stradecke, who once worked as a cook, was frequently confined to bed because of her diminished lung function. Tasks as simple as sweeping the floor or preparing dinner could take half the day.

"You have to keep going. If you don't, you think life's not worth living and you give up."

Stradecke suffered from asthma as a child, but she had normal lung function until she turned 30. That's when she remembers suddenly feeling short of breath.

Visits with doctors and specialists diagnosed emphysema caused by an inherited lack of a protective protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin. Stradecke's lungs had become ravaged by the enzyme in her body used to fight bacteria and clean up dead lung tissue.

Lung tissue was slowly being destroyed, which eventually leads to death. In the meantime, her lungs could transfer less and less oxygen to the bloodstream.

"By the time I was 35 I had to quit work," she said.

When the call came three months ago, Stradecke had endured more than two years on the waiting list for donor organs. She figures her petite size (slightly less than four-feet, 11 inches tall) made it even more difficult to find a suitable donor.

On Sept. 21, Stradecke was taken to Royal Inland Hospital, where she was prepared for the flight to Edmonton. In order for the transplant operation to be successful, donor lungs can only be outside the body for four to six hours.

Three months later Stradecke, 40, feels better than she has in a decade.

"Awesome. It's an incredible experience. It truly is," said Stradecke, who came home from Edmonton two weeks ago. "If you're not taking them (lungs), leave them for someone else. I'm grateful."

Doctors at the University of Alberta Hospital performed 46 lung transplants this year. It is one of only five centres for lung transplants in the country.

In 1999 (the last year statistics are available) there were 86 lung transplants in Canada. Many of those involved transplanting a single lung, however.

Stradecke credits the transplant program and the anonymous donor with giving her life back.

"You instantly feel 100 per cent," she said of her lung capacity today. "Anything's better than what you had. You run for the elevator and freak your husband out."

Pam Brown, lung transplant co-ordinator for the Edmonton program, said the survival rate for recipients is high.

"We're quoting about 70 to 75 per cent survival rate after five years," she said.

The only roadblock in the way of performing more transplants and reducing the lengthy wait list is a lack of donors. In B.C., donors can register through driver service centres, doctors offices, Autoplan brokers, London Drugs and Overwaitea.

© Copyright 2002 Kamloops Daily News



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