To Be in Charge of One's Own Life is an Amazing Gift

Northwestern Medicine
Organ Donation and Transplantation July 23, 2015
Northwestern patient, Lynn Stanczak in the backyard with her dog“I had no idea at the time how sick I would become and that it would impact my life so severely,” said Stanczak, a long time Waukegan resident.

A diagnosis of Bronchiolitis Obliterans followed and over the next few years, Stanczak’s lungs deteriorated eventually causing her to need a lung transplant surgery. One year ago, on July 23, 2014, she was one of the first Northwestern Medicine lung transplant patients. To date, the program has treated 15 patients thanks to a multidisciplinary team of almost 30 experts from surgeons to social workers, pulmonologists, nurses and more. 

“Lung transplantation provides patients like Lynn who have chronic and life threatening diseases a new set of lungs and a vastly better quality of life,” said Malcolm DeCamp, MD, chief of the division of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “After the surgery, these patients leave our hospital with bright futures. They are excited to spend time with family and friends, celebrate holidays and even return to work. I’m proud of the work our Northwestern Medicine team has done in one year and look forward to helping more patients in the years to come.”

Lynn Stanczak stands next to her husband with arm around himThe road leading to surgery was a long one for Stanczak. Once her lung collapsed and she was hospitalized six times for severe infections. By 2014, she was dependent on oxygen and needed a wheelchair to get to most places. On June 16, 2014 Stanczak and her doctors decided to put her on the lung transplant wait list. 

A few weeks later, Stanczak received the call she’d been waiting for.    

“When I received the call I was in shock," Stanczak said. “I thought I was dreaming. I screamed to my husband that lungs were available. Everything happened so fast, I had so many emotions swirling through my mind, not the least of which was the fact that while I was overjoyed there was a family mourning the death of their loved one. This is the time you have to have faith in God. I really felt like God had orchestrated these events and my life was about to change again drastically.”

While Stanczak checked into the hospital, the Northwestern Medicine procurement team retrieved her lungs. She kissed her husband and was wheeled into surgery. The next thing she remembers is waking up two days later. The nurses told her the surgery was a success and for the first time in a while, Stanczak took a deep breath.  Ten days later she was discharged from the hospital and spent the next few weeks working hard to get used to her new lungs. 

Lungs are one of the most difficult organs to transplant and manage. Unlike other organs, lungs are exposed to the external atmospheric elements during normal respiration, leading to possible infection and damage, said Ankit Bharat, MD, Lynn’s surgeon and the surgical director of lung transplant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“These surgeries are complex and timing is critical,” Bharat said. “Surgeons only have about six hours to transport lungs from a donor and transplant into the recipient.”

Lynn Stanczak embraces her familyStanczak’s life post-transplant is remarkably different than her life before the surgery. Today, she has full conversations without having to stop to catch her breath. She’s not afraid of stairs or worried she’ll need a wheelchair. Only two months after her surgery, she and her husband danced at a wedding. And every day, she’s thankful for the gift of organ donation and for the anonymous person who changed her life.

“To do rather mundane things we all take for granted like laundry, grocery shop, volunteer at church, make dinner, take my dogs for walks, are all so important to me,” Stanczak said. “I have my freedom back. To be in charge of one’s own life is an amazing gift.”

Learn more about the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program online or to schedule an appointment call 312.695.LUNG. 
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