Waiting game

By on October 30, 2011

Photo: Cassie Stanley and her dog Murphy. Photo by Sandy Kaczmarski

Elburn woman puts life on hold while waiting for second lung transplant
by Sandy Kaczmarski
ELBURN—Like many college graduates who still live at home, Cassie Stanley is looking forward to the day when she can get out on her own and move out of her parents’ Blackberry Creek home.

“I want to move out of my parents house,” she said. “I’m stable right now, waiting for that call so I can move on with my life.”

What she means by that statement is despite her body rejecting a lung transplant from four years ago, her condition is stable as she waits for a call from doctors for a second lung transplant.

The 26-year old was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis a week after she was born. With two uncles on her father’s side and a cousin on her mother’s side affected by the disease, it was no surprise that her mother, Rhonda May, was a carrier.

Cystic Fibrosis is hereditary. A defective gene causes thick mucus to build up in the lungs, making it one of the most common lung diseases in children and young people. Other areas of the body can be affected as well, particularly the pancreas. It is a life-threatening disease.

Cassie said because it was detected so early, she was fairly healthy growing up, but admits there were a few more doctor visits than the other kids. She would get treatments to loosen the congestion using a nebulizer, allowing a medicated mist to be inhaled deep into the lungs for relief.

Her disease makes it more difficult for her body to absorb calories, so she has to take five enzymes before she eats. That’s why a lot of CF patients have trouble gaining weight. She’s also on a regimen of antibiotics and goes in for chest physical therapy, which involves therapists “beating up on me pretty much” to loosen the mucus buildup.

“I didn’t really show symptoms when I was little, usually coughing a lot,” she said. “I was on the dance team all four years in high school, and that helped me out a lot. It kept me out of the hospital.”

As soon as she graduated, though, she stopped dancing and ended up with more hospital stays or “tune-ups.” She’d spend about two weeks on intravenous antibiotics and get the chest percussion treatments.

Following graduation, her health worsened and she started testing for a possible lung transplant while she attended college at Aurora University.

“My lung function was declining a lot,” Cassie said. “Once they noticed the constant decline which they can’t fix, they work you up for a lung transplant.”

Her health deteriorated in 2007 to the point where she couldn’t breathe, and doctors kept increasing her oxygen levels.

“I remember being in the hospital for two weeks,” she said. “The next ting I knew I was in ICU (intensive care) at Lutheran General.”

A tube was inserted so she could breathe. She was transferred to Loyola University Hospital in Maywood and immediately put on a donor list.

“The next day I got lungs. I was almost dead,” Cassie said.

She graduated college in 2009 with a degree in English and minor in psychology. She had plans to teach, but hasn’t been able to work yet. Her plans include returning to school for a dental hygiene license.

“I want to be healthy enough to go back to school and not have to worry about oxygen,” she said. “Right now, I worry about walking to my car, and getting dressed in the morning is so hard for me.”

And to make matters worse, she suffered a setback a few weeks ago in a car accident. A friend was driving, the car flipped and she was tossed out. She recently had surgery on a broken shoulder, and her fractured pelvis is a lot better.

Doctors aren’t sure why her body is rejecting the lungs. She’s been on a waiting list for a second transplant since 2009.

Like many young women her age, she likes to shop. She looks forward to finding a job and said she’d like to run in a 5K race eventually.

In the meantime, she waits for that phone call from her doctors.

“Hopefully, I’ll get those lungs soon,” she said.

Information on donating to help support those waiting for organ transplants can be found at donatelife.net.