It’s one of many luxuries chronic lung disease had once stolen from her—and it’s near the top of a long list of things she is thankful for: Time with family and Elveret, her husband of more than 50 years; her daughter, Andrea; walks with friends; activities at her beloved church; driving; and her lung donor.
Eighteen months after undergoing a single lung transplant at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, the 71-year-old retiree takes nothing for granted and enjoys what has been restored in her life.
“I’m happy,” Doberson said. “I can do everything I used to do before I got sick. I feel good about that. I want to live life to the fullest, from one day to the next.”
Doberson’s experience is one Soma Jyothula, MD, hopes the Lung Transplant Program at Memorial Hermann-TMC can bring to many more people following its recent certification by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). The CMS certification is required before Medicare and Medicaid enrollees can receive in-network coverage of a transplant program’s services.
“The goal of our program is to provide an elite and uninterrupted continuum of innovative comprehensive care for a wide range of patients battling chronic lung diseases,” said Dr. Jyothula, medical director of the Lung Transplant Program and assistant professor at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. The Lung Transplant Program at Memorial Hermann-TMC is part of the Center for Advanced Heart Failure at Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-TMC and the Department of Advanced Cardiopulmonary Therapies and Transplantation at McGovern Medical School.
An Unexpected Retirement
Doberson had already spent half her life in hospitals when she was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF)—just never as a patient. She retired in 2008 following 33 1/2 years working as an operating room and case cart attendant at Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital.
“I thought when I retired I wouldn’t be near any hospitals,” Doberson said. “I had been healthy for almost 70 years.”
A non-smoker with a clean health history, Doberson began experiencing shortness of breath and depleted energy levels in 2014. She couldn’t wait to sit down after walking and singing in her church choir.
“I had felt the symptoms coming on for some time but thought I would get over it,” Doberson said.
Doberson was initially diagnosed with asthma but her symptoms worsened to the point where she had to use an oxygen concentrator at all times to breathe.
She was referred to Memorial Hermann-TMC in September 2016, where Dr. Jyothula and Keshava Rajagopal, MD, PhD, surgical director of the Lung Transplant Program, discovered a much more serious condition. Doberson was diagnosed with IPF, an incurable disease that scars the lungs, increasingly inhibiting them from taking in proper amounts of oxygen.
“I was devastated,” Doberson said.
The Gift of Life Arrives Quickly
Once Doberson was accepted as a lung transplant candidate with Memorial Hermann, she registered with the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS). Doberson anxiously began an open-ended wait for the only answer to a condition that would only worsen.
“I thought, ‘People are on donor lists for years.’ We didn’t know what the time limit was on my IPF. I didn’t know if I had time,” Doberson said.
Four weeks later, she was told a potential match had been found.
“When they called me, I did not know for sure I was going to have the transplant,” Doberson said. “I was excited but you don’t know the outcome or if your body will accept or reject the organ.”
On October 13, 2016, Doberson underwent transplant surgery to have her left lung replaced. She returned home within a few weeks following surgery, able to breathe on her own once again.
“The ICU staff, receptionists, nurses and doctors at Memorial Hermann could not have been any more courteous,” Doberson said. “They treated me like family. They saved my life.”
Establishing Elite Transplant Care
Doberson’s journey is indicative of the Lung Transplant Program’s outcomes since its first lung transplant in December 2015.
“We have been intentionally aggressive in pursuing donor matches for our patients and establishing an extremely high standard for quality outcomes and innovation,” Dr. Rajogopal said.
Memorial Hermann’s Lung Transplant Program has exceeded national averages for survival rate (95 percent to date) and median wait times (22.5 days) while serving an older recipient population traditionally more at risk. It has the highest transplant rate in a 750-mile radius and its average length of hospital stay following transplant is consistent with national benchmarks.
“Our lung transplant program has demonstrated high quality, with a focus on developing and applying innovative approaches to patients with end-stage lung disease,” Dr. Rajogopal said. “We are extremely excited about CMS certification because it gives us the ability to expand program volume, serving more patients in the greater Houston area and beyond.”
A Life Extended
Doberson is an adamant proponent of follow-up care. She is hoping her diligence in that area and her body’s prolonged acceptance of the lung will soon grant her other freedoms she has been working toward. She wants to be free of the mask she wears around people, a precaution guarding against infection. She wants to travel more. She wants to sing again.
Doberson also feels a debt of gratitude to her donor and owes it to that person to take care of herself and her new lung.
“I am living through a donor. For those who are considering being a donor, know that the life you save is still a part of you,” Doberson said. “Being a donor is helping someone else and that’s the greatest gift of all. When you can help someone else, you are doing really, really, great. I’m forever thankful for that.”
The Lung Transplant Program at Memorial Hermann-TMC is part of the Center for Advanced Heart Failure at Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-TMC and the Department of Advanced Cardiopulmonary Therapies and Transplantation at McGovern Medical School.
Learn more about the Lung Transplant Program at Memorial Hermann-TMC or call 713-222-2273. For more information about organ donation, or to register to become an organ donor, please visit www.donatelife.org.