Waiting to Inhale
A Double Lung Transplant Gets One Woman Back to her Life
Doctors didn't tell Allyson Thadeus-Zappe that she needed a lung transplant. She told them.
Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at 16 months, she led a healthy life until her teen years. A genetic disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive tract, CF results in life-threatening lung infections and serious digestive problems.
At age 19, the Fairview Park resident was admitted to the hospital because of her symptoms. "Ever since that first time, I was in the hospital at least once a year," the now 27-year-old remembers.
Time for a Lung Transplant
When her symptoms worsened dramatically after giving birth to her daughter, Olivia, in 2001, she knew that she would eventually need a lung transplant or she would die.
"The pregnancy and childbirth robbed me of everything," Mrs. Thadeus-Zappe recalls. Her hospital stays increased. By the end of 2004, she had been admitted four times in that year alone. Her symptoms - high fever, trouble breathing, coughing, loss of appetite and lack of energy - continued unabated.
She says that many times, her husband, James, had to be both mom and dad to their little girl. "Some days I couldn't even get out of bed," she says.
In March 2005, while in the hospital yet again, she told her doctors, "I think it is time for a lung transplant." They agreed. Her physicians referred her to the Transplant Center at Cleveland Clinic, where many of her friends had received transplants. "Everyday life had gotten so difficult for me," she recalls. "I just wanted to get new lungs and get back to my life and family." Marie Budev, D.O., a Cleveland Clinic lung specialist, told Mrs. Thadeus-Zappe that she didn't have to worry. At Cleveland Clinic, a lung patient had never died once on the waiting list for a lung transplant.
After the Wait
After a two-month testing and evaluating process, Mrs. Thadeus-Zappe's name went on the lung transplant waiting list. Eight months later, on Jan. 29, 2006, she received a double lung transplant.
She doesn't sugarcoat the way she felt immediately after the lung transplant surgery.
"For the first week, I was not comfortable, not breathing well. I thought I had just made the biggest mistake." Luckily, doctors quickly discovered that she had been reacting poorly to the pain medications. Once they switched her to oral meds, she had a 100-percent turnaround.
After just 10 days in the hospital, she went home to her family. She was back to her normal routine in a couple of weeks after her lung transplant. After about a month, her doctors even encouraged her to get outside. She donned a mask and off she went.
New Lungs, New Experiences
Then came the opportunity to try out for NBC's television game show, Deal or No Deal.
"I thought I had a really good story," she says, after seeing on the news that contestants were needed for the show. She was still feeling minor scar pain, but nothing major, she recalls, and she "just really wanted to do it."
Thousands of hopefuls waited in line for two days for interviews. Mrs. Thadeus-Zappe won their hearts on the second day. Her show taped on April 1 - a mere two months post-transplant - and her friends and family watched her win $124,000 when it aired in May 2006.
"It was something I never could have done before my transplant," she says. Her recently found fame isn't the only thing that changed since her transplant. She's always on the go, she jokes. "I've started a job, I'm president of the PTA, I'm on a CF fundraising committee," she says. "I can play with Olivia and do things I never could before."
Her symptoms of CF are gone. Before, she was sleeping 18 to 20 hours a day. Now, she's active during much of that time. She also is able to eat more and has put on weight. When CF affects the pancreas, the body does not absorb sufficient nutrients needed to grow and to thrive.
The Gift of Life
Her family and friends visited every day she was in the hospital. Mrs. Thadeus-Zappe reflects on another person she considers now a part of her family - her organ donor.
She plans on writing a letter to her donor family on the one-year anniversary of her transplant. "I want to bring them a touch of hope in the midst of their sadness."
She hopes her story inspires others to become organ donors. She encourages families to talk with each other about donation wishes. For more information, visit lifebanc.org.
Words of Wisdom
Mrs. Thadeus-Zappe maintains her positive attitude in the face of difficulties.
"I had a daughter and a husband. I wasn't about to give up," she says. "The transplant has been the best thing to ever happen to me."