Family Forms Close Bond With Doctor While Waiting For Transplant

Lori Buoncore and her family were vacationing in Italy when she suddenly developed a dry, nagging cough.

When the couple returned home to Aurora, Ohio, doctors diagnosed Mrs. Buoncore with interstitial lung disease, a progressive illness in which supportive tissue between the lungs’ air sacs thickens. The diagnosis surprised the couple.

“Lori never drank or smoked,” her husband, Rick Buoncore, says. “She was always healthy.”

Medication kept her symptoms at bay for five years. Gradually, however, each drug lost its effect. When there were no more left to try, her physician referred her to Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist Atul Mehta, MD.

“We fell in love with him,” Mrs. Buoncore says. “He not only was very capable from a medical standpoint, but he had empathy that went beyond anything we had ever experienced. He said, ‘I’ll take care of you,’ and he did.”

Over the next few months, even with her oxygen tank set at maximum, Mrs. Buoncore was short of breath.

“Worrying about routine activity really changes your life,” she says. “Like, ‘What if I become stuck in an elevator or in my car, and help doesn’t come in time? I only have enough oxygen for an hour.’ Once, at a store, my oxygen tank wasn’t working, and someone had to go to my car for a backup.”

“We fell in love with him. He not only was very capable from a medical standpoint, but he had empathy that went beyond anything we had ever experienced. He said, ‘I’ll take care of you,’ and he did.”

She was placed on the list for a double-lung transplant.

After two dry runs — one time she was prepped for an operation that didn’t take place because the lungs were not the right match for her — Mrs. Buoncore had successful transplant surgery. Ten days later, she went home feeling great. Today, she is back to normal activity and babysitting her grandchildren.

Grateful for her lifesaving care, the couple has established the Buoncore Family Endowed Chair in Lung Transplantation, with Dr. Mehta as the first chair holder. Their gift supports research on new approaches to follow-up care for lung transplant patients.

“We wanted to show our appreciation for a second chance at life,” Mrs. Buoncore says.

Related Institutes: Respiratory Institute
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