The Choice: To Have Life-Changing Surgery, or Deliver My Baby

If Tricia Lawrenson didn't get a lung transplant, she'd be dead within 12 months. But there was a complication: After years of trying, she was pregnant with her first child -- and the baby wouldn't survive if she had surgery. What happened next is almost inconceivable.
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Just breathing had been a challenge for longer than Tricia Lawrenson, 29, could remember. Diagnosed at six months with cystic fibrosis, a chronic genetic disorder that causes extensive lung damage, her life had been a string of hospitalizations, respiratory infections, and medications. "As I grew up I spent three weeks to two months each year in the hospital or at home on IV antibiotics," she says. At 19, when she fell in love with a guy named Nathan whom she met at church, she hesitated. "I had a big cloud over my head knowing I could die early," she says. "I didn't want to hurt him."

But Nathan persisted and in 2004 they got married at a beach club on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where he'd grown up. Tricia dreamed of having a baby, and so even though her doctors cautioned that pregnancy could be dangerous, the couple immediately started trying to conceive. After two years they began to lose hope: Tricia hadn't gotten pregnant and her cystic fibrosis was much worse. "She had more infections and hospitalizations and progressive respiratory failure," says David Zaas, MD, medical director of lung transplantation at Duke University School of Medicine. "Without a double lung transplant, we estimated she had six to 12 months to live." Doctors started the transplant paperwork and preparation, knowing that it could take months for lungs to become available. And she and Nathan gave up trying to have a child. "It wasn't going to happen," Tricia says. "Deciding to stop was a very sad moment for me."

But three months later, in a stroke of cruel irony, her dream came true. One day before moving to Durham to be closer to Duke, where the potential transplant was to be done, Tricia felt nauseous. With mounting apprehension, she gave herself a pregnancy test -- then two more. All three were positive. "I couldn't believe it," she says. "I wanted to be excited but was so scared at the same time." What seemed like a miracle was a huge complication. "The entire CF team was shocked," says Peter Kussin, MD, associate professor of medicine at Duke. "I was very fearful this would kill her." But despite the unanimous advice of the doctors, Tricia and Nathan wouldn't consider terminating the pregnancy. "We'd prayed for years for a child and now couldn't tell God, 'Thanks, but no thanks,'" she says. Her lung transplant would have to wait.

Continued on page 2:  Chance of Survival


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