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

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Chance of Survival

The pregnancy was dangerous for both Tricia and her baby, who were each given a 50 percent chance of surviving. "The doctors doubted the baby would reach full term, and my downward spiral picked up speed once I became pregnant," she says. When she was 17 weeks pregnant, pressure on her lungs from the growing baby began to make breathing nearly impossible, and in January 2008, after developing a sinus infection, Tricia was admitted to the intensive care unit. "Inside, I felt the baby would be okay," she says, "but physically, I felt I was dying."

With her baby at 24 weeks, Tricia needed to be put on a ventilator that would completely take over her breathing -- a difficult procedure for someone with cystic fibrosis, and one that the baby might not survive. In the OR, specialists were prepared for an emergency C-section. "We had so many people in there," Dr. Kussin says. "The coordination of care was amazing because there was no script -- it was a once-in-a-lifetime situation that hopefully I'll never see again." Out in the waiting area, family and friends got word that Tricia wasn't doing well, the baby was at risk and the crucial moment for the C-section had come. Nathan was relieved when an obstetrician emerged with a cell phone picture of Gwyneth Rose, born at one pound, six ounces. She was immediately whisked to the neonatal ICU, where she would spend the next four months.

Tricia emerged from a medically induced coma after nine days, still on the ventilator. By the end of February, she regained enough strength to be put back on the transplant list. Her rare blood type made a match difficult and doctors told the couple not to get their hopes up. But on April 2, Nathan's 27th birthday, a set of lungs became available. "I believe in the power of prayer and definitely consider that a miracle," Tricia says. She got her lifesaving, nine-hour transplant operation that night. Three weeks later she walked out of the hospital, breathing free.

Incredibly, her battle wasn't quite over. A few weeks later she developed post-transplant lymphoma, a complication of being on anti-rejection drugs in which a viral infection causes immune cells to become cancerous. Four rounds of chemotherapy finally knocked the cancer out. "We believe she's fully cured," Dr. Zaas says.

Today Tricia can finally embrace her second chance. Although Gwyneth, 4, needs glasses and goes to physical, occupational and speech therapy every week, she's thriving. The Lawrensons are back at their home on the Outer Banks, living a normal, happy life. "I hadn't gone more than a few months without a night in the hospital for 20 years," Tricia says. "Now, because of the lung transplant, I haven't been to the hospital for almost two years. When people ask how I'm doing, that's the best way to explain."

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, March 2012.

 

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