EXETER, N.H. (AP) — Blue-haired Angelique Sanborn has quite the support system. While Sanborn was in surgery receiving a double lung transplant in March, her family members each dyed a streak of their hair blue, to surprise her when she awoke in the ICU.
Sanborn, 35, was born with cystic fibrosis and knew for most of her life that one day she would come to need a transplant. In December, Sanborn was notified she had been placed on the transplant list and would receive a new set of lungs within 39 days. But the process took much longer than expected.
Sixty-two days passed. Sanborn finally got the call on March 2, and was in surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital by 2:30 a.m. on March 3.
“I don’t think I was thinking too much of it, but I started to get scared when they took me down to the OR,” Sanborn said. The surgery lasted between seven and eight hours.
While the surgery went smoothly, the surgeon said Sanborn’s lungs were adhered to her body because they had sustained so many infections over the course of her lifetime. Doctors had to cut her lungs into sections to remove them from her body.
“I couldn’t believe that it was done already,” Sanborn said of the moment she woke up after surgery. “I couldn’t tell because I had chest tubes in, but once the tubes were out I could tell the difference right away. I could actually breathe in and out without coughing.”
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that targets the exocrine glands and is characterized by the chronic accumulation of thick mucus affecting breathing and digestion.
While Sanborn no longer has cystic fibrosis in her lungs, she still has it in other areas of her body. Prior to the transplant, breathing was the most difficult for Sanborn and truly hindered her day-to-day life.
During the first phase of recovery, Sanborn’s family members could only look at her through glass at the hospital. The doctor told them to make funny faces at her through the window when she woke up.
Sanborn left the hospital after two weeks, while most patients stay for three. Her family members have been keeping a close eye on her since.
“It doesn’t really feel real yet because she’s tired a lot now,” Sanborn’s aunt Karen Walton said of the recovery process. “She sleeps a lot. She has to have somebody with her all of the time for 30 days.” Walton laughed that Sanborn hates that part.
Sanborn said her pulmonary function test, which measures how much air is going in and out of the lungs, has improved tremendously. Before the transplant, she measured at 28 percent. This week she was at 76 percent.
“I still kind of hurt,” Sanborn said. “They said that should be done in about six months.” Sanborn laughed that she can sing now, although not well, in her opinion.
Sanborn’s transplant was completely covered by Medicaid, but her grandmother, Mary Sanborn, said the hotel rooms, gas and food have really added up over their many trips to and from the hospital.
After Sanborn was first featured in the Exeter News-Letter prior to her transplant, she said she developed a following of people interested in her journey. She created a Facebook page where people could keep up with her cystic fibrosis battle.
“A lot of people I don’t even know sent congratulations (after the transplant),” Sanborn said. “When I came back to real life, I had tons and tons of messages.”
Sanborn now adjusts to life post-transplant, the procedure she had perhaps been waiting for most of her life. At the moment, she isn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than five pounds.
“We played Monopoly the other day and she said, “This is the first game of Monopoly I’ve played that I haven’t coughed,'” Walton said. “She’s done awesome. Even the nurses and doctors were amazed because she was able to leave the hospital sooner than most patients.”
While Sanborn doesn’t know the identity of the donor from whom she received her lungs, she said she may choose to find out. She has six months to make contact with the donor’s family through the organ bank, and they can choose if they wish to reciprocate.
In a Facebook post following her transplant, Sanborn said, “I can say a whole sentence without gasping for air. Please, please don’t take your lungs for granted. I have truly won the lottery.”
Information from: Portsmouth Herald, http://www.seacoastonline.com