‘It’s a mir­a­cle’

New Mi­nas woman breath­ing easy after dou­ble lung trans­plant

Valley Journal Advertiser - - NEWS - BY ASH­LEY THOMP­SON KINGSCOUNTYNEWS.CA Ash­ley.Thomp­son@kingscountynews.ca

Deb­bie Ca­vanagh-Am­ber­man is down one oxy­gen tank and up two new lungs.

“It’s a mir­a­cle,” the New Mi­nas res­i­dent said in an in­ter­view Oct. 30.

The trans­plant day – July 14 – was a long time com­ing. Ca­vanagh- Am­ber­man first left for On­tario in March, mark­ing the be­gin­ning of an era of uncer­tainty she won’t soon for­get.

“That was the loneli­est time in the world,” she said.

After months of liv­ing as an in-pa­tient at Toronto Gen­eral Hospi­tal, she started to won­der if a healthy set of lungs that were a match for her body would ever be­come avail­able.

“We were to the point of al­most giv­ing up,” she said.

Her hus­band, Harold Am­ber­man, stayed in nearby Hamil­ton but was of­ten only able to visit twice a week due to the costs as­so­ci­ated with trav­el­ling to Toronto.

Weeks turned into months at Toronto Gen­eral, and time con­tin­ued to be of the essence as in­ter­sti­tial pul­monary fi­bro­sis con­tin­ued to at­tack the air sacs in her lungs.

“They didn’t know why I was still alive, my lungs were so bad,” she said, adding that she had to be re­vived twice, and her hus­band was warned that doc­tors weren’t sure they’d be able to bring her back. “It’s very scary, very scary.”

She was bedrid­den, un­der con­stant video sur­veil­lance and re­quir­ing as much as 45 litres of oxy­gen to be able to get up and go to the wash­room with as­sis­tance lead­ing up to the trans­plant. She was down – way, way down – but never out.

“I wasn’t will­ing to give up yet,” Ca­vanagh-Am­ber­man re­called. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to do yet,” she added, wink­ing at her hus­band.

A sec­ond chance at life

Fam­ily and friends anx­iously waited for more than 12 hours for the sur­geon to con­firm the trans­plant was com­plete. Ca­vanaghAm­ber­man still strug­gles to find words when she imag­ines what she’d say to the donor’s fam­ily if she had a chance to con­nect with them.

“I’ve tried to write a thank-you let­ter, but then I get emo­tional and I can’t fin­ish it. Thank-you just doesn’t cut it; it’s not big enough,” she said.

She hopes her story will in­spire oth­ers to sign their donor cards, and en­cour­age their friends and fam­ily to do the same.

“With­out this donor, I wouldn’t be here and it’s such a sim­ple thing to do. One per­son can save eight lives,” she said.

“Who­ever was good enough to give me th­ese lungs, they’ll never see a ci­garette pass through th­ese lips.”

She be­lieves she par­tially has her un­de­ni­able stub­born streak to thank for the de­ter­mi­na­tion that made it pos­si­ble to find the strength to hang on while yearn­ing to go home to her fam­ily and friends in Nova Sco­tia.

“They didn’t know why I was still alive, and I was fight­ing as hard as I could to stay alive be­cause I just wasn’t done liv­ing my life yet,” she said.

Do­na­tions poured in when the Kings County cou­ple was forced to turn to on­line crowd­fund­ing cam­paigns and com­mu­nity ben­e­fits in hopes of get­ting some much-needed do­na­tions to help Am­ber­man take time off of work to be by his wife’s side dur­ing the fight of her life.

“It’s just nice to know there’s still those kinds of peo­ple in this world,” said Ca­vanagh-Am­ber­man, who used to dress up in a full-sized chicken cos­tume and dance in pub­lic to col­lect money for var­i­ous lo­cal char­i­ties.

“It was a hard thing to have to ask for help. If some­one needs help, we’ll be there.”

A happy home­com­ing

Am­ber­man said his long-time em­ploy­ers at Eden Val­ley Poul­try in Ber­wick al­lowed him to ex­tend his re­turn date on three oc­ca­sions to make it pos­si­ble for him to stay close to his wife in Toronto.

“It was un­real,” he said.

“It’s good to have it be­hind us, I’ll tell you that. Once in a life­time is enough.”

Ca­vanagh- Am­ber­man has strict re­cov­ery guide­lines to fol­low after re­turn­ing home Thanks­giv­ing week­end. She has anti- re­jec­tion med­i­ca­tions to take, a de­tailed ex­er­cise plan to fol­low, reg­u­lar hospi­tal ap­point­ments and check-ups in Toronto ev­ery three months.

She’s learned to ap­pre­ci­ate the small things, and be mind­ful of life’s sim­ple plea­sures.

She fondly re­mem­bers her hus­band help­ing her get si­t­u­ated into a wheel­chair as soon as it was pos­si­ble fol­low­ing her trans­plant, and an­nounc­ing that he was tak­ing her for her first stroll out­doors since the bedrid­den days pre­ced­ing the surgery.

“When that sun hit my face it was just like a kiss of life,” she said.

With her lung func­tion back at 98 per cent, Ca­vanagh-Am­ber­man ex­cit­edly re­ports that she’s back to breath­ing on her own, walk­ing, do­ing er­rands and rak­ing the yard with her grand­chil­dren.

“I’m a happy lady th­ese days.”

ASH­LEY THOMP­SON

Harold Am­ber­man and his wife, Deb­bie Ca­vanagh-Am­ber­man, are set­tling into their old rou­tine while Ca­vanagh-Am­ber­man is en­joy­ing a sec­ond chance at life fol­low­ing a dou­ble lung trans­plant in Toronto. Health

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