Dou­bly thank­ful

Dou­ble lung trans­plant has given one woman plenty of rea­sons to be thank­ful

The Covington News - - Front page - By Am­ber Pittman apittman@cov­news.com

Dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son it’s easy to get caught up in the hus­tle and bus­tle, to for­get about be­ing thank­ful for what we have and fo­cus on other things. That won’t be a prob­lem this year For Jo Ellen Kim­ball. She is thank­ful just to be alive af­ter re­cently sur­viv­ing a dou­ble lung trans­plant.

Kim­ball, a for­mer ele­men­tary school teacher, was fine six years ago. She had just re­turned from a vacation with her hus­band, Scott, and sons, Davis and Owen, when she de­vel­oped a cough that she couldn’t shake.

She went to a doc­tor who di­ag­nosed her with pneu­mo­nia, but af­ter two months, the cough was still there and Kim­ball was con­stantly out of breath. Af­ter an open­lung biopsy, she was told the news; she needed a lung trans­plant or she would die.

“On my 34th birth­day I went to Emory and I was told right then that my lung func­tion was so poor I would need a trans­plant and I would need to be on oxy­gen im­me­di­ately,” she said. “It was a shock. No one in my fam­ily had lung dis­ease; I had no warn­ing… it lit­er­ally came out of the blue.”

Kim­ball was teach­ing fourth grade at East Newton Ele­men­tary School at the time and her two boys were ages 10 and 7. She had to limit her ac­tiv­ity, even ev­ery­day tasks. But ev­ery day, her con­di­tion wors­ened.

“My boys have def­i­nitely been through a lot,” she said. “But we’ve al­ways been up front with them. We felt that it was bet­ter for them to know ex­actly what was go­ing on.”

Her lung dis­ease was

pro­gres­sive and had no cure. She had de­vel­oped id­io­pathic pul­monary fi­bro­sis (IPF), a scar­ring or thick­en­ing of the lungs that de­stroys the air­ways.

Al­though med­i­ca­tion can slow it, the only treat­ment is a lung trans­plant. Kim­ball’s lung func­tion was so poor that she needed a dou­ble trans­plant.

Through­out her or­deal, Kim­ball re­ceived hun­dreds of cards, phone calls and prayers. She was placed on prayer lists for dif­fer­ent churches and re­ceived sup­port from to­tal strangers as well as her friends and fam­ily.

“I couldn’t be­lieve how many peo­ple ral­lied around some­one they might not even know or might not know well,” she said. “It helped me keep my spir­its up ev­ery day and I can­not thank all of those peo­ple enough. I do be­lieve prayer and fel­low Chris­tians lift­ing you up makes a huge dif­fer­ence and ev­ery­one has been so won­der­ful.”

On her 40th birth­day Kim­ball met with a sur­geon and was ap­proved to be placed on the trans­plant list. She was placed on the list on Jan. 13 and on Sept. 17 she got word that there was a donor.

“It was a scary thing to think about hav­ing a trans­plant but my fam­ily was so ex­cited. Owen was scream­ing and he went and grabbed the cam­era. We had been wait­ing for eight months and my pul­monary team had as­sessed that my lungs could maybe last an­other year. It re­ally did come at the right time.”

Through­out her hos­pi­tal stay, Scott, her hus­band of 18 years, was by her side, as were var­i­ous mem­bers of her fam­ily, who all live in Cov­ing­ton.

“I had the ideal sup­port sys­tem, I had some­one from my fam­ily there ev­ery day,” she said. “It is such a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence so that’s very im­por­tant.”

Nine weeks later, things are still go­ing well for Kim­ball. She goes to Emory sev­eral times a week for test­ing to make sure her body doesn’t re­ject the lungs and takes 14-15 med­i­ca­tions a day, but she is oxy­gen-tank free and, ac­cord­ing to Kim­ball, that’s a small price to pay for all she’s been given in re­turn.

“I’m a Chris­tian and I have a very strong faith, so the hol­i­days are al­ready very im­por­tant to me,” she said. “But ev­ery year I would won­der if it was the last hol­i­day I would be here for, and this year is dif­fer­ent. The thing that weighs most heav­ily on my mind this year is my donor’s fam­ily, be­cause this will be their first Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas with­out their fam­ily mem­ber. I am hop­ing that be­cause they did choose or­gan do­na­tion it will bring them some com­fort.”

At some point Kim­ball will be per­mit­ted to write a let­ter to the donor’s fam­ily and that fam­ily can choose if they would like to re­spond to her let­ter. She said that she will write the let­ter and her hopes are that the fam­ily will an­swer her so she can learn about the per­son who saved her life.

“I pray for them ev­ery day,” she said. “I will re­ally be keep­ing them in my heart be­cause I know the hol­i­days will be dif­fi­cult for them… I would love to meet them one day and have a re­la­tion­ship with them, be­cause this donor was not just a donor. I truly be­lieve that this per­son is with me all the time and I would love to see the fam­ily’s faces and know what the donor was like. That would be amaz­ing for me.”

As far as thank­ful­ness goes, Kim­ball is over­flow­ing with it.

“I’m thank­ful for my donor and that I sur­vived the surgery and I’m thank­ful for my fam­ily,” she said. “I’m thank­ful to be a mother and a daugh­ter and a wife again. This was just such a mind-blow­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, some­thing you can­not un­der­stand un­less you have lived through it. I am just thank­ful to be alive.”

Brit­tany Thomas/The Cov­ing­ton News

A rea­son to be thank­ful: Jo Ellen Kim­ball is thank­ful for the dou­ble lung trans­plant that saved her life 9 weeks ago. Kim­ball was given a year to live by doc­tors but thanks to an or­gan donor, will spend this hol­i­day with her fam­ily once again.

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