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Posted: November 24, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Double lung transplant recipient thankful

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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.

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 open-lung 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."

 

 

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