VERSAILLES - Kara Didier, who was diagnosed with a rare lung disease, Bronchiolitis Obliterans, on Dec. 21, 2010, underwent a double lung transplant and her health continues to improve each day.
The double lung transplant was the only treatment for it, said Didier whose health problems began in August 2009, when she started having some gastrointestinal issues.
The transplant took place July 19 this year at the Cleveland Clinic.
The Versailles family got the telephone call at 7:30 a.m. July 17. They were at home and Kara was getting youngest son Cameron ready for camp, while her other two children, Austin and Alexa, were sleeping. Husband Doug was nearby.
“They said they had a set of lungs available,” she recalled that conversation. “They gave me the opportunity to accept or decline. The lungs were exposed to Hepatitis B, but uninfected. I have a rare AB positive blood type. It was a catch 22. Should I take my chances or wait longer?”
The Didiers thought it over and decided she should receive the transplant.
Cameron went to camp, the other two children went with Doug’s father, Richard Didier, and he and Kara were headed for Cleveland.
“At first it was surreal,” Kara said. “I didn’t want to get too excited yet I wanted to be excited. The entire trip to Cleveland, three or four hours, we were constantly on the phone calling people. It was different. The closer we got to the hospital the more nervous I got.”
They made it there and as they waited to get on the elevator to get to their destination, there was Jerry Springer holding the door for them. She didn’t recognize the television talk show host there, but husband Doug told her who he was once they got off on their floor.
She said she was wearing her mask, which she usually does when she goes outside or in public to protect herself from germs, and probably had her mind on other things when she failed to notice Springer.
Kara was sent to the cardiac intensive care unit, where prospective transplantees are taken. She was prepped for surgery and given a tentative time for the transplant at 6 p.m., which kept getting moved back as the day went on.
“Apparently, they were having issues in the donor hospital’s operating room,” she said. “They had to hold it because they couldn’t find anybody for a kidney we were told. I guess the kidney has to be used before they can take the heart and lungs.”
Nonetheless, Kara said she felt at peace and felt like things were going to be all right. Two things convinced her of that.
“After I was diagnosed, I was looking up on Amazon about transplants. Then I saw a book about butterflies on the back and looked up the meaning and its connection with the lungs,” she said. “When I first had a transplant, in another door it looked like a butterfly was taking flight and I connected that with patience. My dad’s mom died when I was 13, and my grandfather passed her items of jewelry to the grandkids and gave me a butterfly necklace. I always kept that with me. I feel that was her with me that day. She was a very strong woman.”
The other thing was another gift her mother gave her.
“About a year before, mother came home from D.C. and visited me, bringing me my other grandma’s leather coin purse with a rabbit’s foot attached,” Kara recalled. “She wanted me to have it. I happened to open it and there was a butterfly pin inside and Mom had no idea. Both my grandmas were looking out for me. It felt really good.”
It felt really good.
At her church, Versailles Christian, the pastor held a prayer service for her at 10 p.m. July 18.
“Forty people showed up praying for the donor and myself,” said said. “It was at the same time I got the phone call from the doctor. She [the doctor] said she had good news and bad news. She said the lungs were no good, but the good news is that there was a second set of lungs available. They are beautiful and pristine, she told me.”
Surgery was set for 6:30 a.m. the next morning.
“It was light a golden light in my room,” Kara said. “I knew God was there and His perfect timing got me good lungs. If not for the donor’s family I would be on oxygen or wouldn’t be here.”
The transplant, she said, took four hours.
“Everything went perfectly,” she said. “On the 19th, they took out the breathing tube.”
The dates of events that happened throughout had a special meaning for the Didier family.
“I first got listed on the donor list on June 12 our son Austin’s birthday, and it took place on July 19, Alexis’ birthday and I consider it my second birthday since I took my first breath,” she said.
Her parents, Doug and Aloha Neff Coning, flew in from Phoenix, the day before to be with her.
“I was in cardiac ICU for three days and in a step-down unit for seven days,” Kara said. “I was only there nine days. They released me but I had to stay in the area. We stayed in a hotel in Berea until I was released on Aug. 13. Our 16th anniversary was Aug. 10 and we walked around the mall.”
Now, Kara, who is no longer on oxygen 24/7, has to have blood work done every two weeks until her medications are situated,
She has had one minor bout of rejection when she underwent one of her broncoscopies.
The first one went well, but the second one was when that mild case of rejection set in. But, it was treated with Prednizone.
She will be returning to the hospital in mid-January to check if there is any more rejection. In the meantime, she has to stay infection-free.
“Now I’m diabetic,” she said. “I take my blood sugar four times a day, my blood pressure twice a day, my temperature once a day and I blow into a micro spirometer to check my lung capacity. Before the transplant, my FEV was 16 percent lung function and at the end of September it was up to 94 percent and it’s only gone up since then.”
There are also some restrictions. She cannot have grapefruit with her medications, nothing cooked on a charcoal grill, must stay away from buffets and bars and be careful of dust and outdoors around gardening and lawn mowing debris.
“I still have my bad days but definitely not as I had before,” she said. “They [the bad days] are few and far between.”
Kara who used to work for the Versailles School System, will not be able to return to to work.
“I have to be careful being around anyone who is ill…even the smallest sniffle,” said Kara, who at one point, suffered a stroke, which has affected the left part of her vision.
She has been told the first year of a transplant is critical.
“I’m amazed with all the support we had all over Darke County, whether it was for prayers or monetary donations,” she said. “I didn’t think it would ever come, but there were also times like I didn’t really need one because I thought I would miraculously get better even at the hospital. I always have a smile on my face or make light of a situation.”
The experience has definitely changed the woman, who does not know who donated those lungs or from what hospital they came.
“I think about the donor all of the time,” she said. “My intuition feels like the donor is from Massachusetts and I don’t know why. My doctor did say it [the donated organ] was a two-hour flight from Cleveland.”
She wants people to be aware that Organ Donor Awareness Month is in April.
“One person can save at least eight lives, with tissues, eyes, organs,” she said. “I’m a donor. If I can have this gift given to me I most certainly will do it. We need more donors.”