Jennifer Myers of Roseburg can breathe easier now that a double lung transplant has given her a new lease on life.
Cystic fibrosis was taking away her ability to breathe, and she got to the point where she was going to need the life-saving procedure to survive.
Myers, 34, was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that causes severe damage to lungs and other organs. For Myers, the disorder was diagnosed on her second birthday. But it wasn’t until 2014, when her health took a bad turn and she got pneumonia, that her lung capacity became severely reduced and it was much tougher to breathe.
She spent a month on a ventilator at Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital in Portland fighting for her life, where it was eventually decided that she would need a lung transplant.
Just getting on the list for new lungs is tough, but then the lungs have to be both available and compatible. So, a lot of things have to fall into place to make it happen. Myers knew the journey was going to be difficult and risky.
“I’m not going to lie, it was pretty scary,” Myers said, “Not being able to breathe, or really function anymore, and depending on supplemental oxygen and doing therapies around the clock, just not knowing when you’re going to get that phone call.”
She was on her fourteenth day as an inpatient at CHI Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg when she finally got the call. She was loaded into a private plane and headed for Seattle at the fastest possible speed.
Then, on Feb. 4, 2015, she finally got a new pair of lungs.
“It hurt like the dickens, because they break your sternum, and I was scared, terrified and nervous,” Myers said.
The family took her out to a restaurant to celebrate and when the waitress brought her a cake with a candle Meyers was able to blow it out for the first time that she can remember.
“I got to blow the candle out and I just started crying. I don’t know the last time I was ever able to do that,” Myers said.
One of the most gratifying moments for her was meeting Harry Wood, the husband of Debbie Wood, her lung donor. In February 2015, while they were watching the Seattle Seahawks play in the Super Bowl in their residence north of Seattle, Debbie Wood suddenly grabbed her head and died in the middle of conversation.
Two years later, Myers’ family met with Harry Wood and daughter-in-law Martha Wood in Portland.
Because Harry Wood was still dealing with the emotional loss of his wife, he needed a couple years before he was emotionally ready to meet Myers.
Two years after the transplant, when Myers and Wood finally got together, the emotions came flooding back.
“It was a very emotional day, because you’re telling your side of the story and they’re telling their side, and I am beyond grateful for their decision,” Myers said.
Wood got to listen to his wife lungs with a stethoscope and was overwhelmed.
“I had no clue how to wrap my arms around this emotion,” he said. “I was happy, then crying, then happy, then crying again, over and over and over.”
For Harry Wood and Jennifer Myers, and all their friends and relatives, the importance of being an organ donor has taken on a much different perspective.
Wood said he gave the hospital permission to use any organs from his wife’s body that that could be donated.
“Deb would be totally on board with that, and it looks like her organs will help upwards of 80 people,” Wood said. “I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude that they’ve done that.”
Meyers’ transplant team has been happy with the progress they’ve seen in her pulmonary lung function test, which measures how much air you can breathe in and push out.
“I was probably a child the last time I had that much lung function. I’m very avid about working out, and I’ve been given a second chance, and I’m going to use these new lungs to my full advantage,” Myers said.
The more time that passes, the less that Myers has to worry about a rejection. But Myers takes precautions just the same. She still has to wear a mask when she’s around kids or goes to the doctor’s office, because getting an infection could cause rejection. She always get a flu shot and keeps her distance from sick people.
Myers has been overwhelmed by the community support.
“You just can’t say thank you enough to all the people that contributed and have given up their time and donations for this,” she said. “Thank you is just not adequate.”
“That door swings both ways,” Harry Wood said. “She actually saved my life, because I was struggling in the grief process. Deb lives through her.”
Myers said the best part about getting two new lungs, “was to be able to take a deep breath, and not struggle.”
Myers’ boyfriend, Brian Boswell met her a little over a year ago at a gym when they were both doing boot camp classes. He soon found out just how strong-willed she is.
“One class is enough for me, but she was doing three. She has more strength and sheer will and determination than anybody I’ve seen,” Boswell said. “It’s really exciting to be a part of someone who’s been given a second chance and see what they choose to do with their life, and how they choose to live it.”
Jennifer’s mother, Teresa Myers, said it was a helpless feeling watching someone you love so much going through the cystic fibrosis and the whole lung transplant process.
“She is one of the most courageous, strong people that I have ever met and will probably ever meet,” said Teresa Myers. “She went through a lot and always managed to smile.”
Molly Boyé, a teacher in Cayonville, became good friends with Myers when they were both teaching. Myers would come to her classes to talk about the cystic fibrosis and later about the transplant.
“I wish she could be a teacher again, because she really loves kids,” Boyé said.
Boyé organized fundraisers to help with expenses, and she said the turnout to support Myers was beyond her expectations.
“I can’t believe how many came, there was such support and the small community really came together,” Boyé said.
For Jennifer Myers, she is doing some things that she never had a chance to do in the past. She has gone skydiving, auto racing, and a lot of other adventures that have been on her bucket list.
She was a substitute teacher before she had to have the transplant, and she is back to work doing part-time home instruction tutoring for a couple of hours a day with the Roseburg School District.
“It’s so awesome to get back to teaching and helping kids and doing what I love to do,” she said.