When Alicia Lang finally woke up Saturday at the Cleveland Clinic, she did so with a new pair of lungs.
Lang, a 20-year-old Lakota West graduate who has cystic fibrosis, has been waiting for more than two years for a double-lung transplant.
On Feb. 11, the long wait was over. Lang’s operation was a success.
Waiting for lungs
As a freshman at Lakota West, she tried out for the tennis team and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. Lang, who was diagnosed with CF at age 5, even named her dog, Maria, a rottweiler-lab mix, after Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova.
During that first year of high school, however, the oxygen level in Lang’s lungs started falling. She was constantly hospitalized and had to put down her tennis racket for good. To make things worse, Maria died.
Then in October 2010, Alicia was evaluated by a doctor and told that she needed a double-lung transplant.
That year, as a senior, Lang only had the energy to attend two or three classes a day. The rest of her work was done online.
College was put on hold. Her dream of becoming of vet was over, as doctors told her that there would be too many germs.
Lang has been on oxygen for more than a year. She was clinging to life.
Receiving her new lungs
“Before the surgery, she was gasping for air,’’ said her father, Jim Lang. “Basically, it was end-of-life breathing.’’
On Feb. 8, Alicia Lang had a breathing tube inserted through her chest. She could no longer breathe without the help of a respirator.
Meanwhile, in New York, a banker in her 20s was on life support after suffering an aneurysm that day. Her lungs were healthy. The young organ donor had never smoked, drank very little and wasn’t on any medications.
While their daughter slept, Alicia’s parents accepted the offer.
That night, Alicia and her parents left Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in a helicopter and landed on the rooftop of the Cleveland Clinic.
Waiting for her to wake up
Until Saturday, Alicia had been asleep for eight days.
While she slept, her parents and her brother, Nick, a senior at Lakota West who also has cystic fibrosis, waited as doctors performed the transplant, then prayed as Alicia underwent a tracheostomy.
Then they prayed for her to wake up.
That Saturday, doctors told the Langs that the arterial line might be causing a blood clot, preventing blood from going into her hand. Alicia was going to need her third surgery in five days.
After surgery, Alicia started reacting to her parents. She then opened her eyes, grabbed their hands, wiggled her toes and watched some television.
“She should have awakened earlier than she did, so it is a relief,” said her mother, Mary Kay Lang.
Even though she is awake, Alicia still can’t speak due to her trach, which is a tube in her neck that she uses to breathe. She also can’t comprehend what her parents are saying, due to heavy sedation and pain medication.
“She seems aware that she received the transplant, but whether she gets the whole gist of it, it is hard to say,” her mother said.
Mary Kay is staying in Cleveland until Alicia is cleared to return to the family’s West Chester home. That could be six months. Alicia will be in the hospital for another six weeks, but then will have to stay in Cleveland indefinitely for checkups. Her father, who works two jobs, will visit on weekends.
Becoming a vet is no longer an option. Even with a full recovery, doctors have stressed that Alicia should never get another pet due to microorganisms they carry.
Prior to the transplant, Alicia decided she would wait to make any decisions on her future.
“She has had put her life on hold,” her mother said. “Because her body was in such respiratory distress it could take a long time for her to come out of this. We don’t know how fast she is going to bounce back. It is going to be up to her own body.”
BY THE NUMBERS
104: Patients who had lung transplants at Cleveland Clinic in 2012
56: Patients who had double-lung transplants at Cleveland Clinic in 2012
DOUBLE-LUNG TRANSPLANT SURVIVAL RATE
82.6 percent: One year
64.8 percent: Three years
50.3 percent: Five years
Source: United Network for Organ Sharing
Father, Jim Lang, offers way to help family
- Become an organ and tissue donor at donatelife.net
- Make a tax deductible donation to NFT Ohio Transplant Fund at transplants.org
- Walk with Alicia’s team at The Shamrock Shuffle at The Square @ Union Centre on Saturday morning, March 9, 2013. Register at theshamrockshuffle.com using team name – Alicia Lang (NFT Ohio Transplant Fund)
- Bring your aluminum cans to Lakota West High School the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon.
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