Lung transplant survivor's journey to wellness

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Donna Simon feels better and is enjoying a more carefree, healthy life, following a successful double lung transplant surgery. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

By Caroline Rosacker

Donna Simon of Guttenberg is currently recovering from a successful double lung transplant,and has agreed to share her journey to wellness with The Guttenberg Press. 

"365 days – one year. Do we ever think about how much our lives can change in 365 days?" Simon asks. "2020 was a year with a lot of ups and downs for everyone with COVID-19 playing a big part in everyone's lives." 

In 2012, Simon was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). The illness was starting to take a toll on her life. "I was on oxygen all the time, and was told I probably would not live for a year. I started planning my funeral," she said. 

Simon was advised by Dr. Powers, her pulmonologist, to apply for a lung transplant. "I was not hopeful that it would happen, but I went ahead with the criteria," Simon told The Press. "It started with an interview, and frequent trips to the hospital in Iowa City without any promises that a transplant was even on the horizon. In fact, I didn't believe it was even a possibility, that my funeral was much more likely. I was a frequent flyer via ambulance to the Guttenberg hospital. " 

On Aug. 10, 2020 at 11 a.m. Simon was put on the transplant list. "Again, the transplant team reminded me that lungs would have to become available and be a match with me," she noted. "Others had gotten to the hospital and would have to be sent home because the lungs weren't right." 

Months passed as Simon's condition worsened. "I wrote my obituary, let my kids know where there were funds for my funeral and sadly sat back waiting to die," she shared. 

On Feb. 25, 2021, the day before she was scheduled to get her COVID-19 vaccination, the transplant team contacted Simon and told her to be at the University of Iowa Hospital in four hours. "My daughter Katey drove me to Iowa City. I truly don't remember much of the ride down, but the van parked ahead of us at the hospital had a sign on it that read Transplant Vehicle," said Simon. 

Simon described her post-op experience. She said, "Anyone that has ever come out of anesthesia knows it can be bewildering – nothing seems real," she described. "I slugged a nurse because she wouldn't let me take the 'cookies out of the oven.' It was really scary coming out of it. Things just didn't seem real or right."

As Simon's condition improved she was released from the primary ICU to a step-down ICU, and then eventually transferred to St. Luke's rehabilitation unit. "Unfortunately my body decided to go downhill and have allergic reactions to a medication, and no one could wake me up for two days," she explained. "I was sent back to Iowa City. Truthfully I became a not nice person to those trying to help me." 

The transplant recipient was finally discharged and moved in with her son, Mike, and daughter-in-law, Eva, who took care of her as she continued to heal. "Recovery has taken a while, but I continue to work on it with the assistance of the Iowa City Transplant team, and the Guttenberg Municipal Hospital Pulmonary Rehabilitation team and our local doctors," commented Simon. 

"I am alive because someone decided to be an organ donor and their family honored their wishes. Please consider being an organ donor. I am," she concluded with gratitude.

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