Lung Transplant Saves Mother's Life

Michele Lisee with her family following her transplant.Michele Lisee fought asthma with inhalers and medication for more than 12 years before finding out asthma wasn’t the cause of her breathing problems at all. The problem was much worse: Lisee’s heart was failing because of idiopathic pulmonary hypertension (PH).

When diagnosed, Lisee, a mother of six children, was recovering from the unexplained stillborn birth of a daughter. Throughout the pregnancy, she had visited doctors and emergency rooms in search of an answer to her breathing problems.

“They kept saying it was asthma, but I knew it was worse,” said Lisee. “I could barely breathe.”

Problems of the heart

Finally, testing ordered by an ER doctor revealed that the arteries in Lisee’s lungs had become so narrow they were impeding blood flow. To compensate, the right side of her heart had gone into overdrive and become enlarged. While doctors couldn’t explain the cause of Lisee’s PH, they knew her situation was dire.

At the time, Lisee and her family were also battling financial devastation. It was 2008, the economy had plummeted, Lisee had to stop working because of her health, and her husband’s construction business in Massachusetts had come to a standstill. They packed up their belongings and kids, and headed to Arizona.

Graphic explaining lung transplants by the numbers.In 2012, doctors told Lisee that her only hope for survival was a lung transplant. She was referred to St. Joseph’s Hospital, home of Arizona’s only lung transplant center. Although it was highly unlikely that doctors would find a match for Lisee because of the high level of antibodies in her blood, the St. Joseph’s team agreed to try—and succeeded in beating the odds.

“I can’t say enough about St. Joseph’s,” said Lisee. “When I got the call on Oct. 1, 2013, at 5:45 a.m., they had to tell me three times, ‘Michele, we have lungs for you,’ before it sank in.”

The best gift of all: new lungs

Lisee is one of a growing number of patients to benefit from an experimental system for transporting donor lungs. The goal of the breathing lung system is to improve the health of donor lungs for better recipient outcomes.

Six months after her successful surgery, Lisee is grateful for the time her lung transplant has given her. “I pray all the time that God will give me enough time to see my kids grow up.”