Category Archives: transplant

DECEMBER 18 — “God was in the room”

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So it’s been a year since Caitlin’s transplant. A fact that’s as hard to believe as her absence.

This post from that day, if the lungs had come a month earlier, before the weeks on ECMO…. … too painful to think about, really.

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So.

I’m going to let Caitlin’s words take over, with thanks to Kate S, an old friend of hers who has most recently, graciously, shared her correspondence. The “Caitlin book” that I’m writing has a lot to do with this search for faith.

 

Emails with Kate 

can i ask you something personal? If you don’t want to answer I understand. I have never been that religious but i have always had faith. i hope that makes sense to you. as i get older i struggle more and more with the reality side of my brain and the side that wants to hope and pray for the best, and have faith. i am always so interested in how people like you — really smart people that is — stay so solid in their beliefs and faith. i don’t know, i guess i am just curious about it. then sometimes things happen that make me feel like i am more connected, and that it is possible. i’ve been trying this thing where i “dialogue” with my illness. it was recommended by an astrologer who did my chart, and it is something i kind of do a lot anyway but in a different way. its like visualizing sessions of going through your body and imagining healing. but this takes it a step further with actual talking to your disease. anyway i was lying in bed this morning doing that for like half an hour. andrew was there, he was like half awake, we were just laying around. anyway i never said i was doing that. then when he got up and was walking into the living room he just said casually “i feel like god was in the room this morning.” It was so odd, that is not a normal thing for him to say (obviously). It was just kind of cool.

 

II

i am pretty open about everything, but religion is one thing where I am both curious and less knowledgeable.  There is so much craziness around religion, that I am always compelled by the smart and grounded ones who find their faith in it, like you.  And there have certainly been times when I have reached for it (and it is christianity, because that’s what I was raised with, however weakly).  When I was 11 I was very sick for a long time, and I had a hospital physical therapist who would come in and do chest pt (a treatment for CF).  She would talk about God and Jesus, almost in an awkwardly preachy way…she was southern. But I was so sick and so detached from anything normal that an 11 year old kid thinks about, that I just fell into it. And she encouraged me to pray and so I did, and I prayed a lot all through my teenage years. And I can still remember her talking to me as I stared out the window and I can’t believe that was an 11 year old kid. It was like I stopped being a kid that year.
When I got older I got interested in reincarnation.  Stories of children remembering details of lives that they couldn’t possibly have known, the idea that we are here to learn lessons in this life. Figure out what those lessons are, be good people, and evolve our souls.  The idea of souls.  It was fun to read about, yes, but mostly the ideas of reincarnation resonated with me.  I was interested in the fact that most of the religions embraced the idea very early on in their inception (or so I have read), and even though now it is considered maybe “new age-y” it was in fact very “old age-y.”  
When I was very sick that time, my mother had an experience of lying on the couch in our living room sobbing, just crying really hard.  Thinking, how will this ever be ok.  She said she heard a voice say clear as a bell “have faith.” She has told me this story lots of times since then. She says it was so clear she sat up immediately and stopped crying.  Yesterday she bought me a card. She picked it based on the quote on the cover by Frances Hodgson Burnett (author of the Secret Garden) “Hang in there. It is astonishing how short a time it can take for very wonderful things to happen.”  She came home and opened it to give it to me and inside it said “Have Faith.”  She didn’t even know that, …how odd?! And wonderful.
Anyway — things like this, and the moment with andrew, are just examples of many validating moments I have had during whatever my spiritual journey is.  They have made me believe that there is something there.  Sometimes I am more connected to it, and sometimes I am not.  Perhaps that is the drawback of not having a solid religion to keep you connected, to draw from when you feel like you are losing faith. I don’t know. This might all sound insane to you. I don’t want to think of myself as one of those people that everyone seems to be nowadays which is just “i’m spiritual but not religious,” because I think it is more than that. It is more than just liking the idea of something.  I think you have to believe in the GOOD of something, solidly, in order to stay the course.  

Email to Nick

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A Ravenna church she longed to see

So what I always loved about Early Christian art was that it was so …early. Really the beginnings of Christianity , and thinking about what that meant is neat for me. This was years before even the crusades, the first really violent time in the name of “Christ” (well except for Christ himself obviously ). So there was violence of course … In Rome and in the Byzantine empire. But Christianity hadn’t even reached a point yet where people were “fighting in the name of the Catholic Church” etc and things were still more modest.

You can see the change in how Christ is portrayed in the art in these small churches. He’s still a shepherd but he’s wearing roman robes and looks more regal. So it’s the beginnings of it…. But it’s unlikely that these religious people then were implementing awful atrocities on people

I think the area seems beautiful and peaceful. But also something I can’t really place, and don’t necessarily need to figure out. I just would like to go.

There is always going to be bad in the world. I think that is what makes being good so important.

 

 

 

NOVEMBER 16–& the Anniversaries Begin

I know all the dates.

Yesterday a year ago was the last night Caitlin would ever sleep in her own bed. That night, she was so weak she did not have the strength to sit in the bathtub and let me wash her hair. I was so alarmed I emailed her doctor at 10pm.

On the 16th she was admitted to the hospital for the last time.

I wonder now, how many times in her life was she admitted to a hospital? I don’t know that I could even guess.

After I went home for the night, she texted me

Caitlin: Had to get an echo. Feel sick. And tired and can’t breathe. Love you. Hope you get rest.

Text message: 11/17/16 9:14am

Caitlin: My score is 70

Maryanne: Oh my God. Oh wow. What happened?

Caitlin: Dr hayanga came in. Because of my oxygen

Maryanne: What did hayanga say

Caitlin: He was optimistic. Very. He was Iike, we expect to get offers.

Caitlin: Andrew says we HAVE to be hopeful

Maryanne: We ARE hopeful. This is going to happen.

I drove to the hospital that morning with a light, happy heart. It was finally going to happen. The head surgeon came in and said he had been up all night fielding offers for her. None of them were a match, but with so many offers coming in, and with her score so high, a match seemed imminent.

She was on a lot of oxygen but she was stable, and felt much better than she had at home. Finally, finally, finally, after 2 1/2 years, it was going to happen.

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Yesterday, another CF tragedy occurred. Mallory Smith of California, who, like Caitlin, could only be transplanted at UPMC and moved to Pittsburgh to wait, received her transplant in September. Her recovery was hard but she was recovering. She was on the other side. Just a few weeks ago, she celebrated her 25th birthday. Soon after, when the docs removed her last chest tubes, she said, “Today is the happiest day of my life.”

Then a pneumonia took hold in her chest. Without an immune system to help her body fight the infection, she became sicker and sicker. The cepacia bacteria that had damaged her native lungs began to destroy the new lungs as well.

We were all hoping for a miracle of science for Mallory, but she slipped these surly bonds yesterday afternoon, her most beloved people by her side.

She was brilliant and kind and everything wonderful. A few years ago she wrote an essay that contains these words:

My life is a miracle because I should be dead. Your life, even if you’re healthy, is a miracle, because your existence is the result of stars exploding, solar systems forming, our Earth having an environment hospitable to life, and then, finally, millions of highly improbable events accumulating over millions of years to bring you, a capable and conscious bag of stardust, to the here and now.

Acknowledge that miracle. Existing is a rare gift, a privilege. It isn’t a right. Think of all those atoms that never ended up inside a human body.

So pick something, do something, to respect that miracle. Step up to the challenge of making your own meaning out of mere matter. Let the whole, the human, be altruistic, be greater than the sum of the parts, the selfish genes of our genome.

Set an intention and get after it feverishly, frenetically. Give back what we’ve taken by paying it forward, save a life, smile at a stranger, climb a mountain leaving nothing but footprints, inspire a child, take care of your body, bring happiness through laughter, plant a tree, and sometimes, just breathe and exhale a little bit of calming energy to your environment.

Give back in whatever small way you can, any time you can, because we are not small. No one of us can do everything, but all of us can do anything. Do it because we have survived, and that is a miracle. Do it because why wouldn’t you? Do it to justify your life.

I hope Caitlin found you, Mallory.

Full text:

And we are big (spoken word unspoken), by Mallory Smith

View story at Medium.com

 

APRIL 24–Three years ago today.

Caitlin was actively listed for a lung transplant on April 24, 2014. We were ready, expectant, full of hope.

She kept herself strong and she kept herself busy.

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She was grateful.

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She had plans.

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We never, ever expected that she would have to wait 2 1/2 years. But when she went into the hospital for the last time, with her high score, she was told that offers were coming in. We figured it would happen any moment. We were excited and lighthearted, and on the night of November 20, she asked me to push her chair through the hospital as fast as I could, to music.

In a just world, she would still be with us.

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ORGAN DONATIONS ARE DESPERATELY NEEDED

Spread the word, far and wide.

FEBRUARY 23– Eleven

A powerful pulsing of love in the vein

We are in Arizona. We packed up Pittsburgh, sent all those boxes back to Massachusetts and came to another ‘bigger-than-we-are’ place to regroup.

Pittsburgh was tough. It was also comforting. We were able to see a few of the good friends we made there. Mary and Ralph, our wonderful neighbors in our equally wonderful building, hosted a gathering for us on Friday night. We included some new friends: Diane and Mallory Smith, who, like us, had to relocate to Pittsburgh to wait for a lung transplant for Mallory. They’ve only just arrived. They are from LA, a crazy long way from home. We introduced them to some of our Pittsburgh people.

People have asked, as did Mallory’s mom, Isn’t it hard to be with people who still have a chance? Or who have had successful transplants? Of course. But is it easy to be with them once you overlook your own pain and come to love them and realize that you want only good things for everyone? Yes.

Organ donor awareness must continue, please.  For the brilliant and beautiful Mallory, and for everyone else.

Boarding a Greyhound in Pittsburgh…

On Monday the 20th, at 5:45am, we left in the dark. It was so hard to walk out of our home of the last two years, to take one last look and close the door.

We had arranged for our favorite driver, Jim Stanley, to pick us up. You feel safe with Jim. He is an ex-Marine and an all-around good guy. He drove Nick and all of our visitors back and forth from the airport the past two years.

Jim is also a very talented acoustic guitarist. As we merged onto the on-ramp, he said it was hard for him to talk about hard things, but that he wanted to tell us that our family had inspired him, that witnessing the support of all our friends and family had made a strong impression on him.

He said, ‘Your daughter was teaching herself guitar.’ And told us that after we flew in from Boston picked us up, he had been inspired to do something he’d planned to do for 20 years. His brother, he said, had battled cancer on and off for years, and had lost his struggle at age 41. The two used to play guitar together and Jim had always meant to record a favorite song of theirs.

Well, he’d finally done it. He said, ‘I’d like to play if for you and if you like it, I’ll send it to you.’

The Sound of Silence filled the dark car. A gorgeously complicated acoustic arrangement that was perfect, beautiful. Nick and I clutched hands, and he passed me a tissue, and as we sped along the highway, high in the sky was a waning crescent moon, inverse to the waxing crescent moon that had hung outside the medical jet when we flew to Pittsburgh, 3 years earlier, so full of hope for a speedy and successful transplant.

Our plane departed from gate 33. A few hours later, we landed in Phoenix.

Arizona

In July of last year, I wrote on this blog about coincidences, and about how Caitlin once had something called a soul reading done. The reader had asked Caitlin if anything had happened to her when she was 11?

Age 11 was the time she came very close to dying. After the year of surgeries and complications she endured (she would hate me using that word–she so disliked drama regarding her health), Arizona was our first family trip.

I was struck, back then, by how calming this place was. It still is. We’ve been hiking the desert mountains every morning. It’s so quiet, so still. There are so many birds to remind us of Caitlin. We’ve shouted her name into the canyons and the echoes are pleasing.

Penny sightings

I had never heard of pennies from heaven until about a few years ago, and then only from my sister, the very practical Kate, an RN. But Kate is also rather intuitive, and when she says something in her no-nonsense voice, I tend to listen, even though this particular  phenomenon seemed too far-fetched to make any sense.

But I’m just an earthling, a human. What do I know? And anyway, regardless of how coincidences happen, the way you read coincidences can be helpful with self-reflection. Here are some recent, striking penny stories:

We knew people could have ‘dry runs’–offers of lungs that didn’t work out, but we didn’t really expect it to happen more than once. At one point during the last week that we crisis-waited, I went into the hospital bathroom I used each morning and saw 4 pennies. She’d had 3 dry runs at that point. I hoped those pennies meant she would indeed get a transplant, get one more chance.

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Washroom pennies

She did. She got her transplant on the 4th offer, on December 18th, one of the happiest days of the last three years. But it was all too late for her beat-up body.

On December 20th, as they turned off the ECMO machine, I saw that there was a penny on it.

On December 21, Nick and Andrew and I walked over to the Fairmont to get out of the apartment, to get a quiet lunch, to get out of our heads. The Fairmont is two blocks from our apartment, and to get to it, we had to walk through all the holiday goings-on–the ice rink and gingerbread house display signs, the European Holiday Market stalls in Market Square.

On our way back, as we were walking by the ice rink, an urge came out of nowhere. ‘Let’s go see the gingerbread houses,’ I said. I veered sharply to the right to lead the guys toward the building where they were on display. Near the entrance, I saw a bunch of pennies on the ground. I picked them up, counted them.

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The day-after pennies

There were 11.

I put them in my pocket and walked into the crowded atrium containing the giant displays of gingerbread houses. Standing right in front of me was Kwesi, a young man who had a lung transplant in 2014. I’d only met Kwesi twice before. I knew he lived miles from downtown. I couldn’t believe he was right there in front of my eyes and I almost couldn’t speak. But I did, and I stammered something about Caitlin.. and then we left.

Because I’d had no real interest in seeing the gingerbread houses. I’d seen what I was supposed to see. 11 pennies and a successful transplant recipient.

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11 Mourning Doves

11. 11 has been knocking on our heads. Before coming to Pittsburgh to help us pack, my sister had 3 instances of mourning doves settling in the branches of a tree outside her window, not on the ground the way they normally visit.

Each time, the branches contained 11 mourning doves. Each time, she took a pic.

Back in the old AOL days, I sometimes lurked inside a chatroom full of astrologers. One of them struck me as bright and very good. Once, I emailed her a quick question about Caitlin. She ended up responding at length, gratis.

First, I need to tell you that the prime focus of Caitlin’s chart is her sixth house. For all intents and purposes she has 4 out of 5 of what I call the “god” planets there. The god planets are the planets that represent energy we think of as coming from God, as opposed to those energies we ordinarily think of as “human.” And 3 out of those 4 were, until recently called “malefic”….Pluto, Saturn, Uranus. That is way too much energy for one house, especially one having to do with health.

She then told me that Caitlin was lucky to have survived the year she was 11, that there had been great stress on her from several angles in her chart.

During her wait for transplant, Caitlin’s lung function hovered around 20 percent of normal. Last week, I found a pulmonary function report from the year she was 22, 11 years ago. Her lung function was averaging 35-40 (bad) then, and at one point was as low as 24.  Those were the years when she really declined, when she started needing oxygen at night, and to fly, when she avoided stairs and much of regular life.

She lived with invisible struggles for a very long time.

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PFT report, age 22

It’s crazy, but 30 percent can look like this:

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One tough kitty.

CF. It’s a demon and it’s mostly, until its cruel end, invisible.

So maybe 11 is a reminder that we got 22 ‘extra’ years. That Caitlin lived 33 years with a killer disease during this time of miracles and wonder that we live in.

It does provide some comfort.

 

PS to those in the know:

Across the Universe is playing in my hotel coffeeshop right now, as I get ready to publish this post.

FEBRUARY 7–(Turn and face the strange) Changes

I have a cold and haven’t been able to breathe through my nose the past few days. I’ve been trying not to mind. It’s the least I can do. Being unable to breathe through her nose was just one more thing that Caitlin had to deal with. Her sinuses were blocked–a common CF problem–and after 2 1/2 years of nonstop oxygen blowing into little nostrils, they were irritated as well. She got to the point where she had to sleep half sitting up and tilted to the side, against four vertical pillows, to try and get relief.

Not that she ever slept through the night–she also had to take a beta-blocker every day at 4am. And then 8 hours after that, and 8 hours after that. Her failing lungs had put such a strain on her heart.

As Andrew said in the service, Caitlin climbed a mountain every day. He is planning to climb Mount Kenya this week. He wrote: “The air on Mt Kenya will be so thin. I will struggle to breathe. I’m actually looking forward to it.”

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Andrew and Jess at 6389 feet

Every time I wonder whether I should still write these posts, I get another email–often from someone who didn’t even know Caitlin–thanking me for writing them. Even when I write about things like altitude.

Not all that long ago, in 2013, Caitlin and I drove out to Lenox to visit Edith Wharton’s house. As we drove along the turnpike, she began to feel tight, breathless. As we climbed a slight incline, it occurred to her what was wrong. She checked the altitude app she kept on her phone. 1200 feet.

She was still living independently then, and functioning ‘normally,’ but that change in altitude was high enough to hurt.

This past weekend, Nick and I spent two nights in her apartment. We are trying to use it, take comfort in it, and slowly accustom ourselves to this vast change.

One afternoon, we walked home from Back Bay via Charles Street, which I had been avoiding because memories are literally everywhere on that street. After college, Caitlin worked at the Polly Latham Asian Art Gallery there. And the yearly Holiday Stroll, in 2013, was the last time she ever went to an event without wearing oxygen. Two days after that stroll, she was in the hospital. She began to need oxygen 24/7. She knew, although the rest of us refused to believe it for a while, that the oxygen was permanent. The forever-change we had been dreading forever had come, at last.

Jess left me a message yesterday. One of the things she said was something along the lines of, My mom always said the only thing that’s certain is change.

Polly Latham closed her storefront quite a while ago. I think the space has been a few things since, but I somehow knew that something new had opened there. As we approached, Nick was doing a nice job of listening as I tearfully described the vanilla eclairs Caitlin used to love at Cafe Vanille. (That space has changed, too. It’s now Tatte). And how she bought me a favorite shirt for Christmas at Dress (which used to be in a different location). I was outright weepy by the time we got to Polly’s old shop, remembering the  layout: big front window looking into a small display area, then a tiny staircase that led to an upper balcony area where Caitlin used to work and where she would give everyone who came through the door a big, bright smile.

It’s now a handmade jewelry – slash – antique jewelry shop.

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Heart, bird, wings.

And like everything these days, it felt like there was a message in this window.*

 

*More about messages, signs–the wild stuff later. Like Caitlin listening to David Bowie in the sky. Still need to wrap my head around it all.

–Maryanne

 

 

 

JANUARY 31–Half-Birthday, Groundhog Pup

I’ve been doing some reading about grief and neural pathways and how grieving morosely can become a chronic habit. I believe that eventually we want to be in the position of celebrating Caitlin’s life as opposed to mourning her death, as a friend said last week. So I’m going to make an effort right now to remember Caitlin’s great sense of humor, in honor of her half-birthday.

Yes, it’s her half-birthday, something I always jokingly ‘celebrated.’ It started when she was little and I used to send cupcakes into school on January 31.

This Thursday, February 2, is also Henry’s 13th birthday. Well that seals the deal, Caitlin said when the breeder told us he was born on Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day was one of our family favorite movies. Henry was meant to be ours.

We could never have imagined that we would end up living our own version of Groundhog Day in the very area where the movie takes place. Two years ago today, Facebook Memories tells me, Caitlin and I drove out to Punxsutawney for the weekend festivities. We laughed the whole time, and bought ourselves a chainsaw-sculpture groundhog.

We continued to laugh. Here’s a Facebook post of mine from just a couple of months ago:

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As for our real little groundhog pup, Caitlin realized she had totally come late to the game with making Henry a famous Instagram dog, but went ahead and made an account for him anyway, about a year ago. For a look at her humor and to remember her with some smiles, here we go:

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PS:

An interesting thing about Groundhog Day, the movie, and why it really is so great, is that the more you watch it, the more you realize that it really is an excellent illustration of the evolution of the human soul.  New York Times article: “Groundhog Almighty.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JANUARY 30–Windows Left Open

I haven’t seen Hamilton yet, but I know the music well and I keep thinking of the lyrics… The world turned upside down 🎶      My God, it’s so upside down right now, but everyone’s protesting, speaking up. It feels good, but if you’re feeling helpless, you can start here: Join the American Civil Liberties Union

Caitlin’s father is an immigrant from Ireland, a guy who came here without a green card, and worked hard and who has been employing dozens of people for thirty years.

I love this photo of Caitlin on a cold night—but just wearing a headscarf is a sign of bravery these days.  I can easily imagine some ignorant bully verbally or physically abusing her because of it.

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Or her having to face this, as she would have in an earlier time.

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I was getting some stuff off her computer today, and I remembered she often kept little text windows open where she would jot down her thoughts. These two were still open, unsaved.

what on earth could i have to say?
how much should we self reflect?
 
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quinoa
papaya
 
And this.

Redemption song
what kind of a country are we? “I want to be my own nation” – a character in ___ says.  My mind can’t make sense of killing to protect a nation.  It’s not my mind actually.  It’s something else. My soul? My mind can understand it.  We live in a nation and we want the protection and rights it affords us so we have to be willing to fight for that.  People want to harm us….I would want to fight for freedom.  Its not anti fighting.  But as a person, deep down, can you ever really reconcile that?  Or is that all part of being human. Having to live with the reality that your life might mean someone else’s death.  In any scenario. 

 

Uplifting Stuff:

Jess and her wonderful artist mom, Stephanie Danforth, have been going to Kenya for years, where they do a lot of work for kids via the Daraja Academy and the Simama Project. They are there right now, and so is Andrew.  He took this opportunity to expand his world and do some good. Here are some photos from the past couple of days.

From Stephanie:

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Playing sports with the kids.

 

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A little chess.

And Jess sent this earlier: a little rainbow where there has been no rain.

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It turns out that rainbows can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Update:

Right after I posted this, my niece texted me.

So crazy. I just read your post on the blog and had to share this with you. I was driving home from NH yesterday and there was a rainbow in the clouds. It wasn’t and hadn’t rained though. I tried to get a pic, but just couldn’t capture it.  ❤