Michelle’s Journey Through CF

By Meagan Moore, reporter

"It's weird to know I have someone else's lungs in my body," said 19-year-old Michelle Page.

Page, a current Silsbee resident, has recently undergone a double lung transplant due to the genetic disease cystic fibrosis.

CF causes mucus in the lungs to be thicker than normal, which in turn, creates blockage of airways and allows bacterial infection and inflammation to occur.

Unlike most people who have CF and are diagnosed with it in the early years of life, Page didn't find out until she was a sophomore in high school.

"I used to love to run around as a kid up until middle school," she said. "I never really had health problems until the age of 12. I was at church camp, and I started having really bad stomach cramps."

Page also wasn't sleeping very well, and her mother decided to take her to the hospital. It was then that she was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Since being diagnosed with diabetes, Page didn't have too many more health issues until her sophomore year when she started repeatedly catching lung infections. After going to the doctor and receiving an X-ray, they found a spot in her lungs that turned out to be scar tissue. The doctor suggested getting tested for CF if she hadn't already.

The test for this particular disease is simple: a sweat test, because people with CF let out more salt than people without it. It was then confirmed that Page had CF and that her diabetes was caused by it.

Cystic Fibrosis affects other organs besides the lungs, like the heart and the digestive system. Page has to take medicine because the enzymes in her stomach don't break down the food as they would normally. She has to eat six small meals a day, mostly soft food, and nothing greasy – definitely not worrying about becoming addicted to fast food.

For the next few years after being diagnosed, Page has lived her life as normal as possible. She is currently engaged and a student at Lamar University.

However, this summer, things took a turn for the worse. While on a family vacation in Panama City, FL, Page suddenly became sick, extremely fast. She had staff in her blood, and it went into her left lung, the healthier lung of her two. On the way back, they stopped at a hospital in Baton Rouge. Page stated that by the time they got there it "was almost too late."

She spent four days there before they air lifted her to Methodist Hospital in Houston. Page says she has no recollection of the last two days in Baton Rouge or the first two days at Methodist.

"My family told me some pretty crazy stories that happened in those four days that I don't remember at all," she recalled.

Her mother and fiance had told her that at one point she used her ability to sign language the nurses, something she learned at Lamar. When the nurses couldn't understand her, they gave her a pen and piece of paper. When all she could manage was scribble, Page grew frustrated and threw her pen.

"I like to believe that it was the medicine, because I would never throw a pen at my nurses," she explained.

The doctors had kept her heavily medicated to keep her stable. Page doesn't even remember being air lifted, but her fiance certainly does.

"Not only did he have to deal with a drugged girlfriend on the flight, but it was also his first time on a plane." stated Page.

Page's fiance will definitely never forget his first plane ride.

What Page does remember is waking up at Methodist with a tube down her throat because her lungs had stopped working by themselves. Page was admitted to the hospital June 9, and it was a little over a month before she received the double lung transplant.

She explained that there were several tests that had to be taken before she could be considered for the donor list, first and foremost was mental stability.

"They have to make sure you can emotionally handle having someone else's organs inside of you," Page explained. "If you can't handle it mentally, then it starts to affect your physical health."

After being cleared of mental stability, tests are ran on the physical level, for example, the type of blood, if the person has any current infections, and if the anti-bodies match up. Then they had to clear it with the insurance company.

Page passed all of the tests and was only on the donor list for a week before receiving excellent news: Not only did they have a match for her, but it was for two healthy lungs. Page immediately called her mom in tears of joy, even though her mom was already on her way to the  hospital.

Although the hospital can't release all the information on the donor, Page was given the basics. The donor was male and approximately 35-40 in age. He had been in a coma for awhile and had never gotten any better, so he was taken off of life-support.

 It has been a little over four weeks since the transplant, and Page can remember how afraid she was.

"I can remember thinking how it didn't even feel real," she confessed. "I was excited, scared, just a whole bunch of emotions in a ball."

Now all Page can feel is grateful. She stated that even though she hasn't noticed anything different about herself due to a remnant of the donor's personality, like some people who have had transplants confess about, "it would be a cool thing to experience."

"I don't talk or boast about my faith and religion a lot, but i don't think that any of this could have happened, or that I would have been strong enough without God and my family," Page explained.

Page's friends were sending prayers her way, and her mom and fiance were at her side as much as possible.

"My mom takes care of my paralyzed uncle as well as watching over my little sister on top of having a job, but she still made time to come see me every weekend," Page said. "My mom says I'm her hero for going through all of this, but I think my mom is the hero – She's my hero."

There is a three-month critical period where Page has to constantly go in for check-ups and wear a surgical mask until her body fully adjusts to and accepts her new lungs.

She does fully intend to send condolences and a thank-you letters to the donor's family via the hospital coordinator.

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