Before Judy found out she needed a transplant, she lived an active, healthy and normal life.
Judy grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and attended the University of Illinois. She wanted to be a teacher, but when she had trouble finding a full-time teaching position she became a flight attendant instead and enjoyed traveling all over the world. In 1993, she met her husband, and about a year later they had a baby boy, Ethan. It was when Ethan was a little over one year old that Judy got sick with what she thought was the flu. She went to her doctor where they took a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia. But the very next day, after viewing the x-ray, Judy’s doctor called and advised her to see a specialist.
“I had been healthy most of my life, so when I heard the word ‘specialist,’ I was floored,” Judy related.
At first, no one was sure what was wrong with Judy’s lungs. As her doctors worked to diagnose her illness, Judy had another child, a girl they named Emily.
In 1999, Judy met Dr. Kevin Brown, the head of an Interstitial Lung Disease program. After another lung biopsy, Dr. Brown diagnosed Judy with LIP—lymphocytic interstitial pneumonia—and a connective tissue disorder. A rheumatologist determined she had Sjögren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease, the same disease as tennis pro Venus Williams. Symptoms of Sjögren’s include dry eyes, dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, joint pain and fatigue. Sjögren’s and chronic fatigue can attack your organs—hence the disease on her lungs. Judy was told she needed a double-lung transplant.
Being listed happened quickly for Judy, and after all was said and done, she didn’t feel right. She was frightened. Four days after being put on the list, she called the coordinator and said she didn’t know if she was ready for a transplant. The next day Judy was taken off the list.
Judy lived a somewhat normal life after that, though with an oxygen tank by her side at all times. She could still volunteer at the school, do the laundry and cook, but she couldn’t keep her job. After being on a medical leave for four years Judy was let go.
By 2007, Judy’s health was quickly deteriorating and Dr. Brown informed her that she needed to seriously consider getting a transplant. It took longer to be listed this time around, but soon Judy was added to the national transplant waiting list through the Cleveland Clinic. She had to move nearby while she waited on the list, so Judy moved in with her mother near Chicago. She had to spend weeks away from her children and husband, no easy task for Judy.
Fortunately, Judy got the call after waiting for only two months and received a successful double-lung transplant. She lived with her mother for another month to recover, and finally, Judy got to go home. She arrived back in Colorado with two brand new lungs and is still doing well today.
“I am so very grateful for my transplant, Judy said. “I truly would not be alive today if I had not received this gift.”
Judy has shared her story with audiences around Colorado. Before she spoke recently, her friend shared a piece of advice with her, saying,
“Don’t forget ‘seven-eleven.’ Breathe in seven and breathe out 11 before you begin to speak.”
Judy added, “I am happy to say I can now do this without the help of my oxygen tank!”