Pain after lung transplant reminds Heather MacInnis she’s still alive

    STU student Heather MacInnis received a lung transplant in Toronto last week. (Submitted)

    After 25 years of living with cystic fibrosis, three months in the hospital, and eight hours in surgery, Heather MacInnis has new lungs.

    It was last Monday afternoon, Feb. 20, when Heather’s doctors told her they may have found a match.

    They scheduled a tentative surgery for early Tuesday morning.

    The St. Thomas University student said goodbye to her old lungs at about 6 a.m. that morning.

    Since then, Heather hasn’t looked back. Her doctors said she’s doing great.

    “I’m in all this pain and all I can feel is happy,” she said in an email. “I guess the pain just reminds me I’m alive and still have a lot to do.”

    Heather’s lungs were getting worse by the day. The transplant couldn’t have come at a better time.

    “I could feel my body’s energy and ability slipping, twice I was taken to intensive care unit and was told I’d need a respirator but I fought back each time,” she said. “I knew any day could be my last. The surgeons told my parents that the state that my lungs were in I probably had about two weeks left to live.”

    Jeanne Doherty, Heather’s mom, told The Aquinian in an interview just days before they found out Heather would be getting new lungs, that the hardest part was waiting. So, once they found a match, Heather said she knew what she had to do.

    “I was a lot calmer than I thought I’d be,” she said, describing how she felt just before surgery. “When they took me down in the stretcher I felt calm, I knew this was either going to get better or be over and in my head I was just like okay, let’s do this.”

    Heather’s family have been updating people back home via Heather’s Facebook. But two days after the surgery, Heather was able to do updates herself.

    “Today I did two big loops around [her floor at the hospital] – twice of what I did yesterday and never got short of breath,” she said. “I’m still really weak but I just never want to stop walking.”

    Heather will have to stay in the hospital for three months and after, must return to Toronto General Hospital every three months for two years for check-ups. This is why so many people from Heather’s hometown of Harvey, N.B., the city of Fredericton, and St. Thomas University have been planning fundraisers and benefits to help pay for the cost of Heather and Doherty to live in downtown Toronto.

    St. Thomas has been collecting money, called Toonies for Heather, and last week invited an organ donation awareness team to speak to students.

    “She’s doing great,” said Doherty. “She came up fighting as we all knew she would.”

    Heather’s boyfriend, Sean Campbell, said “the word of the day is relief.”

    The morning he found out Heather was getting lungs, his Facebook status read: “I have been dying to type this since early this morning. After 25 years and, most recently, a three month hospital stay in Fredericton and Toronto, my beautiful girlfriend Heather MacInnis is getting her brand new lungs.

    “Can’t wait to go for our first long walk together, and to hear her real voice for the first time.”

    Heather’s family found out she had CF only eight weeks after they adopted her. Since then, she’s been in and out of hospitals, trying to live a normal life.

    The disease blocks the digestive system from getting the good stuff from food, like fat and vitamins. But it also upsets the balance of salt and water in the body, causing thick mucus build-up in the lungs, making it increasingly hard to breathe.

    Her whole life, she’s only wanted to be normal, Doherty said.

    And that’s exactly what Heather plans to be with her new lungs.

    “I was starting to feel like I was losing my dignity, I had lost all rights to my body and I felt so dependent,” she said. “I’m so grateful to my donor and their family who had this major loss and turned their tragedy into my miracle. With their last breath this person saved my life. How do you thank someone for that?”