Lung transplant recipient Donna Jacobsen was introduced to the media April 15. Alongside the Winside, Neb. resident is Heather Strah, MD, medical director of the Lung Transplant Program.
Participated in the Donate Life Nebraska 5K Race & Heroes Walk
Shortly before Thanksgiving, 63-year-old Donna Jacobsen of Winside, Neb. became the first patient to be added to our lung transplant waiting list. Two months later, on Jan. 26, Jacobsen became the second patient to undergo a lung transplant procedure with Nebraska Medicine’s reignited program.
“I was very proud and a bit nervous,” admits Jacobsen. “I got the call the morning of Jan. 25 and just said, ‘okay – here we go!’ I was ready to start feeling healthy again.”
In 2012, Jacobsen had a cough that wouldn’t go away. As a registered nurse with more than 40 years experience, Jacobsen knew she needed to see a physician. A lung biopsy revealed a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a disease that causes scarring of the lungs, often resulting in respiratory failure. There is currently no cure.
“I felt fine until August 2014 – that’s when I started going downhill,” remembers Jacobsen. “It got so bad that I had no choice but to retire from the job I loved.”
Heather Strah, MD, Medical director of Lung Transplantation Program
“When I first met Donna last spring, she was very sick and getting worse quickly,” explains Heather Strah, MD, medical director of the Lung Transplantation Program. “Her oxygen needs were going up and she wasn’t able to walk very far. We were worried that she wouldn’t be able to wait for our lung transplant program to start, but Donna was determined to be transplanted close to home even though there were other programs that could have transplanted her sooner.”
Aleem Siddique, MD, surgical director of Lung Transplantation Program
Jacobsen’s single lung transplant started around 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 26 and lasted between four and five hours. Aleem Siddique, MD, surgical director of lung transplantation, performed the operation, assisted by transplant surgeon Michael Moulton, MD. A team of anesthesiologists, surgeons, physician assistants, perfusionists, pharmacists, nursing personnel and other staff members were also in the room.
“The surgery went very well without any particular complications,” says Dr. Siddique. “We’re very excited and hope that Donna can lead a fulfilling life. For me, the improvement in quality of life is just as important as the longevity gained with a transplant.”
Jacobsen spent three weeks at Nebraska Medical Center before being discharged. Because her hometown is more than two hours away, she’s been staying at an Omaha hotel while attending daily pulmonary rehabilitation sessions at the med center.
“Donna has done wonderfully during her recovery and is on track to move back home by the end of the month,” says Dr. Strah. “But, in order to complete pulmonary rehab, we’ve asked her to do something very special – walk one mile in the Donate Life Nebraska 5K Race & Heroes’ Walk.”
Donna Jacobsen found strength in numbers over the weekend. The Jacobsen family took part in the Donate Life Nebraska 5K Race & Heroes Walk.
On April 16, Jacobsen, her husband Randy, their three children and eight grandkids, took part in the walk with other members of Nebraska Medicine’s transplant program.
Donna Jacobsen’s Journey
Watch lung transplant patient Donna Jacobsen’s video to learn more about her journey.
“It’s very emotional for me,” says Jacobsen. “Especially when I start to think about my donor and their family. I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done.”
“Nationally, it’s estimated that 18 people die every day while waiting for organ transplants. A single donor may save up to eight lives,” adds Dr. Siddique. “To see Donna and other transplant patients doing so well is exactly the positive reinforcement and gratification that keeps patients and providers going during difficult times.”
Jacobsen will continue to receive checkups every few months for the rest of her life. Patients who survive their first year after transplant are typically expected to live seven or eight years, but Dr. Strah has seen many patients who were transplanted 10, 15, 20 years ago who are still enjoying relatively good health.
Jacobsen says she’s excited to get home, spend time with her family and start doing all the work around her house that she didn’t have the energy to do before. But, she will miss seeing members of her transplant team every day.
“Everyone at Nebraska Medicine is simply phenomenal. From the doctors, to the nurses and therapists, I couldn’t ask for better care – and that’s saying a lot coming from a nurse!” says Jacobsen. “I am so grateful this hospital is here in Nebraska. I was able to stay close to home and receive my transplant. I don’t know why you’d go anywhere else.”
Nebraska Medicine’s Lung Transplant Program offers single lung, double lung and heart-lung transplants. Clinicians hope to evaluate 20-30 patients and transplant 10 patients in the first year. Along with extraordinary patient care, the program will provide lung education, research and innovation.
To register as an organ donor, visit www.donatelife.net or www.nedonation.org. For more information about our Lung Transplant Program, visit www.nebraskamed.com/transplant.