After a lifetime of cystic fibrosis, Ascenda Denton’s lungs struggled to provide the oxygen she needed.
She lay in a hospital bed, on a ventilator, uncertain how much longer her lungs could sustain her.
And then on Christmas Eve, she found her answer: a pair of new lungs, the gift of an organ donor.
Denton, 42, of Stevensville, Michigan, expressed her gratitude to the donor as well as the medical team that cared for her through her battles with cystic fibrosis and the transplant.
Denton’s surgery on Dec. 24, 2017, marked a milestone for Spectrum Health’s Richard DeVos Heart & Lung Transplant Program—it was the 100th lung transplant performed.
It is very humbling to know on Christmas Eve, a family struggling with such a terrible tragedy would find it in their hearts to donate the organs of their loved one, so others can have a chance at life.
Two days later, surgeons also performed the 100th heart transplant, bringing a new heart to Elaine Slikkers, 62, of Holland.
Two weeks after her transplant, Denton was recovering well and thriving with her new lungs, said Edward Murphy, MD, the lead lung transplant surgeon.
“It was a dramatic improvement for her,” he said. “She was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit prior to surgery. And now she’s on room air. She’s comfortably walking the halls of the hospital. Her new lungs are functioning beautifully.”
Doctors diagnosed Denton with cystic fibrosis when she was 4 1/2 years old. The disease causes chronic bacterial infections, inflammation and scarring in the lungs, which eventually leads to loss of lung function.
After 38 years of illness, Denton now is free of chronic infections and can breathe easily, Dr. Murphy said.
“What it means for her life is the lungs aren’t going to be a limitation for her activity or lifestyle,” he said. “It’s a radically different lifestyle for her.”
Dr. Murphy said he felt privileged to play a role in that transformation. And he acknowledged the gift that made it possible.
“It is very humbling to know on Christmas Eve, a family struggling with such a terrible tragedy would find it in their hearts to donate the organs of their loved one, so others can have a chance at life,” he said.
The 100th-transplant milestones show how far the transplant program has come since it was founded in 2010, Dr. Murphy said. Surgeons completed the first heart transplant in November 2010 and the first lung transplant in February 2013.
“This is the fulfillment of a dream for those of us who have dedicated ourselves to providing all aspects of heart and lung surgery to the patients of West Michigan,” Dr. Murphy said. “We went from this budding program to a much more mature program. It is very gratifying.”