Breathing easy again, Olson receives new lungs

Brittany Olson

Breathing, a simple body function taken for granted daily by millions of people. But for some, that seemingly simple routine is not quite so simple. A person with cystic fibrosis does not have the ability to breathe so automatically. One out of every 3,000 newborns will be diagnosed with the genetic disorder, which mainly affects the lungs of the patient.

Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, Brittany Olson has spent her entire life taking treatments to aid in the everyday function of breathing. Colds easily became lung infections and breathing became increasingly more and more difficult.

Last fall, at the age of 26, Brittany was on 24-hour oxygen, with 16% lung function. It was determined that she was eligible for a double lung transplant, and received a new set of lungs on February 11.

“We are really encouraged by all the support we have had,” Brittany said. Her husband, Josh, also expressed his appreciation for the “unbelievable amount of support.” Along with Brittany’s mother, Pam, the three remain in North Carolina, where the transplant took place at Duke University.

Brittany was discharged from the hospital on March 4, exactly three weeks after her transplant, and remains in North Carolina. “I have to stay about three months, post-transplant,” she said. “I hope at the three month mark, I will get the okay to move back to Minnesota.”

Currently, Brittany is undergoing daily pulmonary rehab and doctor appointments. “This will be my every day routine until they tell me I can go home,” she added. Continual testing and lab work is done, to ensure that all is going well. “I see doctors for every part of me,” she explained, naming off various specialties. All are to ensure that the transplant and the medications that she is taking are working well.

Brittany will continue medications for the rest of her life, including anti-rejection meds, anti-virals, vitamins and antibiotics. Blood work and other lab tests are and will continue for her, along with doctor visits to track her pulmonary function and more.

“The transplant is not a cure for CF,” she added, pointing out that she still has cystic fibrosis. She will also continue to have those doctor appointments, as the CF continues to be monitored.

“I am, beyond words, grateful,” Brittany said of the unknown donor of the lungs and their family. She will have the opportunity, one year post-transplant, to write to the family and express her thanks and gratitude as well as sharing her story. That will go through the UNOS company, (the United Network for Organ Sharing gives the recipient a chance to say thank you in their own words to the family of the donor). “I may never know for sure if the donor family reads it or not,” she added. “This is going to change my life. It already has!”

She has already noticed a vast improvement. “No more oxygen!,” she said. The daily nebulizer treatments have also ended. All of the surgical drainage tubes have now been removed from her chest, about two per week since the surgery. Brittany is breathing well on her own. Once she was off the ventilator and breathing tubes, she was encouraged to get up and begin walking. “I went about forty feet the first day,” she said.

She is doing as much walking as possible, and had to walk a mile before being eligible for hospital discharge. “This helps to get the lungs going and bring CO2 levels  down,” she added. Pulmonary rehab continues every weekday, as well as doctor appointments. The rehab is to help build up her physical body strength as well as her lungs.

She will have to undergo a bronchoscopy test on a regular basis, to make certain that there is no infection or rejection in the lungs. “They base a lot of things on that test,” she said. Medicine dosages are adjusted as needed with the results.

Leaving Minnesota on January 1, they arrived in North Carolina January 2. Brittany began daily pulmonary rehabilitation appointments in order to strengthen her for the planned double lung transplant. The series of appointments generally lasts for 23 sessions prior to the actual listing for a transplant. “My LAS (Lung Allocation Score) was a 46, so I was listed early,” she explained.

She was listed for the transplant on February 1, and on February 8, received a call for new lungs. “It was a dry-run,” she added. The lungs were not acceptable for the transplant, for some reason (infection or damage), and Brittany returned home to her apartment.

On February 11, a second call was received for new lungs. Receiving the call at 7:00 a.m., they were at the hospital checking in and undergoing tests for the majority of the day. At 4:00 p.m., it was determined that the lungs were good, and Brittany was prepped for surgery. “They started that night, and finished about 3:30 a.m. on February 12,” she explained.

But they really weren’t done with surgery, and Brittany soon returned to the operating room. “They had to re-open my chest a couple hours later,” she said. There was too much pressure on her heart, and surgeons cleaned out the chest cavity and left it open for the next two days. “Surgery actually ended on February 14,” the Olsons explained.

A resident of Worthington, Brittany is the wife of Josh Olson, formerly of Heron Lake (the son of Marlys Olson and Dave Olson). Her parents are Ty and Pam Westendorf of Worthington.

A fundraiser to help the Olsons with continuing costs related to the transplant will be held at the Pizza Ranch in Worthington on Monday, March 27.

“We are doing a community impact night fundraising event at the Worthington Pizza Ranch,” explained Pizza Ranch Manager David Hartzler. The event is Monday, March 27, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. “They get all the donations from the bucket and we donate 10% of all the sales for the night,” Hartzler added.

Mark your calendars to order pizza or stop by the Pizza Ranch in Worthington on Monday, March 27, to help Brittany and Josh.

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