She’s free! After four long years of being a prisoner, trapped by the constraints of a failing body, Samantha Boling, 25, is free to see the world again.
The Manchester resident has gone nearly two months with her new lungs after receiving a transplant in Cleveland, April 15. Now Boling is off the oxygen tanks and tubes she’s had to deal with for years and living life anew.
Health issues are not foreign to Boling. At age 4 she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a condition originally that was livable.
“I just kept getting sick a lot and I wasn’t gaining weight at all,” Boling said. “I was about 25 pounds when I was 4 years old.”
From there on it seemed like Boling was to live a relatively normal life. She played basketball, cheerleading, 4-H and ended up going to Southern State Community College where she graduated and was certified as a pharmacy technician.
But Boling’s pulmonary function tests kept showing a decline in the health of her lungs. Doctors, unsure why Boling was unable to use a larger portion of her lungs, decided to do a biopsy.
“I had just graduated college and the doctor called two days after my vacation in Panama City Beach,” Boling said. “Somehow I contracted a rare bacteria which led to bronchiolitis obliterans.”
BO is a non-reversible lung disease where the airways are compressed and narrowed by surrounding scar-tissue and inflammation. And a lung transplant was Boling’s only chance at survival.
“I was in shock,” Boling said. “I cried a lot at first. But then after that I thought, ‘What do I do now?’ I didn’t have any other choice.”
The first step in Boling’s transplant process was choosing the facility which consisted of browsing through brochures and weighing the options of success rates from this facility to the next.
“My family and I sat down with my doctor and she told us about different options and procedures including chances of survival,” Boling said. “There was a list of like 30 transplant centers and each center had survival percentage for one year and five years. And you’re 19 trying to process this while your friends are all out there doing fun stuff.”
After going through the morbidity of that process and selecting the Cleveland Clinic as where she would receive the procedure, Boling was placed on the transplant list in January 2011 and the race between time and her failing lungs was on.
As time went on, and the calender pages kept turning, life became increasingly difficult for Boling.
“Everything was nearly impossible,” Boling said. “I had to have a lot of help with everything. I was on oxygen all the time and there would be times where if I did have energy where my fiance, Ty, and I could go out and do something, by the end he would have to carry me back inside my home.”
Even menial tasks like getting dressed became increasingly exhausting.
“I had such poor oxygen circulation my whole body hurt because I wasn’t getting enough oxygen everywhere,” Boling said. “I spent a lot of time in bed. Exhausting activities were things like showers or getting dressed.”
For over four years, Boling had to watch herself get worse and worse every day.
“It was really hard to watch myself get worse,” Boling said. “I would keep telling myself ‘I’m going to get transplanted before the point where I’m on oxygen,’ and then I started using oxygen full time last year. I was in the hospital every two weeks for IV antibiotics and then I’d go home for maybe two or three weeks but then I’d be right back in the hospital. It became our home away from home.”
After four years, and with her lungs functioning now at only 16 percent, the call Boling had been waiting for finally came.
“The nurse came into my room and said, ‘Sorry for waking you up but we have a match for you.’ and I thought, ‘What?’ because I’ve been waiting for that moment for four years and I never thought it was going to come.”
Boling, who was in Cincinnati Children’s at the time had to take a helicopter ride to Cleveland for her procedure. Her fiance, Ty, was able to go with her but her mother, who had pneumonia at the time, had to be driven by her husband for the biggest surgery in Boling’s life.
After the two hour helicopter ride to the tune of $66,000 to Cleveland. Boling and her family still had to wait not only for the lungs to arrive at the hospital, but the doctors had to still test the lungs to see if they were truly usable for the procedure.
“The most anxious part was waiting for the doctor to say that the lungs were good,” Boling said. “When the lungs got there they had to inspect them and sometimes you get a ‘dry run’ where the lungs aren’t good and they can’t give you the transplant.”
But anxiousness turned to joy when the doctor gave Boling the good news. She went under the knife just a couple hours later at 8 p.m. and wasn’t out of surgery until 4 a.m. the next morning.
Doctors told Boling her lungs were so far gone they had to scrape dead lung tissue and mucus from her chest before they were able to implant her new lungs.
And once the procedure was successful it still wasn’t all sunshine and smiling faces for Boling as the pain of the massive surgery took its toll for a number of days.
“People told me ‘You’ll wake up and you’ll be able to breathe and it’ll be awesome,’” Boling said. “But that was totally bogus. That does not happen. I woke up and I thought I was dying. I couldn’t fathom how someone could be in that much pain and still be alive.”
Throughout the tough recovery Boling’s mother stayed by her side in the recovery ward.
“My mom was a trooper,” Boling said. “She stayed up in the ICU with me for like five nights. You hallucinate from all the drugs and I didn’t want to be alone because I was scared.”
Eventually though, the pain went away and Boling was able to take in just how much support she had.
“I got a stack of get-well cards that was over 300 from many people I didn’t even know,” Boling said. “It was just so awesome to have that type of support.”
While Boling still has some numbness around the incision areas, doctors say the nerve endings should come back within a year. In the meantime, Boling is taking what feels like a meal-full of pills to help in the recovery process.
“I’m in mild rejection currently, which is common in the first year,” Boling said. “I take like 18 pills for breakfast. I tell people I should just pour them in a bowl, pour milk on them and eat them like cereal. I’m taking meds for the side effects of my meds.”
While an inconvenience, Boling knows it’s mild compared to the alternative.
“My doctor told me if I were to stop taking my immunosuppressants I’d be dead within two weeks,” Boling said.
Despite the cocktail of medications, there’s still plenty of rules Boling has to follow to maintain her current, healthy state.
“I’m supposed to use my mask for the first three months or if I’m in large crowds where people may be huddled together or possibly sick,” Boling said. “There’s so many rules. They should’ve give me a list of things I can do because there’s so many I can’t.”
A handful of those rules include not being able to be outside while someone’s cutting the grass, no litter boxes in the house, house plants or gardening of any kind.
In addition, Boling isn’t allowed to eat any bottomfeeding seafood such as lobster or crab due to the bacteria that might be
on the ocean floor, no pomegranate or grapefruit because of the acidity level and no food cooked with charcoal.
All these restrictions may come at a great cost financially as well. Although Boling isn’t sure what that will be until she hears back from the insurance company.
“I have two insurance plans so hopefully they cover the majority of it,” Boling said. “They say the organs themselves are $300,000 and that’s not counting the procedure at all.”
In the meantime, Boling has been trying to get out and about as much as possible, something she hasn’t been able to do since her college days.
“I hiked Buzzard’s Roost,” Boling said. “It was the first time I’ve hiked since I was a teenager and it was the biggest accomplishment for me thus far. (My friends and I) had to stop a lot and I got pretty nauseous from all of my meds but I finished it. That was the coolest part … doing that without any help.”
Now Boling plans to go even farther in the future, wanting to see the world.
“If my doctors say I can travel, Ty and I might go to the Virgin Islands in September,” Boling said. “Everyone keeps asking ‘What do you want to do now?’ and I just want to wake up, live and do whatever I want. I don’t want to plan things.”
One thing Boling has planned though is her wedding date, which will be in June next year.
Though a location for the wedding is still to be determined, there’s still a bigger question in her life that Boling wants answered – whose lungs did she receive? Boling plans to try to contact the family of the donor through a transplant organization in a few months.
“I hope to find out,” Boling said. “I’m keeping a journal to send them with meaningful dates for me. First time I walked again, first time I went up stairs. I feel like it’s more personable than just a letter saying ‘Thanks.’ I want to give at least six months so they have some grieving time. I can’t understand what they’ve been through but I hope this brings them a little bit of comfort knowing that their loved one’s selfless act saved me.”
Boling especially wants to thank everyone from the area for all their support.
“I want to thank everyone from here in Adams County for all their prayers and support,” Boling said. “That helped us get through a lot knowing that so many people care. People we didn’t even know would contact us telling us they’d help with anything we need. It was just amazing to have that kind of support.”
And even though a transplant isn’t something Boling would look forward to again, she says she’d do it all over again if she had to.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Boling said. “But it was totally worth it. I would do it again. If you were to ask me that when I was in all that pain in recovery I would say absolutely not, but being able to do all the stuff I can do now makes it totally worth it.”