HURON, S.D. (AP) — Michelle Gascoigne will be celebrating two birthdays from now on: Her actual birthday will be on May 17, and her first re-birthday — the day she received a double lung transplant — will be July 27.
"We're going to have a party," Gascoigne told the Huron Plainsman on Friday afternoon at her home with her husband, Dave, and new puppy, Bruzzer (http://bit.ly/15V1Uqs ).
It's been a bumpy road filled with twists and turns, but Gascoigne, who has scleroderma, a condition which damaged and hardened the tissue in her lungs and caused pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs), believes the worst is behind them.
Gascoigne was an active mother coaching her two sons' soccer team and supporting the sport; then in 2004 she began to notice her energy begin to wane. Their sons are Benjamin, 29, and his wife, Kimberly, of Minneapolis, and Garred, 24.
By 2009 her condition was diagnosed: scleroderma and pulmonary hypertension.
One treatment followed another in an effort to treat the symptoms, because there is no cure for scleroderma.
In February 2010, she was referred to a specialist at National Jewish Hospital in Denver.
"I thought it was my heart at first, I figured I would have to go in for a little bypass," said Gascoigne. "During the stress test my oxygen level dropped into the 50s.
"My lungs were really bad," Gascoigne said.
In January 2012 they were in Denver to start a new treatment for pulmonary hypertension when she had a coughing attack, leaving her hospitalized seven days with pneumonia.
Gascoigne, who like many with scleroderma suffers from acid reflux and esophageal problems, said she also has Raynaud's, a condition where her blood vessels severely restrict if her core body temperature falls.
She suffered a severe Raynaud's attack when they returned to Denver last March in an effort to begin the new treatment.This time, she was hospitalized five days in an effort to stabilize her lungs.
"That's when the doctor told me my lungs were too bad, they couldn't treat me," Gascoigne said. "He said you need to go for a transplant, you're failing fast."
She received the call she had been accepted on the transplant list last year on her birthday, May 17.
Then the waiting began. Since going on permanent disability in 2010, Gascoigne said her husband has been carrying the weight of working full time at Pierce & Harris Engineering, caring for her and for their home.
Gascoigne said it was a difficult time for her. On one hand, you yearn for that phone call; but on the other, "someone has to die," she said.
"When people would ask me about it, I said God is waiting for the perfect lungs for me," she said. "And they are."
As she and her husband waited for that phone call they hoped would change their lives, their oldest son, Benjamin, was planning his wedding for that summer in Minneapolis.
And life continued — David keeping the home running smooth, and Gascoigne, weak and breathless, was on 30 liters of oxygen daily and struggling to do what she could to help. Although it was a mammoth effort, they would pack up the oxygen bottles and concentrator unit and still try to do things.
"I kept a positive attitude during my illness, and was my own advocate," she said.
They got the call at 7 p.m. the night before her July 27 surgery, and she had three hours to get to the University of Minnesota Hospital in Minneapolis. The transplant began at 4:30 a.m. July 27, and ended later that day at 12:30 p.m.
"I am fortunate the University of Minnesota took me, they don't usually if you have scleroderma," Gascoigne said. "I have scleroderma. That didn't go away with the transplant. But it hasn't re-attacked my lungs.
"I can do everything; my lungs don't hold me back, but scleroderma does," Gascoigne said. "Some days my joints and muscles ache so bad I can't walk."
Scleroderma also affects her esophagus. An upper portion has stiffened meaning food must gravitate down to the portion that is still working correctly.
"If that stops working all the way, I will need to have a feeding tube," she said.
Most transplant patients are required to remain in the area for tests and therapy for at least three months following discharge from the hospital, but Gascoigne said she was released a full 20 days early.
The best part is that she was out of the hospital and well on the way to recovery for her son's wedding.
Emotion crept into her voice as she described the joy of dancing with her son at his wedding with an oxygen tank.
"They asked me what the first thing I wanted to do was, and I said go to the lake," Gascoigne remembers. "I made the beds and swept the floor. It was awesome. I couldn't believe it.
"I haven't breathed this well in 10 years," she added. "Right away I could take care of myself."
"And she has color, before she was gray," David added, laughing. "I can't outrun her, now."
Cuddling their small dog, Gascoigne admitted that she had always wanted a dog, but they were always too busy to give it the care it needed.
"When I was on disability I brought it up and David said, 'Someday when you're better we can get a dog.'"
Within two weeks of coming home, Gascoigne was on Facebook and saw a pictures of puppies available in the area.
"I went just to look, but I came home with him," she said. He's been very good for both of us. I'm so happy the snow is gone. Now Bruzzer and I can go out and walk."
Through it all Gascoigne said her family, friends and faith have helped sustain her when the days were difficult.
"I want to thank everyone for the support and prayers. The power of prayer is what got me through it," she added.
Not a day goes by that her thoughts don't linger on the donor family and her gratefulness they chose to donate their loved ones organs. Every 13 minutes someone dies from scleroderma and its effects, as many as breast cancer, she said.
"Without the transplant doctors didn't think I would have lived beyond September," Gascoigne said. "I thank my donor every day."
Just consider the personalized license plates on her vehicle, it says it all: NULUNGS.
Information from: Huron Plainsman, http://www.plainsman.com/