Sunday, September 21, 2003

Dana Siegel gets the glorious gift of a second wind



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Looking at the tiny person of Dana Siegel, who has wrestled with three big diseases, you have to wonder why she's so chipper. Wasn't she born with a whine reflex?

Apparently not.

Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, she soldiered on, volunteering her time to the Arthritis Foundation.

Breast cancer? Do the surgery, take the drugs, encourage other survivors.

Next, she can't breathe. Pulmonary fibrosis is the diagnosis. Your lungs get stiff, she was told. They won't exchange oxygen. Unless she got a new lung, she had less than five years to live. This was about three years ago.

She did allow herself to wonder whether "enough is enough." And she considered the crushing notion that she might not live to see her two terrific kids as their adult lives unfold. And she and her husband, Richard, still had plenty of living to do together even after more than three decades of marriage.

So she kept swimming, carting an oxygen tank with her to the pool. She found two places that would put a breast cancer survivor on their transplant lists - Ohio State and Methodist Clarion Hospital in Indianapolis. She kept hoping. Oh, and she prayed. A prayer group back home in Clifton, plus one hastily assembled in the operating room at Methodist Clarion right before she went into surgery July 11. She'd forgotten to bring her favorite prayer, one written by Catherine Marshall, because after all the waiting, everything happened kind of slam-bang. A call at 1 p.m., throwing some things in a suitcase and on the road 45 minutes later. By 5:30 she was in the operating room.

She told her surgeon she had a prayer she wanted to read. "So the nurses and doctors all stood around and held hands as I read the prayer. It just was a very powerful experience. I knew I was in God's hands." One new lung and four hours later, she was back in her room. A week and a day later, she was home.

She later learned that the lung came from a 14-year-old boy who'd been struck by a car. Size is critical in lung transplants, and although other people were ahead of her on the list, her 4-foot-10 frame was a factor along with the usual blood and tissue typing. "I'm so grateful to that boy's family," she says. "I wish I could make everybody understand how important organ donation is."

She tries, describing some of the ordinary joys of her "new chance at life." Being able to laugh and not cough so hard you break a rib. Kissing your husband without gasping except, you know, in the good way. Being able to "dance my brains out" at her daughter's wedding. Just as soon as she caught her breath - literally - she signed up to mentor a high school student and teach Sunday school. She plans to use precious moments of this new life to remind us about organ donation.

Information about lung transplants is at www.2ndwind.org. LifeCenter Organ Donor Network (www.lifecnt.org) , which coordinates organ recovery for Greater Cincinnati, has detailed instructions on how to register as a donor. An estimated 17 men, women and children in this country die every day for lack of a donated organ, and more than 265 local people are waiting.

I wonder if most Greater Cincinnatians - notably generous, in my experience - have really thought about the ripple effect of giving more time on this earth to someone else.

Apparently not.

E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.




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