Three months after receiving a double lung transplant in 2006, Sarah Ridder returned to Loyola University Medical Center to visit another double lung transplant patient -- her brother John.
Two lung transplants in one family is a rarity. The transplants were necessary because Sarah Ridder and John Grosvenor both had a progressive lung disease called pulmonary fibrosis, which causes scarring of the lungs that makes breathing increasingly difficult.
The siblings have an unusual form of pulmonary fibrosis that runs in families. They come from a family of 13 children, and two their brothers and two of their sisters have died of pulmonary fibrosis or its complications. John, who lives in Sheldon, Ill., and Sarah, who lives in Sauk Village, Ill., believe their father and paternal grandmother also may have died of pulmonary fibrosis. Without their lung transplants, John and Sarah almost certainly would have succumbed to the disease.
Both had their transplants at Loyola, and continue to receive follow-up care there. The Lung Transplantation Program at Loyola is the largest in Illinois and ranks among the nation's top four in patient volume, performing about 35 lung and heart-lung transplants each year.
"Loyola has great doctors and nurses," John said.
Doctors and nurses, in turn, said John and Sarah are inspiring. "Both have greatly impressed me with how they hold such a zest for life, with their careers, hobbies and families," said Dr. Daniel Dilling, an associate professor in Loyola's Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. Sarah and her husband ride off-road ATVs, drag race a 1980 Starfire Oldsmobile and are rebuilding a 1980 Kawasaki motorcycle. John owns a trucking business and is building a rail mud dragster.
When Sarah first experienced shortness of breath, she thought she was just out of shape. But a chest X-ray she received following a skiing accident revealed the scarring in her lungs. By the time she received her transplant, Sarah's lungs were at only 40 percent of normal capacity, and she needed supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day.
Sarah received her transplant on March 15, 2006. John's transplant occurred June 8 that same year. Sarah was in a coma for three weeks and nearly died when her heart stopped and she had to be resuscitated. John also went into a coma, and had organ rejection episodes and other serious complications. It took him two years to recover.
But today, their lungs are functioning well, and they both are in good health. "It is a miracle that two years post-transplant, we had our second son," said John's wife, Danielle.
Living with a lung transplant requires multiple medications and frequent check-ups. "We talk all the time," Sarah said, "We give each other tons of moral support and lectures as needed." John added, "When Sarah is sick, she has someone to call and talk to. When I'm sick, I have someone to call."
Both say their spouses played critical roles in their recovery. Danielle didn't leave John's side during his three months in the hospital, leaving their 5-year-old son with his grandmothers. "It was very hard for me to leave him, but things were so critical at the hospital," Danielle said. "We were living day to day."
While Sarah was in the hospital for three weeks, her husband, Kevin, would get their son off to school, work all day, then stay with Sarah at the hospital until 10 p.m. Kevin's mother, Donna Ridder, stayed with Sarah at the intensive care unit during the day. "Love is so great and rewarding for the other to survive this journey and share a very special gift," he said.
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