Reflecting with gratitude on my 5-year transplant anniversary

Alongside some dashed hopes lies acknowledgment of the sweet life today

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by Anna Jeter |

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The years since my heart-lung transplant due to pulmonary hypertension have passed with fluctuating clarity. Some seasons have been rapid or insignificant, blurring one into another. Others remain in my mind, fixed in sharp definition — as if a part of me is still arrested in those moments.

There’s the ringing of the phone at 8:45 a.m. to let me know my donor organs had come. The kisses placed on my covered head before I was rolled into surgery. The clock ticking as I sat intubated, waiting for an available operating room so a tracheostomy could be placed. The dim light in my hospital room on the day my doctor informed us that a part of my beautiful new lungs had become necrotic because of a blood clot. The need to undergo another major surgery to have a lobe of my right lung removed.

The past five years have held many of these moments. Amid several victories, I’ve also experienced a devastating number of losses. And while I try not to dwell on it, my grief following transplant has been immense. It’s been five years since I’ve let myself dream. Five years since I believed I might someday hike, run, travel, or just breathe easily.

Life post-transplant looks so different from what I’d pictured. I’m continuously processing sadness and confusion because, in the most basic of terms, things went poorly. I say this knowing that a transplant guarantees nothing, and the spectrum of success is vast. I hold my gift tenderly, knowing that many patients are not afforded the chance I’ve been given. But I think it’s human to wish for the best outcome, to believe it could belong to you. And to feel a bit deprived when it’s removed from reach.

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Letting go

With all of that said, I do feel the past year has brought a healing balm to these open wounds. I’ve felt my mind shifting, letting go of past “what ifs” and moving on toward new “maybe somedays.” And as always, I’m grateful when I can exist in any given moment with ease.

I don’t know what my chance for improved health is going forward, but that’s sort of the point. There’s a bit of peace in embracing the idea that I have no control over any of it. And within that chaos exists a sliver of potential for the impossible things I once dreamed of.

While I can easily romanticize my existence before my transplant, which included some of the most joyous years of my life, I don’t need much to remember how sick I was. There’s no doubt that I nearly lost my battle against pulmonary hypertension. And without the gift of my donor, that would’ve been the end of my story. Despite everything, that truth remains clear. I’ll never regret opting to pursue a second chance.

The survival statistics for lung and heart-lung transplants can be vague and disconcerting. Given the complexity of my transplant and knowing how rare long-term survival can be, there were times when surviving even one year seemed unlikely. So to be sitting here, typing this column on the five-year anniversary of my transplant feels like a true miracle.

This life is not what I expected, but it is a life. To be alive — grieving, rejoicing, continuing through my struggle, and finding community with others — is such a privilege. I know that, mixed into it all, I have so much purpose. I spent this past week on the North Shore of Lake Superior with my family, eating, laughing, and living together beside a cleansing expanse of water. I feel so grateful to have been there for it. Through every moment of heartache, I feel so grateful to still be alive.

On a pebble- or shell-covered shore with a large body of water behind her, a young woman (wearing long black pants and a white sweater vest over a long-sleeve white shirt) kneels next to a blond, midsize dog wearing a red harness. A breathing device and tube are just visible below the woman's chin, and a black strap around her neck connects to a camera about waist-high.

Anna with her dog, Luna, on the North Shore of Lake Superior, five years after receiving a heart and lung transplant. (Courtesy of Anna Jeter)

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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