Breathing easier by day and by night

Pulmonary fibrosis threatened her life, but after a lung transplant and nighttime breathing therapy provided by IU Health Home Care, a 73-year-old woman is counting her blessings.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Madonna Boerner is breathing easier, and so is her husband, Bob, after Madonna received a lung transplant at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

But nighttime was still a tough time because Madonna’s snoring often kept Bob awake. Madonna suffered idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring of the lung tissue that makes breathing difficult.

After her transplant, the West Terre Haute woman suffered a series of setbacks requiring hospitalization. But before she went home this last time – earlier this year – she received something to help both her and her husband sleep better at night.

Through IU Health Home Care, Madonna was hooked up with something called non-invasive ventilation (NIV) therapy, providing breathing support through a face or nasal mask. The therapy supports patients with severe neuromuscular or restrictive thoracic diseases and chronic respiratory failure, providing breathing assistance without surgery or a trach tube.

“I sleep better. I get up feeling pretty good,” the 73-year-old woman said.

She was so grateful that she called her patient representative in tears to thank her for getting her approved for the nighttime breathing therapy.

Once patients are set up with NIV at home, respiratory therapists routinely check in to ensure continued care and compliance.

With help from her NIV therapy and her new lung, Madonna, a mother of two and grandmother of four, is able to get out and about again and spend quality time with her grandkids, including a baby granddaughter.

She admits the idea of a transplant was scary. At the time that it was proposed, she was 70 years old. She wondered if she could tolerate such a major operation. But a battery of tests proved her fitness for surgery.

Besides, the prognosis without transplant was even scarier, she said. There is no cure for pulmonary fibrosis. The average life expectancy is three to five years.

She was added to the transplant list in November 2017 at age 71 and within a few days, she got the call that an organ was available.

“I was headed out the back door with my bag when the phone rang again,” she said.

Never mind, she was told. The organ was not a good enough match. So she waited – her bag still packed – for two more months. On Jan. 24, 2018, she got the call again.

“I said ‘hot dog’. I was ready!”

She received her transplant surgery at Methodist the next day.

Asked what she likes to do with her new lung, her response was simple: “I like to breathe without oxygen.”

Madonna said the transplant experience was bittersweet for her, knowing her donor was a 26-year-old male.

“If it wasn’t for people like him, people like me wouldn’t be here,” she said. “He was awfully young.”

To learn more about organ donation, contact the Indiana Donor Network.