Part two in a three-part series on organ donation
By Kris Leonhardt
SPENCER — “I was diagnosed at 9 years old,” Debbie Bohman said. “Then my other siblings had to be tested also because (cystic fibrosis) is an inherited disease. Both parents have to be carriers of it.
“Then they found out that my younger brother, who was a year and a half younger, also had it. He passed away in 1996. He was 34 years old.”
Though diagnosed as a child, Bohman lived a fairly normal life until she reached her 30s.
“I always had a very, very bad cough,” explained Bohman. “With cystic fibrosis, your lungs have very, very thick sticky mucus, and that blocks your airways, and then you have to try to cough and get that out. That’s what causes the bacteria in your lungs to get many lung infections, and that’s what leads to lung disease.”
In 2010 Bohman visited her doctor, who told her that she was not ready for a transplant.
“He says, ‘You’re not sick enough,’” added Bohman.
Shortly after, Bohman was transferred to a new doctor. After being hospitalized for a severe lung infection, Bohman began to use oxygen.
“Then I went to Madison and got tested,” said Bohman. “On March 14, 2011, I got listed, and seven weeks later, it was 12:45 a.m., and it happened to be Mother’s Day that I got the phone call.
“When they called and said, ‘Debbie, this is the UW hospital. We have lungs for you,’ my first thought was, ‘This is a prank phone call.’”
Bohman could not go back to sleep, so she notified her family and friends, grabbed her bags, and drove herself and her husband to Madison.
“It gave me lots of time to think and to pray,” recalled Bohman. “I knew that somebody else had lost their life that I could get a second chance.”
When Bohman arrived, she was prepped for an 8:30 a.m. surgery, but multiple emergencies pushed the surgery to the following morning.
Bohman’s transplant surgery was successful, and she was in and out of the hospital in 11 days.
“It was just so wonderful to be able to take a deep breath and not be short of breath or gasping for air,” said Bohman. “You can’t do that with cystic fibrosis. Your lungs are just clogged full of mucus.
“For the last five years, I’ve been going steady, and I haven’t had any problems. The healing went very well.”
Bohman said that in order for her body to accept the donated organs, she must take 35 pills, which she will be on for the rest of her life.
Meeting the donor family
“We met my donor family four months after my surgery,” said Bohman. “I knew that I wanted to meet them really bad, so I knew I had to wait to give them time to grieve before I sent my letter.
“I sent it off two months after my surgery. You have to send it to the hospital.”
Bohman waited and finally received a letter in return.
“I called them. It was a Packer Sunday,” recalled Bohman. “I left a message on the answering machine, ‘Hi, this is Debbie. I have Cory’s lungs.’ … That night they called me back.”
The following Saturday, they met at a park in Wisconsin Rapids.
“I ran and grabbed them and said, ‘Thank you, thank you,’” said Bohman. “It’s like they immediately accepted me, like we’ve known each other forever. It was like family.”
Bohman got to know Scott and Krista Adams from Poynette, who had lost their 19-year-old son Cory in a car accident.
“Ever since we met, we exchange Christmases at each others’ house all of the time,” said Bohman. “We see each other three to four times a year. Last year, we went on vacation with them to Washington, D.C., for a week.
“To meet them and to be like family, … so many people don’t meet their donor families. We are like best friends now.”
Next week: The gift: The shape of a heart