Breathing isn't something you think about.
But for Kerry Baumann, it's something she's looking forward to - taking that first breath with a new pair of lungs.
Her lungs are functionality at about 25 percent capacity right now as cystic fibrosis causes mucus to clog her lungs, creating a breeding ground for infection. The 24-year-old Newport News resident needs a double lung transplant, a new liver and possibly a new pancreas, because of the toll cystic fibrosis has taken on her organs.
A lung-liver transplant has been performed only 40 times in the United States since 1988, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. A lung-liver-pancreas transplant has never been performed at Duke University, said her doctor, David Zaas, medical director of Duke's lung transplant program.
It's major surgery, but Baumann is excited. She met a woman who recently underwent a lung transplant.
"She said it was really worth it, just to wake up and take that first breath. So I'm kind of excited. I want to have that feeling."
About 900 lung transplants are performed each year in the U.S., and an estimated 120 to 150 of those are cystic fibrosis patients, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Baumann is being treated at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, one of five care centers in Virginia accredited by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, until she goes to Durham, N.C., for the transplant.
Her husband, Ben Baumann, thinks they'll be bound for Duke in about a month. There, Kerry Baumann will undergo a pulmonary rehabilitation program of weight training and cardiovascular work for four hours a day, five days a week, to prepare her for surgery, which will take 12 to 24 hours, Zaas said.
"They say the surgery's pretty stressful, and they want you to come through," she said.
They'll be there for about a year waiting for a donor. After surgery, Kerry Baumann will undergo post-operative care and physical therapy, including exercise sessions five days a week. Family and friends are throwing fundraisers to help cover costs not covered by insurance and living expenses for their stay . The Baumanns have been told the temporary relocation will cost about $40,000.
MULTIPLE HOSPITAL VISITS
Kerry Baumann was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 6 months old. Things were pretty normal for her until her teen years, when she was hospitalized for the first time. About once a year, she would end up in the hospital again to get pumped full of antibiotics to fight off infection, said her mother, Nan Harrington, of Newport News.
"She is a strong girl. I am just a wimp. If I had to go through the stuff that she goes through, the poking and the prodding..." Harrington said, trailing off. "When you're pregnant carrying a child, you want a normal, healthy baby. She wasn't, and that's OK. We have a very strong faith. This is the way God made her."
Kerry graduated from Summit Christian Academy in 2004, where she played volleyball, and met her future husband at church, Peninsula Community Chapel. They married Dec. 20, 2008.
Kerry Baumann's health began to worsen about a year ago, but she pushed through to finish the registered nursing program at Thomas Nelson Community College in May.
"Going to school was real tough for me. I'd be out for hospitalizations a couple, three times a year. Just overall energy, it was tough to keep up," Kerry Baumann said.
She had to quit volunteering at the Lackey Free Clinic in York County, too. She wants to be a nurse, but must protect herself with a mask, gloves and gown to avoid catching an infection. She hopes to land a job as a diabetic education nurse - she also has diabetes - which will reduce her risk of coming in contact with sick people.
"My main goal is just to I want to be able to work and support my husband so he can go back to school and get his teaching degree," she said. "He supported me when I went for my nursing degree, so I want to swap. And I want to play sports and play with my dog."
LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE