Former Peorian enjoying two miracles: Motherhood, life after double lung transplant
Against the longest of odds, Destiny Roberts, 31, a native Peorian now living in Davenport, Iowa, was destined to be a mother.
"I'm just so happy to be alive," Roberts said recently. "I can't even begin to describe how blessed I am to have my (2-year-old) son with me. It's really a miracle that either one of us is even here."
Here's some of what she's been through:
Born in Peoria with cystic fibrosis and asthma, she has fought three decades now against being strangled to death from the inside. She was raised by a single mother and her older brother, Danny Roberts, who died at 19 from the same genetic illness that made nearly every breath she took something to think about and endure.
Her constant hospital stays were measured in months, not days. Despite the medical ordeal, she got through high school, earned a college degree and then got pregnant by a man she doesn't want to talk about - she had every reason to believe all along that the daily medications she ingested made her infertile.
She spent much of her pregnancy in a room inside the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinic in Des Moines and weighed barely 80 pounds on the day she gave birth to Brandon Douglas McDaniel Roberts - a lot of names for a newborn boy who was born 10 weeks premature and weighed just 3 pounds, 8 ounces.
"I had so many issues that the room where Brandon was born was packed with so many doctors and nurses it was hard for them to move around," said Destiny, who actually lost weight during her pregnancy. "I screamed when I heard his cry and then laughed with joy when the doctor said, 'Hey, he just peed on me.'"
Her mother, Carolyn Vicary, who now lives in the state of Wyoming, took care of Brandon the first year of his life while Destiny stayed in the hospital getting sicker and sicker, weaker and weaker. She awaited what was then determined to be her only chance to live beyond the next 12 months - a double-lung transplant.
Destiny next endured two transplant "dry runs." That's when a potential donor has been found after days, weeks and months of stressfully waiting to hear for the fateful phone call. Each time Destiny was prepped for surgery. And each time was subsequently forced to face the horrible contradiction of emotions that left her simultaneously soaring with hope that her new lungs would bring her a new healthy and pain-free life and diving with the fear that her new lungs would ultimately kill her, if the operation didn't kill her first.
Both dry runs ended badly, resetting the clock for another round of seemingly endless waiting.
"The lungs are the last things they take from a donor and things have to happen fast," Destiny said. "Sometimes what they think is a match turns out to be maybe lungs from a smoker who didn't admit it or lungs that were flawed in some other way."
Then, on Dec. 28, 2009, somebody died in Cleveland and gave life to an extremely sick young woman in a Des Moines hospital bed who was wracked with pain, coughing up blood and thinking that she didn't have another day like that one left in her.
A year later:
"I've never felt better in my life. Every day I spend with my son is a great day," said Destiny, one of about 1,500 people who receive a lung transplant in the United States every year. Her weight is currently up to 107 pounds.
Recovery wasn't easy, but with the new lungs, Destiny doesn't have cystic fibrosis any more. She doesn't have asthma. There are lingering effects of the 30 years she lived inside a body that was choked with illness, but now she works out several days a week, attends to Brandon's needs and is awaiting a doctor's clearance to enter the work force.
For obvious reasons, Destiny is now an outspoken advocate for organ donation. She and her mother have invested a lot of time trying to learn about her own donor, based on very slim information. They can never be certain - she wrote a letter to a family of the person they suspect was the donor but never heard back - but they believe he was a young man from the Cleveland area who sang in a heavy metal band and lived with whatever measure of humanity it takes to agree to give up living organs in the horrible circumstance when donation is a heartbreaking possibility. Destiny even listened to a song on his MySpace page - she couldn't make out a word of its screamed chorus or verse - titled, of all things, "Punctured Lung."
"There are things that have happened throughout all this, that are hard to explain. For instance, my heartbeat was always really fast when I was sick, something like 140, 150 beats a minute. But the day Brandon was born, and a year later on the day of my transplant, (my heartbeat) dropped to normal. Normal," she said. "How do you explain that?"