Bryceville woman celebrates new birthday, Nassau County, Florida
By Kathie Colgrove Nassau County Recorder Reporter
Linda Ford celebrates a second birthday Oct. 27 - it's the day she received a double lung transplant. She considers the day just as special as the traditional birthday she celebrates April 30. "It's a miracle," Ford said. "It's a miracle from God and that's all I can say about that." The Bryceville resident was on a transplant donor wait list for several months following a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis or scarring of the lungs. The disease restricts lung capacity and causes shortness of breath, causing Ford to rely on an oxygen tank for her breathing. The first sign that something was wrong occurred in May 2009 when Ford developed a dry, hacking cough and shortness of breath. She was diagnosed following a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Prior to the diagnosis, Ford said she had never smoked cigarettes or been exposed to any chemicals. Since the operation five weeks ago, Ford is free of the breathing tubes, oxygen tank and burden of life attached to a machine. She does keep a small oxygen tank on hand in case she needs breathing assistance. Ford fondly recalls the day she received a phone call from her physician asking if she was ready to undergo surgery. A set of lungs had become available from a 26-year-old female organ donor. The match itself was a hurdle as donated lungs must fit perfectly within the recipient's torso and be the same blood type. "I was on my way to rehab to do my workout and my doctor called and said, 'Where are you?' 'I'm on my way to the Mayo,'" she said. A few hours later, Ford was prepped for surgery and was under the care of a surgical team by around 8 p.m. that evening. The surgery concluded just before 3:30 a.m. Two days later, she was sitting up in her hospital bed talking to visitors. Ford was well enough to return home Nov. 1. "They said that's the fastest they've ever been able to send somebody home," she said from her living room Friday. Although she will continue taking anti-rejection medications and undergoing frequent doctor visits for the rest of her life, she said the events leading up to the surgery and after are miraculous. Ford now keeps a daily record of medications, blood pressure readings and temperature checks. She is more susceptible to infections since the surgery and must wear a mask when she is outside. She must avoid crowds, dust, dirt and bacteria that may enter her lungs. Despite the extra requirements, she has a new lease on life. "Before it was so hard to do anything," Ford said. "Now it's 100 percent. I just feel so good now. People don't realize how you feel when you can't breathe." She added that during her experience, she befriended others who have either already undergone transplants or are still awaiting the call that a donor is available. "Hang in there and just wait," Ford said. "Don't give up and try to be positive because it will come." She plans to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation and how it can change lives. "I want to try to tell people and get the word out for them to be donors," Ford said. "I've got a lot that I want to do." She expressed her thanks to the medical staff and surgical teams that helped her through the ordeal. "The doctors there are wonderful. They really know their stuff," Ford said. "I couldn't have been more fortunate." Her husband Tom Ford and her three children, Cari Ford Cahill, Marcee Ford and Tom Ford Jr., have been a major source of support. "I learned that I can do anything when I have to," she said. "I have those two grandbabies, Christopher and Daniel, and a great family and I look I forward to living longer and being with them." She added that the experience has strengthened her Christian faith. "I am living proof that God is real and that He is on the throne," Ford said.