By Respiratory Health Assoc. of Metropolitan Chicago
Hank Chamberlain, of Gurnee, Ill., has been looking forward to doing Hustle Up the Hancock in support of his wife of 14 years, Meg, a double lung transplant recipient. He’s known about the climb, a fundraiser for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, for years now, but this will be his first year climbing—the year that counts.
“This climb is for her,” said Hank. “To show support for her strength and to educate my group of friends and everyone about the importance of organ donation.”
In her 20s, Meg was diagnosed with bronchiectasis, a rare disease in which damage to the airways causes them to widen and become distorted. After 22 years of coughing up mucus, not being able to laugh without wheezing and major allergies, Meg received two new lungs from a young man named Dino.
In September 2010, Meg was diagnosed with stage III chronic rejection. The doctors told her that she would have up to 12 months to live.
Meg had been down before. After her transplant, she was unable to eat and needed a feeding tube in order to survive. Her doctors told her she would never eat again, but nine months later, she proved the doctors wrong and was enjoying eating normally again. Meg hopes to prove the doctors wrong again about her diagnosis and dreams of living a normal life being able to breathe again.
Meg’s family was the first to know about the diagnosis. Her children, all three of whom adopted, were devastated to hear the news. Her youngest son wanted to move back home. Even her daughter, who is presently eight months pregnant with Meg’s first grandson, wanted to drop everything she was doing to help.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster for all of us,” Hank said about his wife’s health.
Meg’s disease causes her to get tired very quickly from even the smallest physical activity. She gets a terrible cough and finds that she has trouble breathing, sometimes gasping for air when she’s moving around. She can no longer do basic daily tasks and sometimes has trouble even walking around her home.
Nowadays, Meg stays home. When she does move around her home, she requires a high flow oxygen mask to help supplement her breathing.
Meg doesn’t know if another transplant is right for her, but she is keeping her options open. For now, she has been receiving a treatment called photophersis that will slow the progression of the disease.
It won’t be a cure, but if the new treatment works Meg will gain more time to live, helping her reach year nine with these new lungs, a personal goal of hers, along with meeting her husband and the team at the top of the Hancock and witnessing the birth of her very first grandson.
“Mostly, I just want to be around my family,” said Meg. “I am strong and have the will to fight my diagnosis because of the strength, love and support that I receive from my family, friends and support network. I want to be able to see my first grandson in January and then be at the top of the Hancock to see my husband and his friends in February. Right now, it’s just one goal at a time.”
Meg stays optimistic with help from a great support group. Hank, her husband, has gathered up 10 of his fellow firefighter friends to join him this year at Hustle Up the Hancock. The team has dubbed themselves, “Gurnee Fire Fighters Breathing Hard for Meg.”
“The guys are definitely onboard,” said Hank. “And they’ve been onboard since before the registration. A lot of them have helped transport Meg to the hospital on numerous occasions. Many of them have even become organ donors themselves. The support has been overwhelming.”
Gurnee Firefighters Breathing Hard for Meg will take the climb on Feb. 27, 2010 and hope to raise $10,000 for awareness efforts for organ donation and further lung research, advocacy and education for Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago.
To support Gurnee Firefighters Breathing Hard for Meg, visit www.lungchicago.org/breathinghardformeg. To learn more about Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago or Hustle Up the Hancock, visit www.lungchicago.org.