Hammer experiences Christmas miracle
By Joel Stottrup | Princeton Union-Eagle
Most have heard of the two-minute warning, and a story or two about Christmas miracles.
Both phrases now apply to Jamie Hammer, a woman with Princeton connections who received a transplant of a set of lungs four days before Christmas 2010, at the University of Minnesota, Fairview in Minneapolis.
Hammer, 31, had to get a new set of lungs because hers had deteriorated so badly from the effects of the genetic respiratory disease she has had all her life — cystic fibrosis. Hammer who lives in the Plymouth area, has many Princeton connections, first as the daughter of Princeton natives Jim and Connie (Hamann) Haubenschild, who maintain a summer home at rural Princeton’s Green Lake. Hammer is also the niece of Dennis and Marsha Haubenschild, and is a granddaughter of Don and Shirley Hamann, all of rural Princeton.
Transplant just in time
A two-minute warning is announced when there are two minutes remaining in regulation play in a NFL game. In Hammer’s case, it meant that she was close to being within hours of expiring if she didn’t receive a new set of lungs when she did, according to family members. The miracle was that the lungs did arrive, provided through an organ donation program. People can sign up to be a donor in the program and the notation will be placed on your driver’s license.
Hammer’s family has expressed tremendous gratitude for organ donor programs and for those who donate their organs. They also talked about the heartache of knowing that the donor of Jamie’s new lungs had died.
Dec. 21 is the day of the winter solstice, which Hammer’s oldest sister Karlyn Coleman described as winter’s “darkest day,” the day with the shortest amount of daylight in the year. There were some dark hours in that day emotionally as well as family members tensely waited for the promised set of lungs to arrive to be transplanted, Coleman noted.
Days prior to getting the lung transplant, they had already gotten their hopes up about the possibility of a set of lungs being available, only to find out they were not usable because the person had had pneumonia.
CF, as cystic fibrosis is known, is an inherited disease with no cure and no known remedy other than regular maintenance to try to clear out the excess mucus that constantly develops in the lungs. Mucus in the lungs, according to the CF Foundation, increases the severity of lung infections, as well as reducing the lungs’ functions.
One of the common mucus-clearing techniques is for the CF person to sit, stand or lie in a position to help facilitate the freeing-up of mucus as their chest or back are pounded or clapped. Other techniques include the use of a mechanical vest or blowing into a device that shakes the mucus loose.
Jamie had been getting regular therapeutic treatments all her life to clear her lungs. CF researchers, meanwhile, have gotten “close” to finding a cure, but not quite, Coleman noted. Jamie has had a lot of sickness from the CF but she has functioned well, getting married, keeping a job, and this past summer doing some hour-long bike riding, Coleman noted. Despite having only 30-percent lung capacity, Coleman added, Jamie has “led an active life.”
But the disease’s effect “caught up” to Jamie this past October and she was admitted to the hospital by the time of her birthday on Oct. 16, according to Coleman.
“She knew that she was getting very sick,” Coleman said. She noted that while Jamie was in the hospital and on the lung transplant list, her carbon dioxide (CO2) level was elevating far beyond what a normal person would have.
Eight days prior to the Dec. 21 transplant, the CO2 level was rated at 148 (versus the normal 40) and Jamie was put on a ventilator, Coleman noted.
Meanwhile, family and friends worried that Jamie might not be able to pass the tests to be put on a lung transplant list, Coleman said, explaining that Jamie was very weak in mid-October. But doctors at the U of M “fought” to have Jamie put on the list, according to Coleman.
Getting on the list requires tests, including a six-minute walk and Coleman said that during Jamie’s walking test in the hospital, nurses stood up and clapped as Jamie walked by the nurses’ station.
“We sat there right before Thanksgiving to find out she made it to the list,” Coleman said last week, adding that had Jamie not passed tests, “she wouldn’t be here.”
Coleman noted that for about a week or two after making the list, Jamie was “doing pretty well, with new energy.” But then after that, Coleman said, Jamie’s CO2 level rose dramatically and Jamie was “fighting to stay conscious,” with medical people telling Jamie she could not maintain on her own and had to be put on a ventilator.
Jamie didn’t want to be intubated [for oxygen ventilation] Coleman said, saying Jamie “feared that more than anything because you don’t know if you will come off of it.” Just before Jamie was put on the ventilator, family members, including Jamie’s husband Chris, parents Jim and Connie, and aunt Sandy Haehn, gave her hugs, Coleman recalled.
After a few days on the ventilator in mid-December, a doctor contacted the family that they may have a set of lungs to transplant, but the coordinator did not know for sure if those lungs were healthy. It turned out they were not as they had pneumonia.
“It was devastating... horrible,” Coleman said of the family’s hopes rising there might be acceptable lungs to transplant and then getting the bad news. Meanwhile, “we were running out of time,” Coleman said.
There was getting to be less and less space in Jamie’s lungs for oxygen to be transferred into the blood, as her lungs were just becoming worn out, Coleman noted. There was suction and cleaning, but it no longer could continue to keep up, she said.
Promising news, then anxious waiting
Then, on Dec. 20 at 7 p.m., the call came that Jamie was first on the list for what looked to be a set of good lungs. Coleman said that some family members decided not to call the parents at that point until it was known for sure if the lungs were acceptable in order to spare them the potential heartache again.
The drama began during the night as family members waited to hear for sure at 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 21 if the lungs had arrived. The weather, according to Coleman, heightened the anxiety about transport as snow fell and then it turned to rain. Coleman recalled the tense minutes and hours after they didn’t hear anything as they had thought they would at 1:30 a.m. Another hour went by, and then it got to be 3:30 a.m. and still no news. “We were giving up hope,” Coleman said, saying family members were wondering, Where is the plane carrying the badly needed lungs? With every minute that passed beyond 1:30 the question was, “Is something going to happen?” Coleman recalled.
Finally, at 4 a.m. an anesthesiologist came into Jamie’s hospital room and told her, “We’re taking you into the operating room,” Coleman said.
Family members who were huddled around Jamie’s hospital bed looked on at what was “the most beautiful sight,” Coleman said, of seeing the anesthesiologist arrive and make that announcement. Jamie’s parents were informed of the news.
With two surgeons involved in the transplant operation, it was completed at about 9:30 a.m. instead of the anticipated noon time, Coleman noted.
Experiencing opposing emotions
But with the relief and joy over Jamie getting the life-saving lungs, the family also felt sorrow over knowing the grief the donor family must have been going through at losing one of their own, Coleman and other family members said afterward. “You’re so sad,” Coleman said, “someone had to die for someone to live. Having come close to losing our sister and to know another family lost a loved one. Every breath that Jamie has taken, someone has given their life.”
Coleman declined to say what state the set of transplanted lungs came from, saying only that it was from somewhere within the Upper Midwest.
Jamie began breathing on her own the day after Christmas and began talking the day after that and later in the last week of December Jamie was working on standing.
Coleman, on Jan. 3, said that Jamie was eating and walking and that she would, as early as Jan. 5 or 6, be transferred to the University of Minnesota’s hospital at Riverside to get therapy in a rehab center.
“She is a fighter,” Coleman said of Jamie a few days after Christmas. “She doesn’t ever give up. She has never said, ‘I can’t do it,’ and never once while in the hospital has she said, ‘Why me?’”
Jamie, in fact, was helping other patients on her hospital floor, including an alcoholic waiting for a liver transplant and was sharing her flowers with patients who didn’t have any, Coleman noted.
That comes from Jamie’s work as a recreational therapist at a nursing home in St. Louis Park, said Coleman.
There was much support, including all who expressed their feelings on Jamie’s CaringBridge web site, Coleman said. She noted that during one point in December, the web site had more than 2,000 messages and 40,000 “hits,” or visits.
But Jamie also has a “long road ahead of her,” Coleman noted.
One of the questions that someone posed when hearing of Jamie’s transplant was whether a person with cystic fibrosis still has symptoms of the disease after receiving lungs that have not been in a CF person.
The answer, according to the CF Foundation, is that the transplant recipient still has CF in their sinuses, pancreas, intestines, sweat glands and reproductive tract.
Also, with an organ transplant, the recipient receives immunosuppressant drugs to help the body not reject the new organ, and that can lead to side effects. Worries about getting infections are always a concern anyway for persons with CF, according to the CF Foundation.
Jim Haubenschild noted that a couple of his cousins have died from CF and one of those had had a lung transplant and lived another 15 years.
Both Jim and his brother Dennis Haubenschild expressed the same feelings about Jamie getting a transplant and the events leading up to it.
As Dennis expressed some weeks before word that there was an acceptable set of lungs for Jamie, family members were feeling terrible about Jamie’s then deteriorating condition. It was putting a chill on the holiday season, Dennis mentioned.
Then after Jamie’s successful transplant, Dennis and Jim talked about the “two minute warning” when family members awaited word if there would be a lung transplant in time. Then when it did successfully occur, it was a “Christmas miracle,” the two agreed. But sadness was also felt for the family who lost their loved one from whose body the lungs were taken, they said.
Jim said he hopes that readers will look into the organ donor program to consider being a donor and possibly help save someone else’s life someday.
Here’s how Jamie’s sister Heather put it on the CaringBridge web site for Jamie on Dec. 26: “We say a prayer every day for the family that lost their loved one. We are so grateful for that family’s choice of organ donation and a minute does not go by that we don’t think of the other family and their loss. We feel like they are now a part of our family, and we hope someday we can tell them that.”