Katie Craig Wright is no longer waiting for new lungs.
In what her family calls a Christmas miracle, Wright, a 30-year-old Salem native, underwent a double-lung transplant Sunday, Dec. 27.
She was first diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was just 6 months old, a genetic disease that creates breathing and digestive issues, and wasn’t expected to live much past the age of 20 at the time.
But, over the past 30 years, medicine has advanced, and the procedure became an option. Wright was on the waiting list for new lungs over a year before she received the call saying there was a possible match. And it came just in time.
As the days passed by, her health had begun to dwindle, and on the day she learned of a possible donor, Wright weighed only 85 pounds, and was already in the University of Virginia Medical Center, where she had been almost continually since Thanksgiving.
She and her family were prepared for the worst. Her father, Wayne Craig, said when they first heard the news, their initial reaction was to remain guarded.
“It was unbelievable. It is the kind of thing you have to ask them to repeat,” Craig said.
Wright, who graduated from Salem High School in 2003, is married to husband Nathan Wright and they share two children.
“By 8:30 that night, we knew it was a match, and that’s when everything went into high gear. It’s still unbelievable. You prepare for whether it’s good new or bad, but you’re not. When it happens, it’s still a shock,” Craig said. “There was fear when we were waiting to hear for sure. She was afraid that they would be a match, and then afraid that they wouldn’t be.”
Craig said the 12-hour procedure was rough on Wright, but she is on the road to recovery.
“She’s had a set back or two, but nothing really major. She was kind of weak going into it, just because she’s been sick for so long now,” Craig said. “It didn’t go as fast as they would of liked. But she’s catching up and doing well.”
Wright is not quite out of the woods yet, and will need to remain in Charlottesville for the next three months to recuperate and adjust to her new set of lungs.
Craig said as tears began to stream down the faces of family members, his grandson asked a question that shook him to his core.
“Monday morning, he was with us when the surgeons came in and said all is well,” Craig said. “There was a whole lot of hugging, and I grabbed him and he got tears in his eyes and he looked at me and said, ‘tears of joy?’ And I said yes buddy, tears of joy.”
The family is thankful to the Salem community, who has helped to raise money for the pricey procedure. Though insurance covers the majority of the $750,000 surgery, the family is responsible for roughly 20 percent of the cost, and though they still have a long way to go, they are nearly half way to their goal.
“A lot of people prayed and raised money,” said Gary Harth, Wright’s uncle. “Crowd sourcing works.”
Wright will turn 31 on Jan. 22, a milestone she and her family weren’t sure she would make it to. Though the new set of lungs isn’t a permanent fix, it is a start, and for the first time in a long time, the family is feeling optimistic about what the future may hold.
“My daughter, she’s very stubborn and bullheaded,” Craig said. “And that’s what has kept her going all of this time.”