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May15ThuThe young woman was fighting a losing battle against a dreaded disease. That's when her mother and sister stepped in. May 15, 2014 by Diane Stark
"I'm sorry, but your daughter may not live long enough to attend kindergarten,” the doctor informed Roy and Sandy Langer of their seven-month-old, Lorna.
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The diagnosis was cystic fibrosis, a serious disease that affects the respiratory and digestive systems. Lorna had undergone bowel surgery on the day she was born and had been in and out of the hospital for her entire young life.
“We knew something serious was wrong with her, but we didn't know what it was,” Roy recalls. “We'd never even heard of the disease and had no idea what to expect. We were devastated at the doctor's verdict.”
Looking at Living
Lorna proved to be a fighter. Not only did she live to attend kindergarten but thrived in elementary school, enthusiastically participating in every activity. “It was pointless to try to tell her she couldn't do something because of her disease,” Sandy smiles. “She never used it as a crutch and set her own limits.”
Gradually, the parents learned more about cystic fibrosis, and it just became a part of their family's life. “We did what we had to do medically to help her live the best life possible,” Sandy says.
In 1988, Lorna, then in junior high school, participated in a radio interview to raise money for cystic fibrosis research. The interviewer asked Lorna how it felt to know that she would die from her disease.
“When I was born,” Lorna answered, “they said I would never make it to kindergarten, but now I'm going to junior high school. I don't look at dying. I look at living.”
In August 2012, Lorna participated in Run for the Lung, a five-kilometre race. By then, she was using a walker and on oxygen.
Only half a kilometre in, Lorna told her younger sister, Vera, who was walking with her, that she didn't think she could go on. But then her trademark determination took over. “It's not how far I've got to go that matters,” she told her sister. “It's how far I've come.”
Lorna finished the race.
Lorna's life had been one miracle after another but last year, it seemed as if the miracles had dried up. Her health had deteriorated to the point that the 39-year-old needed a lung transplant to live.
In January 2013, a donor lung was found. The doctors prepared for surgery, but it had to be cancelled because the lung was contaminated.
“Life was such a roller coaster,” Roy says. “The lung transplant meant Lorna would live and not having the surgery meant she would die. We went from the highest high to the lowest low in an instant.”
And that's when the doctors introduced the idea of a living donor. Roy was immediately disqualified because he is so much taller than Lorna, but both Sandy and Vera were good matches.
This surgery had only been performed eight times in Canada, and the three women went through months of testing before they were finally given the go-ahead. One test indicated that Sandy had suffered a heart attack at some point that had gone undetected and she might be unable to donate as a result.
“I was so scared,” Sandy shares. “How would I tell my daughter, 'I can't do this for you'? It was heartbreaking.”
For two weeks, Roy and Sandy waited and prayed. Finally, Sandy was cleared to donate her lung. “Everything was ready to go with the surgery and we felt like celebrating,” she says.
But then the surgeon expressed reservations. Both Sandy and Vera would undergo surgery to have one lobe removed from their lungs, and these lobes would then be transplanted into Lorna. It was an invasive surgery and the surgeon did not want to risk Vera's life because she has four young children.
Vera and her parents prayed, knowing she faced a life-or-death decision. Vera met with the surgeon and told him, “It's God's call what happens to us. I come from a family of believers. You can say no to the surgery, but God says yes or no to life.”
The surgeon agreed to operate.
The surgery took place on June 7, 2013. “That day was the hardest day of my life,” Roy recalls, “because it wasn't just Lorna having surgery. This time, it was my whole family.”
Sandy was the first to be operated on. “I wasn't concerned about myself at all,” she says. “I was just worried about my daughters.”
People all over the world were praying for the three women that day. “I believe that prayer is what got us through,” Sandy says. “We just told God that we were leaving our lives in His hands, and He took care of us.”
A week after the surgery, Sandy was released to go home. “I didn't want to leave the hospital because I wanted to stay with my girls.”
Vera suffered a collapsed lung after surgery and had to remain in the hospital a few extra days. Lorna was released after three weeks. She suffered some rejection of her new lungs, but was able to overcome it and she is now going strong again. She's even planning to get married this summer.
“This entire experience has caused our family's faith to grow,” Sandy says. “I know it is only by God's grace and His strength that we made it through this. There were so many ups and downs, and it was so hard at times. I couldn't imagine going through something like this without my faith.”