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Statesboro double-lung transplant recipient is grateful

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Andrea Maechtle feels like she received a second chance at life with her double-lung transplant surgery, performed March 17, and she believes the Statesboro community played a huge role in her miracle.

In 1998, after suffering a lung infection, Maechtle was told that she had a rare disease: alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic disorder that causes severe damage to the kidneys and lungs.

At that time, she was living in Chicago, but moved to Statesboro in 2005 because she struggled to breathe in the cold climate of Illinois. Maechtle knew she faced a lung transplant eventually, but she didn't know when that would be necessary.

Though she picked Statesboro rather randomly, she is convinced there was a bigger plan with her move here.

"I wanted to come south, close to the ocean, but not so close to hurricanes," Maechtle said. "I knew what I wanted in a home, and I found that in Statesboro."

When her doctor convinced her that she needed a lung transplant, she visited Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, for an evaluation.

"In the end, they told me that I had six months to one year to live," Maechtle said. "They wanted me to move to Durham, for treatment and a double-lung transplant, as soon as I could."

First, she needed to raise $25,000 of the more-than $800,000 cost of the transplant . Maechtle thought that was an impossible task.

After the Statesboro Herald reported on her plight in March 2013, however, and with help from her Facebook account, donations came from strangers, new friends, old friends and church groups, such as Grace Community Church of Statesboro.

With money raised and the guidelines required by Duke Medical Center met, Maechtle moved to Durham in July 2013 and rented an apartment. Maechtle was "listed," which meant she was put on a list, then assigned a number based on her case's urgency and her blood type.

"1425 - that was me," Maechtle said. "I'll never forget the number."

Patients waiting for a transplant are required to live in the area, attend rehab every day and meetings weekly, and come with a caregiver willing to stay the duration of the procedure. Maechtle's sister-in-law accompanied her.

Maechtle waited and waited. Until March 17, 2014.

But there were a couple of dry runs.

"You may get called in and you go sit for a long time; it might not work out and you might go home," she said. "You still get excited, but you know what to expect. You still get your hopes up."

When Maechtle got the call at 9 that morning, she was told, "We may have a match for you."

The tears flowed.

"I had mixed emotions," she said. "I was scared to death. I was calling everyone to say, ‘I love you; it may be tonight.'

"I can still remember being pushed into the operating room," she continued. "And then, waking up without an oxygen machine is that ‘aha moment.' I could smell the air - that was the first thing I noticed."

With obvious emotion, Maechtle said, "I don't take things so seriously any more. I live each day as if it's my last. Whoever donated this lung gave me a second chance at life. That person died a hero. That person is my hero.

"To me, it's an unbelievable miracle."

Maechtle never expected to be in Durham that long.

"My funds started to get tight," she said. "I questioned, ‘Will I give up and go home? Will I mortgage my house?' I worried and worried.

"Then," she said, "a physical therapist at rehab said, ‘We know you've been here a long time. We have an apartment that you can have for free."

Pausing to dab at her moist eyes again, Maechtle then said emphatically: "You tell me there's no God! That was His message to me: ‘You are right where you need to be and you are staying here.'"

After the transplant, Maechtle spent time in the hospital for recovery and time in the area to check lung functions and receive a biopsy to check on infection or rejection. On July 27, slightly over a year after first arriving in Durham, Maechtle was released.

Recovery is slow. She takes 26 pills a day. Her immune system is compromised, her daily activity is limited and she returns to Durham frequently for evaluations. But she has a new outlook on life and is making plans to give back to the community that gave her that new life, with the start of a support group for families in her situation, as well as other ideas of serving others.

Maechtle has a great deal to be thankful for this season.

On Thanksgiving, she wants those who donated to her transplant cause to know one thing.

Without them, her miracle would not have been possible.

Author: By Julie Lavender
Source: Statesboro Herald
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