Giving thanks for life after lung transplant

Giving thanks for life after lung transplant

Shands at UF Lung Transplant Program celebrates success and second chances

By April Frawley Birdwell

Debbie Labud (with Alpha-1 Foundation CEO John Walsh) celebrated her 10-year birthday this year after receiving a lung transplant in 2001.

She spent Thanksgiving with friends in Cedar Key that year, eating dinner and watching as a few of the men put up walls in the house being built on the land. But it was the call she received as they drove home across the Cedar Key bridge that Debbie Labud will always remember.

After spending nearly four years on the lung transplant list, Labud’s time had finally come. On Nov. 22, 2001, Labud, who has a genetic condition known as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, received a lung transplant and a second chance at life. On Nov. 21, with Thanksgiving just days away, the Shands at UF Lung Transplant Program celebrated Labud’s 10-year “birthday” and all the other men and women who have received new life through lung transplantation at Shands at UF.

Since the program’s inception in 1994, 532 patients have received new lungs at Shands at UF, which has survival rates that exceed the national average, said Maher Baz, M.D., Labud’s doctor and medical director of the program.

“It is a second chance at life,” says Labud, now 56 and a donor recruiter for LifeSouth Community Blood Centers. “I have two birthdays now, one in February and one in November.”

Labud’s November birthday this year is particularly significant, Baz says.

“The national average, statistic-wise, is about 20 to 25 percent (of patients reach) 10-year survival,” Baz said. “So it is a major milestone, and the significance is the risk of rejection is really low at this point in time.”

Dr. Edward Staples speaks at the Celebration of Success event./Photo by Jesse S. Jones

The most common reason patients die after lung transplant is chronic rejection, a problem UF researchers from the colleges of Medicine and Engineering are tackling with the help of a $1 million grant from the state of Florida awarded to UF last year. Mark Brantly, M.D., the Alpha-1 Foundation professor of medicine and an expert on alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, is the leading researcher on that grant.

Speakers at the event included Labud; state Sen. Steve Oelrich; John Walsh, CEO of the Alpha-1 Foundation; Baz and Edward Staples, M.D., of the Shands at UF Lung Transplant Program; and College of Medicine Dean Michael L. Good, M.D.

Labud has faced only minor complications since her lung transplant. She takes medication to stay healthy and stave off rejection but otherwise leads an active life. She exercises regularly and rides her bike with Team Alpha-1, part of the Alpha-1 Foundation.

It’s a 180-degree contrast from the way she lived her life in the years leading up to her transplant, when she spent her days tethered to an 8-pound oxygen tank and didn’t have the energy to walk to the mailbox.

Ten years later, Labud has a lot to be thankful for. And at the top of her list is her organ donor, a woman whose choice to donate has given Labud 10 more years with her children, grandchildren and husband.

“I knew I was either going to wake up in God’s arms or wake up in my family’s arms,” she said. “And I woke up in my family’s arms.”