A walking miracle.
That's how Maryanne Fletcher describes herself nine months after a double lung transplant that saved her life.
But Fletcher, a 1973 graduate of Brownwood High School, didn't visit the Bulletin recently to just talk about herself. National Transplant Week has just ended, and Fletcher has much to say about the importance of organ donation — and the man who posthumously saved Fletcher's life, and that man's family.
The Southwest Transplant Alliance, which coordinated Fletcher's transplant, has only told her that she received the lungs of a male. She knows nothing about him, how he died, where he lived, his age. She has written a letter to the family through the Southwest Transplant Alliance.
'The most gracious and God-given gift'
Organ donation, Fletcher said, "is the most gracious and God-given gift that anyone could receive. One person can save eight lives."
In her letter to the family, Fletcher said, "I just thanked them for their gift of life, for me and the others that they saved. I can't thank them enough. There's just no way."
Fletcher, who previously worked at the Holley auto dealership, was managing the Spa on the Creek when she started having bouts of pneumonia. Her breathing became hard, and she learned she had COPD — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
"I found out my lungs were — I call it, toast," Fletcher said. "Ruined." She ended up full-time on supplemental oxygen and was placed on the lung transplant list through the Southwest Transplant Alliance around November 2012. Without a lung transplant, Fletcher was told, she'd have about a year to live.
"It was devastating, but I also knew God would take care of me," Fletcher said.
'Can you be here in 2 1/2 hours?'
Fletcher has a rare blood type — B negative — which added to the difficulty of finding a donor. Eleven months transpired. Fletcher said she never worried but trusted in God, although she had the thought in the back of her mind: the call might never come. As her condition deteriorated, she lost 25 pounds.
Around 1 p.m. on Oct. 25, 2013, Fletcher received a phone call from someone at UT Southwestern Medical Center: "Can you be here in 2 1/2 hours? We have a possible transplant for you."
"Yes I can," Fletcher replied.
Air Evac Lifeteam flew Fletcher to the Dallas hospital. Her husband, Wesley, who works at the Hoffpauir auto dealership in Goldthwaite, received an assurance from dealership owner Lee Hoffpauir: Wesley Fletcher could take as much time away from work as he needed so he could be with his wife.
At the hospital, Fletcher waited as the medical staff worked to determine whether the potential donor was, indeed, a match for her. The donor lungs were larger than hers, Fletcher said, and that was a concern. She battled fear.
At 10:30 p.m., medical staff rolled her into surgery. "Right before they rolled me in, I had a peace come over me — a total peace," Fletcher said. "I gave it to God. I knew it was in his hands." Fletcher joked with the surgical staff and also asked them to pray. Thoracic surgeon Dr. Michael Wait led the prayer.
Wesley Fletcher waited, alone in a surgical weighting room, for eight hours, receiving periodic updates from the surgical team.
Fletcher spent a rough and painful four days in ICU, and remained hospitalized for a total of 11 days. The Fletchers stayed in Dallas for another month, as doctors wanted her close to the hospital for frequent checkups. She was allowed to come home to Brownwood the day before Thanksgiving. She and Wesley ate Thanksgiving dinner at the Chatfield, although Fletcher doesn't remember much about that. "I was on drugs," Fletcher explained.
Since her transplant, Fletcher said, everyday has been special — "every single day."
"It's changed my whole way of thinking and acting and being," she said, adding that she wakes up every morning thankful for the day.
Fletcher wants to focus attention on the importance of organ donation.
123,000 people are waiting
Across the nation, Fletcher said, nearly 123,000 people are on organ transplant lists, and 18 people will die each day while waiting.
"I want people to know that the gift of life is the most precious, beautiful thing you can do for anyone," Fletcher said.
Medical staff does not disfigure the body of a donor when removing organs, Fletcher said. "They take care of their donors as well as their patients," she said.
Fletcher said as far as she knows, she's the only lung transplant patient in Brown County. As part of her post-transplant care, Fletcher takes 44 pills a day, and she'll be taking pills for the remainder of her life. "But it's OK," Fletcher said.
She's regained 15 of the 25 pounds she lost. "I feel better than I've felt in many years — probably five years," Fletcher said.
Fletcher said anyone who wants to talk to her about organ donation is welcome to call her at 325-641-0338.