Judith Mori started experiencing symptoms in 2012; a cough and occasional shortness of breath. "I was diagnosed with Interstitial Lung Disease in 2013," the retired RN explained. "From that time on, I slowly declined until I needed oxygen in 2017."
Unable to breathe on her own, she relied on machines while her husband Richard, who she called "a wonderful caregiver," took over all physical chores and needs of the house.
"I had a treadmill, but required about 20 litres per minute of oxygen to walk slowly," Mori recalled." That consisted of two concentrators joined together and a 50-foot-long oxygen tube." Then, just before turning 70 years old, Mori underwent a double lung transplant in 2019.
"The surgery did take a toll," she admitted. "I was so exhausted the first few weeks and there was so much to contend with."
Connected to machines for eight hours a day, three to four visits to the hospital each week for x-rays and lab work became a necessary routine.
She relied on a feeding tube since she couldn't swallow anything for three months; Mori said reflux could have caused aspiration to the new lungs.
"I also lost my voice for several weeks due to damage to a vocal chord during the surgery, so I couldn't manage anything more than a whisper," Mori added about the experience.
But despite those challenges, the transplant recipient said all was brightened by the single fact that she could now breathe. "It was so amazing," Mori assured.
Because of the transplant, Mori was able to reclaim her life, breath on her own, and begin speaking to others about the gift of organ donation.
"I spoke to our local chapter of the BC Better Breathers group and have volunteered to do more speaking engagements if needed," Mori noted. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the engagements are done over Zoom so Mori, who is on immunosuppressive drugs and considered high risk, can still share her story.
"So far, I have reviewed my condition before transplant, the actual surgical and hospital experience, and now my post-transplant life," Mori added. "My goal is to share my experiences and enrich knowledge of transplants and try to encourage people to register as organ donors."
Mori has notoriety going for her and her transplant story as well; she was the 500th lung recipient in British Columbia. "That was exciting," she assured. "I found out from Dr. John Yee, the surgeon, just before my surgery."
No matter the number, Mori said the whole experience of being able to live instead of wondering how much time she may have left has been remarkable.
"I am so grateful to my donor for this gift of life. It was so hard to wait while I was considered for transplant," Mori assured. "I was a difficult match as I had more than the average number of antibodies, and so I waited 18 months, and it was an excruciating wait as I continued to decline. It was such an exciting morning when I was called!"
Now retired from a career spent working as an Infection Control Practitioner in Interior Health, the ability to breathe has given Mori the freedom to spend her time doing more of what she loves; singing, walking, and photography.
"Hopefully, I will cross country ski and play squash again," Mori added.
She specifically stressed how incredibly grateful she is for the skilled work of surgeon Dr. John Yee, his team, the staff in ICU, the 12th-floor thoracic unit, and the staff in the pre- and post-transplant clinic.
Mori lives in Coldstream, BC, a small community near Vernon, and has four children and ten grandkids. "It's been over one year since my transplant and I am feeling amazing," Mori said.
Written by: Ryan Uytdewilligen, BC Transplant Volunteer