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Keisha Nance, who recently became Vanderbiltís 300th lung transplant patient, takes a break during a workout at the Dayani Center. (photo by Joe Howell)

Milestone transplant patient eager to educate others

BY: JESSICA PASLEY

7/14/2011 - Tears stream down Keisha Nance’s face as she thinks about the 14-year-old girl whose life saved her own.

Just weeks after receiving a double lung transplant, Nance, 33, said she wants to be an example to others suffering from primary pulmonary hypertension or high blood pressure in the lungs.

“Thank goodness for donors,” whispered Nance. “I am so blessed and I know what I have to do for her — I have to live a good life,” she said wiping away tears.

Lung transplant patient Keisha Nance, left, talks with Dayani Center activities coordinator Jennifer Gann during a recent post-operative exercise session. (photo by Joe Howell)

Lung transplant patient Keisha Nance, left, talks with Dayani Center activities coordinator Jennifer Gann during a recent post-operative exercise session. (photo by Joe Howell)

“I know that I will be OK. I cannot wait to educate people on the merits of donating. I won’t let her death be in vain.”

Not only is Nance celebrating her transplant – so is Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The recent surgery marked the Transplant Center’s 300th lung transplant. In 1990, Vanderbilt performed its first lung transplant and followed with the state’s first double lung transplant in 1994.

Today the program averages 20 lung transplants a year. During the last calendar year, surgeons performed 24 transplantations, the most ever in the 21-year history of the program.

“We continue to make excellent progress as a team,” said Eric Lambright, M.D., surgical director of the Vanderbilt Lung Transplant program. “We are increasing the number of patients evaluated for lung transplantation and our operations. Our outcomes have been outstanding. It really is a combined effort of a lot of good doctors and nurse practitioners — a solid infrastructure.

“We are an above average-sized lung transplant center and our one-year survival rates are well above the national average. Our wait times (prior to transplantation) remain at or below the national average and our cumulative outcomes continue to meet national benchmarks.”

Since 2008, the program’s one-year survival rate has been greater than 90 percent and it recently received national designation as a Center of Excellence.

Nance knew she was in good hands when she came to Vanderbilt.

Although shocked upon hearing her diagnosis, the findings proved to be an eye-opener for her entire family.

“My mother died when she was 23,” said Nance. “I always thought it was from heart issues because that is what it said on her death certificate; congestive heart failure. After I was diagnosed, we began putting things together. My mom is one of nine family members who have died from this. All of them were female.”

Nance was placed on the lung transplant list in April. She received her life-saving transplant on June 16.

Her days now are busy with physical therapy, weekly support group meetings and learning a new regimen that includes taking up to 16 different medications to help her body accept the transplanted organs.

“I am working hard to get my lower body strength back so that I can move forward in my recovery,” said Nance.

“At one time I thought my dream of having a family and growing old was all over … and now it’s not.”

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