DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Once confined to a hospital bed, Sara Kominsky can now hike nearly 30 miles a day, after receiving a double lung transplant – not once, but twice.
“I was able to do a marathon-length ruck race with a 20-pound pack, and since then I’ve been doing endurance hiking up to 28 miles a day,” Kominsky said.
That’s a major accomplishment for anyone, but a true milestone for Kominsky, who completed that marathon race just months after her second double lung transplant.
“I’ve always been an athlete my entire life growing up, and cystic fibrosis took that away from me,” she explained.
Doctors diagnosed her with cystic fibrosis as a baby — her illness eventually left her tethered to a machine that helped her breathe.
“Every breath was really a struggle because I was essentially drowning in my own bodily fluids,” she recalled.
A double lung transplant gave her hope for a while, but she developed chronic rejection and knew another transplant was the only option.
“It was really hard emotionally to have gone through so much with the first transplant and all the complications and then know that I needed a second one and I may or may not qualify and the end of the road may be just weeks or months ahead,” she explained.
Despite her previous experience, her team of doctors at Duke was confident a second transplant could be successful.
Dr. Stuart Knechtle is the executive director of the Duke Transplant Center, which is marking a milestone of its own – its 10,000th organ transplant. Those transplants include multiple procedures that were the first of their kind in the country, like the implantation of a new-generation artificial heart, and a “donation after circulatory death” heart-transplant.
Duke also performed the Southeast’s first liver transplant between an HIV-positive donor and recipient.
“There are a few things in medicine that can produce such a miraculous turnaround in someone’s health,” noted Knechtle, an abdominal transplant surgeon. “That is what really motivates all of us in transplantation, to see patients who are in very dire straits turn around so dramatically.”
Kominsky is proof of that. After her second double lung transplant, she’s doing well.
She’s thankful for time with her family and being able to hike like she used to. She also volunteers with the Lung Transplant Foundation.
As doctors continue to research ways to advance organ transplantation, surgeons and patients never forget that their life-saving work, and their very lives depend on the selfless gift of organ donation.
“The donor family, or the donor, if they’re a living donor, they are doing something extraordinary,” said Knechtle.
“I thank my donors every single day,” Kominsky added. “It’s been nearly 5 years since my first double lung transplant, and I am still so grateful.”