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OBX mother waiting for life-saving call, preparing for rare 3rd double lung transplant

Posted at 1:23 PM, Mar 13, 2020

DURHAM AND KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. - Tricia Lawrenson and her husband Nate are literally waiting by the phone. It could ring at any minute with a call that could save Tricia's life.

"The past couple days I've received lots of calls from Duke, and every time I get a call I'm like, 'Hello, is this the call?'" Tricia said.

Tricia and her husband are now living temporarily in Durham, minutes away from Duke University Medical Center, a hospital with which she's all too familiar.

"We are hopeful for Tricia. She's active and working to get stronger. We are hopeful for a better outcome the third time around," said Dr. John Reynolds, a lung transplant specialist at Duke.

We first met the Lawrensons at their Kill Devil Hills home in late January. At that time, Tricia was weak and frail, taking a cocktail of pills and fighting for each breath.

"Nate and I said goodbye to our children. He was very emotional, and I was trying to hold it together," said Tricia.

That was in early February when Tricia got the call to come to Duke. Doctors told her she was approved for the rare, risky surgery.

"I saw a bunch of signs from friends and family, and it just brought me to tears immediately. I was feeling heartfelt love from our community," she said.

Tricia was born with cystic fibrosis, and at 37 has actually outlived her projected lifespan.

"She has been on a downward decline consistent with what we call chronic rejection," Reynolds said.

Reynolds and other pulmonologists at Duke performed Tricia's first two double lung transplants: The first in 2008, the second in 2013.

"A third transplant is very unusual. We have only done five of them. Most hospitals will not do them," said Dr. Reynolds.

Tricia will be the sixth at Duke and the 12th in the United States. She's subjecting her body once again to the marvels of modern medicine.

"Not everyone is given this option, so I have a deep gratefulness to my Duke team and the doctors and the surgeon willing to take that risk," she explained.

She and Nate have uprooted their lives, and she now spends five days a week at a pulmonary rehabilitation center in Durham.

"We call it a 'feed and grow' approach, and right now that's where she's at," Reynolds said.

She's been working for weeks to strengthen her body to prepare for her third chance at life.

"I'm on the list. It's just a matter of time of waiting for those lungs to come and getting home to my family," she said.

The average wait time for a set of lungs at Duke is just 17 days. Tricia's surgery is no easy feat: Surgeons will cut a clamshell incision across the front of her chest wall.

"The chest cavity is then opened up, and both lungs are taken out," Reynolds said. "We do three different hookups, and it takes about eight hours to do."

The lung transplant will cost about $1.3 million, most of which will be covered by insurance. The family still expects to pay around $50,000 out of pocket.

"We are so grateful for friends and family who have been continuing to help us through this goal," Tricia said.

It's a third time that could really be the charm for a woman of unwavering faith, hoping for another chance to breathe free with her family.