Cough Leads To Lung Transplant

When Elizabeth Tennant’s cough wouldn’t go away after battling a cold, she never dreamed the malady would result in a lung transplant six years later.

Tennant, 62, of Moundsville received her new lung March 24 at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. A disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis had been working to destroy her lungs for years and Tennant didn’t even know it.

In 2008, she had a cold with a cough that continued to linger. Four years later in 2012, she was diagnosed with asthma. The asthma medicine seemed to work for awhile, but then her condition worsened. Tennant couldn’t even walk a short distance from a building to a parking lot without getting winded. A year later in July 2013 she was diagnosed with the disease which causes the lung tissue to scar and stiffen, making it difficult to breathe. The only cure was a lung transplant.

“Before when I would take a deep breath in I would start coughing – I couldn’t get the old air out,” Tennant said. “Your world continues to shrink. … You’re just tired. It’s a tiredness you can’t explain. You’re fine and then five minutes later you want to go curl up on the couch with a blanket. You have to carry oxygen with you wherever you go.”

Just nine days after her surgery, Tennant said she was feeling “really well.” Now when she takes a deep breath it feels normal. She noted it still feels a little strange because her body became accustomed to having to breathe shallowly.

“I’m tired, but that’s mostly the immunosuppressant drugs. The breathing feels great,” she said. “They have me walking the halls. I have to be careful that I don’t overdo it. I’ve never been sick hardly in my life – this is all new.”

Tennant was the hospital’s 100th lung transplant since 1998.

Dr. Robert Higgins, executive director of OSU’s Wexner Medical Center Comprehensive Transplant Center and one of Tennant’s surgeons, said while idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is not uncommon, people are more familiar with lung diseases as such as COPD and emphysema.

He said Tennant’s surgery was a success because of the team of doctors, nurses and others involved – and because of the deceased donor and the donor’s family.

Tennant’s donor was a man, and for now that’s all she knows about him.

“Organ donation saves lives and she is direct evidence of that,” Higgins said, adding April is Organ Donor Awareness Month. “It could not have happened without the gift of life from a donor.”

Tennant said she has not yet thought about whether she will meet the family of the deceased donor in the future. She believes she will be given the option to do so. Higgins said several of the man’s other organs likely helped save the lives of other people.

Tennant only waited two months on the lung transplant list because her health was in such a dire state. Higgins said the organ transplantation system has been changed during the past few years. Instead of organs being given on a first-come, first-served basis, now people are allocated a score based on their state of health. This means those who are the most ill get the organ first.

Tennant said she chose to have her transplant surgery performed at OSU Wexner Medical Center because her daughter Amy lives in Columbus. Tennant will stay with her while she continues to receive testing after she is released from the hospital in the next week.

Tennant is married to the Rev. Thomas Tennant, pastor of the First Church of God in Bridgeport. In addition to Amy, they also have a son, Brad, who resides in Moundsville.