A 'St. Patrick's Day Miracle '

News Archive March 13, 2012

A 'St. Patrick's Day Miracle '

On March 17, Loyola Transplant Patient will Celebrate 1st Anniversary with New Lung

MAYWOOD, Ill. -- A year ago, Donna Delaney Helma of Northbrook, Ill., could feel her life slipping away.

She had severe emphysema, needed high doses of oxygen 24 hours a day and was unable to enjoy simple pleasures like going out to dinner or visiting friends.
On St. Patrick's Day, she received a life-saving lung transplant at Loyola University Medical Center, performed by transplant surgeon Dr. Christopher Wigfield.

"I feel great, I can breathe," she said. "It's a St. Patrick's Day miracle."
Helma, who is three-quarters’ Irish, plans to celebrate the first anniversary of her lung transplant with a St. Patrick's Day dinner with her family. On the menu: corned beef and cabbage, with rye bread.

Helma's mother was half-Irish, and her father, according to family lore, was born on the boat coming over.

St. Patrick's Day is an emotional time for Helma, 65. Her sister and her Irish grandmother died on St. Patrick's Day, while she was given a new life on March 17.

Prior to surgery, Helma's lungs were barely functioning, even with supplemental oxygen, due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "I do not think she would have been able to last much longer with such low oxygen levels," Wigfield said. "It was a real pleasure providing her with a new lease on life."

A lung became available just in time, and on March 17, 2011, Wigfield transplanted a new left lung into Helma. The effect was dramatic. Within 10 minutes after the new lung began working, Helma's blood oxygen levels increased tenfold. Wigfield, who has done dozens of lung transplants, said it was the highest such increase he's ever seen.

Helma came home after two weeks in the hospital. She was still recovering when she had to come back to Loyola for a major abdominal surgery unrelated to the transplant. That hospital stay lasted six weeks.

"It's been quite a year," she said. "I feel very lucky and blessed."
Helma, a retired housing inspector, has four children and four grandchildren. She said her husband, Dennis, "has been a saint through all of this. He's Polish, but loves all things Irish, including me."

Loyola's multidisciplinary lung transplant team performs about 40 lung transplants per year, with outstanding outcomes. Loyola's one-month, one-year and three-year patient-survival rates are 96 percent, 85 percent and 69 percent, respectively.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.
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