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Sharpsburg councilwoman recovering from double lung transplant

August 01, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH - Sharpsburg Town Councilwoman Denise Troxell - who had a double lung transplant in May after a 26-month wait - doesn't want any flowers when she comes home, which could be as early as next week.

Instead, she wants everyone to appreciate life.

"It's a gift," said Troxell, who has come to know all too well how precious life can be in the last 74 days.

"It's a miracle that I'm here," said Troxell, 43, in a telephone interview from her temporary home in Pittsburgh.

Ten days after her May 21 transplant, Troxell returned to the intensive care unit at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center with the worst possible rejection level, she said.

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"There were times when I was afraid I was going to die."

Troxell credits her recovery to her family and to prayers from parishioners at churches back home, including Mount Nebo United Methodist Church in Boonsboro where she attends.

"I believe all the prayers make a difference."

Friends at home in Maryland sent her tons of cards, all of which she read three times.

Sharpsburg resident Jean Harne sent Troxell pictures of her garden so she could see the blooming irises, roses and day lilies, Troxell said.

When she gets home she won't be able to work in her garden, just as she can't have flowers.

It could kill her if the fungus that grows in the water with the flowers gets into her lungs, said Troxell. She also has to stay away from crowds for now because of the possible transmission of germs and will be taking anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life.

She also is on dialysis for her kidneys, which failed during her setback. They are starting to work again.

Troxell's lungs were damaged from a hole that had been in her heart since childhood, but wasn't discovered until she was 30 years old.

In 1985 she had open heart surgery to fix the hole, but up until the time she went into transplant surgery had difficulty walking just a block or two because of the strain on her lungs.

When she got the call for the transplant on May 20, Troxell was in her 114 S. Mechanic St. kitchen paying bills and getting ready for a trip to Pittsburgh for her annual transplant evaluation.

At first she thought the call from the hospital was about the evaluation.

When she mentioned the word transplant on the phone, her sons Sean, 16, and Alec, 15, heard her in the other room and jumped up with excitement, she said. There were some tears before they left for the airport.

"Your heart goes up your throat and it scares you. I was scared," she said.

Her father, Bob Rollins, flew to Pittsburgh with Troxell and her sons. Her sister Kathie Rigolage and brothers, Lee and Rob Rollins, met her in Pittsburgh.

Her family stayed with her in shifts since May 20 and remains with her in Pittsburgh, where they are staying in temporary housing provided through the hospital.

On her birthday, June 6, her family brought her small presents in intensive care, but Troxell said she was out of it at the time.

"We all took care of my mother when she died of cancer so we've all been through this before," Troxell said. "We've been through the tears and the pain and the exhaustion and working in shifts.

"They've been troopers."

Troxell said she saw too many people in the hospital without family or whose family visited rarely.

"If you have someone that's sick you need to be there with them. Hospitals are scary places," she said.

While she doesn't remember waking up from the surgery, Troxell said she was told she tried to remove the ventilator tube from her mouth and was restrained.

For 28 days she lost the ability to talk as she lay in intensive care connected to a ventilator. She would write notes for family and continually ask the doctors questions using three stenographer notepads.

"I always have questions. I always want to know what's going on," she said.

She also desperately wanted a glass of water or some ice.

"I would have died for just a glass of water," Troxell said.

When she was removed from the ventilator the doctors put in a tracheotomy so she could drink and eat.

She also could talk by putting her finger over the tube in her throat.

The first thing she wanted was water.

"Nobody appreciates water. It tasted so great."

Despite being out of the hospital and finished with rehabilitation, Troxell still has a long road to recovery.

"I'm not better yet. I'm worse than I was before the transplant," Troxell said.

She hopes to be better off in a year.

"Everything's still healing. I need to get my endurance back, my strength," she said.

While in intensive care she lost her muscle tone and 50 pounds, but is starting to regain weight.

She is exercising and finally reading again. After major surgery the eyes have trouble focusing, said the former school teacher.

She says she's not in much pain and is glad to be over the major frustration of wondering whether she would survive the surgery.

Now she just wants to come home, but isn't overly optimistic of the medical experts' estimates that she could be back next week.

"When I walk through my front door, I'll believe I'm home."

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