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Sharpsburg's Troxell considers a comeback

May 19, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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Denise Troxell

A year after undergoing a double lung transplant, Denise Troxell is trying to decide whether to run to retain her seat on the Sharpsburg Town Council.

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On the one hand, Troxell, 43, wants to keep the council seat to which she was appointed in January 1997. She said that since the transplant she has felt a desire to make a difference.

On the other hand, she knows statistics on transplant recipients indicate she might not be able to complete a four-year term.

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Troxell's chief concern about running in the Nov. 17 election is that she might get sick or die in office.

She missed three regular monthly council meetings while recovering from the surgery she underwent a year ago today.

"I probably will (run for office) because I feel like I'm helping," Troxell said.

Before the transplant at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Troxell was wrapping up the loose ends in her life in case she didn't make it, she said.

"Now I feel like I've bought some time, maybe five to 10 years," she said Monday at her home at 114 S. Mechanic St.

Double lung transplant patients have about a 75 percent chance of surviving five years, according to the medical center, which conducted 24 such operations last year.

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

While hospitalized and in recovery, Troxell received prayers, cards and assistance in various forms from residents.

"I could just feel the town caring. It's like a big family," she said.

"I want to give back what everyone's given me. I felt so loved. It kept me from dying," Troxell said.

While Troxell was hospitalized, Earl and Annabelle Roulette stayed on the phone to keep people updated on her condition. When she returned home on Aug. 8, local women brought her meals for two months and friends hired a housekeeper for her through December.

In return, "I just want to take care of my town," she said.

Residents continue to keep a watchful eye on Troxell.

Earlier this year, when Vice Mayor Sidney Gale attended a council meeting while ill, he moved across the room from his usual seat next to Troxell so she wouldn't be at risk.

Gale also tries to calm her when she gets excited at meetings, Troxell said.

"There's no self-serving interest for her," Gale said. She serves the town because she feels an obligation and wants to improve residents' lives, he said.

While the initial crisis is over, people still want to know how Troxell is doing, Gale said.

Troxell takes 23 pills a day, including three anti-rejection medications and vitamins to compensate for medications that deplete her iron and calcium levels.

She is part of an experimental treatment, breathing a cyclosporin anti-rejection mix three times a week rather than taking it in pill form, she said. The hope is that the treatment's side effects will be less severe than those associated with the pill.

The treatment is one of several experiments in which Troxell is participating to help future transplant patients.

Her side effects so far have included bloating, shaky hands and voice and some hair loss, she said.

"It's truly amazing what your body can survive," she said.

The transplant wasn't a cure-all.

The surgery and medications have taken a toll on her other organs and could require another transplant, Troxell said. Hospital officials wanted to put her on the waiting list for a kidney after her lung transplant, but Troxell said she wasn't ready to sign up yet.

It took her until February to be ready to write the family of the anonymous lung donor, she said. "How do you thank someone when their person died?" she asked.

Troxell, who was on the list to donate organs if she died long before her transplant, encourages other people to donate their organs.

She was on the recipient side of the donor list for 26 months before her transplant.

While she would be unable to return to teaching because of her delicate immune system, Troxell said she would consider a health-care job helping patients and loved ones get through major surgeries.

"It's like a different language, and if you don't speak it you don't know what they're talking about," she said.

Troxell said anyone with questions or fears about transplants can call her at 301-432-6856.

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