Hedgesville High senior going to prom after successful double lung transplant in January

April 27, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |
  • Martinsburg resident Victoria Chakwin recently had a double lung transplant and will be attending her prom at Hedgesville High School Saturday night.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. — Hedgesville High School senior Victoria Chakwin is looking forward to Saturday night's senior prom and wearing her new black gown with red accents.

But preying deeply on her mind is something that none of her classmates could have imagined going through.

Victoria, 18, has been fighting for her life since the eighth grade against what was diagnosed in November as pulmonary fibrosis. A deadly lung disease, it drew her into a six-year whirlwind of false diagnoses, innumerable tests and a host of specialists from hospitals as close as Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and as far away as Houston and Denver.

As recently as December, hope was waning among members of her medical team at Johns Hopkins Hospital that she would live to the end of the month.

Patients with pulmonary fibrosis typically live three to five years after diagnosis. Victoria had been living with it for six years.

“Death was always a huge thing on the back of my mind,” Victoria said.

On Jan. 13, Victoria went into respiratory failure. She was kept alive on an external lung machine that oxygenated her blood and pumped it back into her body. Patients on the machines are kept comatose. It kept her alive while she waited on a transplant list for a new set of lungs.

In early January, with little hope of finding a donor, some of her doctors suggested that if none was found within 10 days, she should be removed from the machine and allowed to die.

“They were going to let me go to sleep,” Victoria said.

Robyn Schonhans, Victoria’s mother, refused to give up.

“I promised Tori that I would do all I could to keep her alive,” she said. “The doctors at Hopkins began to reach out to other facilities for help.”

Among those contacted were Drs. Bartley Griffith, Aldo Iacono and Jose Garcia at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

Victoria was taken there and kept on the breathing machine while a lung donor was sought.

On Jan. 31, the three surgeons and the UMMC team transplanted two new lungs into Victoria.

“It was an amazing feat on a patient as sick as she was,” Griffith said.

“These are the cases I became a transplant surgeon for,” he said. “She was so far gone that other centers turned her down.”

Victoria was considered to be very healthy with the exception of her lungs.

Griffith called Victoria’s post-operative prognosis “excellent. We traded a bad disease for one we believe we can manage.”

“I feel great,” Victoria said. “There’s no sign of rejection.”

She said the only problem she’s experiencing is pain in her feet stemming from all those days on the breathing machine. She was hospitalized the last time from Dec. 13 to April 6, when she came home after the transplant operation.

She returns to Baltimore for routine checkups.

Victoria’s goal now is to catch up on what she missed over the last six years.

“I never had my teenage years,” she said.

She’s had homebound teachers over the years and although she is missing some credits, she has been invited to join her senior classmates at graduation.

Instead, she’s going camping with Caylee Davis and BreAnne Bowers, her two closest friends since eighth grade.

Both were at Victoria’s side during the worst of her hospital ordeal this year.

“They refused to leave the hospital after my operation,” she said. “They’re my best friends. I’d rather be with them than with anybody.”

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