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The Best Time of My Life

I was just looking outside to my backyard and there was my Festival of Birds!!!  Well that’s what I call them!!!  I have 4 bird feeders and there were so many birds singing and chirping, eating and playing.  What a scene.  I love this stuff.  I love watching the birds play and eat and argue, feed their babies and others trying to mate with whoever will have him.

It reminds me of the days I used to sit on my back porch and watch the birds, the butterflies, the flowers and loving every minute of it.  This was during the time that I literally was dying from Emphysema.  Here I was in my early 50’s wearing oxygen all the time. . .my only activity then was sitting and watching the birds.  I could not do anything else.  My job was to just breathe.  That was job enough because my lungs were only functioning at 20%.  So I took my job seriously by breathing and witnessing this glory called nature.

This back porch sitting was the best time of my life!  I became what God calls us to be ~ alive, aware, and witness to this beautiful world we are given to enjoy.  It was a time for reflection for sure.  It was also a time to just sit quietly, breathe and soak in God’s love.  It was a time for deep prayer, for wondering what the future held, but more than that it was a time to be fully alive even though my life was slipping away at that moment.  I had no idea whether I would survive this illness, but I was content in knowing that God had me no matter how it evolved.

My wish for my friends is that they get to experience what I experienced during that time and it is my prayer that I will be able to stay there.  I am so grateful for the life I have been  given a second chance ~ and now that I had been given a second chance I want to live that life to the fullest.

Truth be told, I have to say that I seem to have fallen back into being too busy to sit on that porch and witness God’s creation, so as soon as I place the last period on this piece I am going out to my beloved back porch to just breathe!!!

 

Sandy Ozanich (c) August 6, 2014

I’d Like To Tell You “The Rest of My Story”

Many of you know that I had a double lung transplant on Sept. 30, 2005, almost 8 years now.  I had emphysema and asthma and in the year or two prior to my transplant, I was dying.  My lung function was dwindling and by February of 2005 I was placed on oxygen 24/7.  Just walking across the first floor of my home which was the length of 2 rooms was very difficult without the oxygen.

My lung function when I was placed on the transplant list was only 20%. I was on the transplant list for only 2 weeks to the day.  What a surprise to me.  I was expecting to wait months or years.

In the early morning hour of 12:15am on September 30, 2005 I received my call.  My pre-transplant coordinator, Paul called and asked me “So San, whatcha doin’?” I said, “Getting ready for bed.”  He said, “No you’re not.  We have a set of lungs that we believe are just for you.  So, I need you to make your phone calls and get your ass in here asap.”

Well, wow, I didn’t know what to think because I was kind of numb.  I knew I had to call my daughters and let them know and I had to reach our son, who happened to be out at the time.  This was before he had a cell phone.  We couldn’t wait any longer so I had to leave him a note on the kitchen table.  I hated to leave such a message on a note, but I had no choice.

I distinctly remember walking out to our car and turning around to look at the house that we had lived in and raised our 3 children in and wondered if I would be coming back to that home of our love and life.  It was a very strange feeling, I wasn’t panicky or terrified but I was feeling a bit uneasy, wondering if this whole thing was real and yes, it was very real.

So here we were, me and my husband, sitting in the lobby of University of Pittsburgh Presbyterian Hospital waiting to be taken up for the transplant.  It was 1:30in the morning.  As I looked to the left I saw a man walking through the shadows toward us.  As he got closer I recognized him to be the priest I had worked for years previously.  He had in the last couple years moved from Pittsburgh to California.  Now here he was in Pittsburgh at 1:30 in the morning!!!

He walked past us, I imagine he didn’t recognize me because I had gained some weight and was wearing oxygen.  I told my husband to go out and get him, Fr. Eugene was walking toward the parking lot.  As he brought him inside, he came over to me and I said, “Eugene?”  and he answered, “yessss???”   I looked at him and said, “you don’t know who I am, do you?”  Fr. Eugene answered, “Honey, I don’t know anyone at 1:30 in the morning”.  After I explained who I was, he then remembered me.  He said, “Sandy, what are you doing here”?  I told him that I was waiting to up to surgery for a double lung transplant.  His eyes got so big and then his face softened as he looked at me.  Fr. Eugene took my hands in his and said a prayer for me.  He said, “I just wish you all the best.”  With that he left and flew back to California.

After he left, I knew I was going to be just fine.  I felt such a feeling of peace, I can’t describe it, but I had no fear.  I went forward with the surgery and I am sitting here today, nearly 8 years later doing well.

I saw Fr. Eugene 3 years later back in Pittsburgh, giving a conference at the Monastery where I work and where I worked for him when he was Rector back in the 80’s.  When he saw me he asked me how I was feeling.  I told him I was doing very well.

Fr. Eugene went on to tell me why he was in Pittsburgh that night.  He said he had just left the bedside of a friend who had died.  I said, “Eugene, do you realize that you walked from death to life that night?”  He said, I guess I did.

Now, this is where this story gets even better.  Many years ago, when Fr. Eugene had become the Rector of a Retreat House in Riverdale, New York, my 2 friends, Dee and Shirley and I went to Riverdale, New York to attend a weekend retreat with Fr. Eugene and many others who had come to experience the retreat.

When the time came for Holy Communion, Fr. Eugene said to all of us, “Instead of saying ‘Amen’ when I offer Communion, perhaps you could say something that has meaning for you. . .perhaps you could say, I love you Jesus, or Thank you Lord, or My Lord and My God, something like that.

While I was walking up to receive Communion I had no idea what I was going to say.  Even when it became my turn, I was at a loss. . .that is until he offered Communion by saying, “The Body of Christ” and out of the blue I said, “I want to live”. . .What???  I had no idea why I would say that, and beyond that when I got back to my seat, I just began to sob and sob and sob. . .I was in a happy mood, why was I sobbing in this pew.  Everything in my life felt so good.  But there it was.

This memory came to me in the last couple weeks and it just blew me away. . .Here is the same priest who years before suggested saying something to receive Communion. . .and I say that I want to live. . .and years later here comes this same priest from across the country to pray with me while my life hung in the balance.

No one can convince me that God and his angels aren’t working on our behalf all the time. . .

May you all be blessed!!!

Sandy Ozanich (c) Sept. 1, 2013

It All Depends On Your Perspective. . .

One week ago yesterday I received from Amazon my new Kindle Fire 8.9.  I was so excited!!!  I had wanted one for so long.  It’s just as good as the famous Apple IPad but about half the cost.

It took me a year saving my change to get enough money to purchase this Kindle and I was in Heaven.  Now I could read all my books, watch movies, keep in touch, write emails and blog posts, etc.  It was like carrying my library, office and family with me.  All was well with the world.

Thursday came, 7 days into owning this wonderful new “toy” and the unthinkable happened.  I had gone to the hospital for my Pentamadine treatment.  **Pentamadine is an inhaled breathing treatment to help prevent pneumonia in my transplanted lungs.  I really hate this treatment because it tastes awful, makes a person gag and cough.  But, it is necessary to keep my lungs as healthy as possible. . .but I digress.

In order to inhale this treatment I must breathe it in front of a big box filter and in a private room so that others don’t breathe the Pentamadine.  This box has folding sides and a shelf which are put together in front of me so that I am sitting looking into this box and filter.

As I had done many times before with my “old” Kindle I would set the Kindle on this shelf and read it there.  I did the same with my new Kindle Fire.  Things were going well and about 5 minutes before my treatment was over I reached over and touched the Kindle Fire to move a page forward and then it happend ~ ~ ~ the shelf collapsed sending the Kindle Fire to the floor and cracking the screen in a big way!  OMGoodness!  I was so upset, so sad. . .I spent an entire year saving for this thing and now I have a new Kindle Fire that looks like a broken, old Kindle Fire.  It works well enough but now I look through a cracked screen with my cracked emotions. . .

As I showed this to my nurse Melissa she was so sad for me. . .then I thought of someone else who was facing more serious damage.  My friend and co-worker was having bad headaches for two days.  She went to her eye doctor because her vision was getting blurred but he told her she needed to see her physician.

Her physician sent her to the hospital for testing.  I was thinking that maybe she was having a stroke but to my surprise and the surprise of all of us who work with her she found out that she had a tumor next to her pituitary gland.  The doctors said it was a good sized one, but didn’t believe it was cancerous.

The plan was to do surgery to remove all or part of it.  Our place of work was in full prayer mode.  For those of you who don’t know or didn’t hear before, I work in a Monastery.  The prayers were storming Heaven for this lady who happens to be one of the kindest women I have ever known.

So, the latest news we received is that the surgery went well.  She told someone that she feels well and has no pain.  Her vision is still blurry, but the doctors are working on that.  It may come back on it’s own, if not they will do surgery on her eyes.

This all boils down to perspective.  I had a broken Kindle, she had a broken brain for a while. . .My broken Kindle is of no real consequence when I think about my friend and her health scare.

All will be well, yes all will be well, all manner of things will be well.  Amen!

Sandy Ozanich (c) April 2013

Today Is A Very Good Day!

Today is a very good day.  You see, seven years ago today I received my new lungs from a 29 yr old man whose family decided to donate his organs.

It’s a very good day, a day full of joy, but I also think about my donor and think this is a day of grieving and loss. . .I can’t know what is going on in their lives, but I can imagine.  I still don’t know much at all  about my donor or his family.  I just know it was a young male, age 29.  I don’t know how he died, whether he had a wife and kids and extended family.  I held him in my heart today.  I offered my Sunday Mass for him and his family.

After the holidays are over I intend to write again through CORE (Center for Organ Recovery and Education) to his family to let them know how well I’m doing and how very grateful I am that his family loved him enough to donate his organs so that I and others could live.  What a unselfish gift from a stranger!!!

I still sometimes find it hard to wrap this transplant around my brain and really think about what happened on September 30, 2005.

I will tell you what I know happened.  It was a late Thursday evening and my husband Tom and I were just getting ready to get into bed.  It was around midnight.  My cell phone rang about 12:15am.  I began to worry that it might be bad news that someone was hurt or dead.  I still hadn’t gotten used to being on a transplant list, so the thought that it might be my lungs didn’t cross my mind right then.  I had only been on  the list for two weeks.

I answeredd the phone and I heard my pre-transplant coordinator, Paul, on the other end.  He said, “Hey Sand, this is Paul.”

I said, “Hi Paul”.

He asked, “What are ya doing?”

I answered, “Getting ready for bed.”

Paul said, “No you’re not. . .we’ve got a pair of lungs and we believe they’re just for you, so I want you to make your phone calls and get your ass over here, ok?”

That was a mind numbing phone call, literally.  Instantly I went into get ready mode.  I knew what I heard, but I just got things together and called my kids.  Of course, right after the phone call I looked at Tom and told him, “that was Paul, they have lungs for me and we have to get to Presby as soon as possible.  He looked at me and then got dressed.

I talked with Megan and Kelly and told them what was happening and they were scared, I could feel it in their voices.  They told me they would be leaving for the hospital as soon as they could.

I couldn’t reach Brian, our youngest.  He was out and I couldn’t reach him.  I hated to do this, but I had no choice but to leave him a note on the kitchen table telling him where we were.

I distinctly remember when we left the house I turned around and looked at the house we had lived in and raised our children in and wondered if I would be coming back to live in this house again.  I was slightly sad, somewhat in a numb mode, not feeling too much at that point, just asking God to please be with me and my family as we go through this.  I was really more worried about my husband and kids than I was for myself.

I had told God before that whatever happened I would be ok.  I was ok with whatever the outcome would be.  However I did pray to God many times before to be able to live long enough to cradle my grandchildren. . .none of whom were born or conceived as yet.

Tom and I arrived at the hospital and were told to just check in and wait in the emergency lobby for someone to come and take us upstairs.

While waiting in the lobby, in the darkened area, because it was by now 1:30am, I saw a man walking through the shadows toward the doors to leave.  As he came into the light I realized it was a priest that I had worked for years earlier.  Now this priest had been living in California for several years and I hadn’t seen him since.  I was stunned to see him there because he was always one of my most favorite people ever.

Of course he didn’t recognize me because of my illness I was puffy, had put on weight from the steroids and I was wearing oxygen.  He walks past and to the doors.  I told Tom, “go get him and bring him back in here.”  Tom goes outside and brings                Fr. Eugene in to the lobby.

As he walked toward me I said, “Eugene?”  and he replied, “Yes?”  I could tell by the way he answered that he had no idea who I was.  So I looked at him again and said,    “You don’t know who I am, do you?”  He said, “Honey I don’t know anyone at 1:30 in the morning.”  As I described to him who I was, that I worked for him over the years, etc., his face softened and recognition filled his face.  He said, “Sandy!  What are you doing here?”  I told him that I was there to have a double lung transplant.  I can’t describe the look on his face, only that his eyes got big, he looked at me with compassion and love.

Fr. Eugene took my hands in his and he prayed for me.  He then looked at me and said all I think he could say or was able to say and that was, “I wish you all the very best.”

When he left I just knew that God had touched me.  Think about this, why was this particular priest in Pittsburgh, at this particular hospital at 1:30 in the morning???  Why???  He didn’t even know that I was sick, he knew none of that.

I was convinced that I was going to be ok, I was going to survive this  transplant and I would be around to tell other people that God is here with us, he cares about us with such a love that surpasses any love we as humans can feel for our own children.

There is more that God wants me to do and I will gladly do it.  I feel it is my mission to let people know that God is here for you, he wants us to be happy and he wants us to be there for those we love and who love us.  Isn’t this the ultimate goal of our lives, to be with God. . .but before we get to God in Heaven, we must bring God to his children here on Earth.

Of course, the rest all the things the 7 years have brought me.  Since the transplant we, Tom and I have been given 4 grandchildren.  As “grandma” I was so honored to be able to witness the births of all 4 of these children: Colby age 5, Nathan age 4, Maya age 3, and Natalie age 17 mos.  What a world of love and fun I live in now.  When I run into medical trouble or just regular life troubles I consider them as just an annoyance because I have been given this most precious gift.  Any pain I suffer, I suffer for God and for those who suffer still and it’s ok with me.

I want to tell you the “rest of the story” in regards to Fr. Eugene.  I didn’t see him again for 3 years.  Here he was back in Pittsburgh to give a conference where I work; St. Paul of  the Cross Monastery, Pittsburgh PA.

As I walked toward him he looked at me and smiled, asking, “How are you???”  I told him I was doing very well.  I also told him that I believed that God placed him there in that hospital that night.

He then said, “You don’t know why I was there do you?”  Of course I didn’t and he said that he had just left the bedside of a friend who had died.

I then said, “Eugene, do you realize that you walked from death to life that night???”

He smiled and shook his head!

Breathing. . .It’s A Good Thing!

When I first started this blog I mentioned in my profile that I was a double lung transplant recipient.  That’s true!  I have been breathing with new lungs for just over 6 years now.

It’s hard to believe that 7 years ago I was dying.  I was on oxygen 24/7. Living in those days was really not living, it was existing the best way I could.  I was attached to an oxygen concentrator ~ that is a machine that manufacturers oxygen from room air and pumps it through the concentrator to either my tubing and lungs or to my portable oxygen tank so I could leave the house.  This way I could drive, go to pulmonary rehab classes, shopping, etc.  At least I wasn’t completely homebound.  The tubing that attached to the concentrator itself was 50 ft. long and enabled me to move through the house, from the 2nd floor to the basement.  I joked to my family and friends that I had a new “leash on life”, literally!

Living from day to day was difficult.  It took so much energy to just go upstairs to go to the bathroom and taking a shower ~ forget it!!!  I had to wear my oxygen in the shower and move slowly.  I don’t think the average person realizes how much energy it takes to take a shower. . .I was very shocked.

I was suffering from emphysema with an asthma component and my lungs by the time of transplant were only functioning at 20%.  The diagnosis came at a young age in my opinion, I was only 48.

As time goes by I will have much to say about this experience which continues to this day.  Just because I had a transplant does not mean that I no longer have to look after myself, on the contrary, there are many things I have to do in order to stay as healthy as I can.

At the beginning, right after transplant and after I got home (I was home 6 weeks after transplant) I had to come back to the hospital for bloodwork.  This bloodwork was done to keep a check on my “levels”.  Taking the anti-rejection medication Prograf, my Prograf level must stay between 8 – 10, if it goes too high they cut my Prograf dose, if too low they add more.  Every other month I had to have a bronchoscopy to check for infections, rejection and MRSA which I happened to get in my lungs while a patient, proably in ICU.  If they found the MRSA was active I had to have a PICC line installed so I could go home on IV antibotics.  This happened about 6 times over  the first 2 years post-transplant.

I must say how very happy I was and still am to be able to breathe without assistance and to be able to chase my 3 yr old grandson around the dining room table. . .who can measure that delight???

I can virtually walk, talk and chew gum all at the same time!!!  hahaha  BUT, to get serious for a while, I hope that if you are smoking that you will find a way to quit.  I know, I know, I heard it too from so many people but I just wasn’t ready or did not want to just because someone else said I should.  I’m like that.  Tell me to do one thing and I’ll turn around and do the opposite just because.  I didn’t want to quit, I liked smoking too much, but when I couldn’t breathe it became even tougher to quit. . .figure that?

I will never forget my lung dr’s comment about 2 or 3 years before transplant, “Sandy we’ve done everything we can for you.  We’ve maxed you out on your meds, that’s all we have for you.  I believe that if you don’t have a transplant you won’t live to see 60”.  I was in my early 50’s when he said that.  He explained that I wasn’t quite sick enough to consider or work toward transplant but that he would let me know.  How very strange to hear that you won’t live beyond the next decade.  I didn’t cry, I just felt weird. . .I can’t even explain it.  Perhaps I was just numb to the info.

I got the call at the end of 2004, I should contact UPMC Presbyterian about an evaluation for a lung transplant. . .

to be continued. . .

(Please visit my new blog www.breathingitsagoodthing.wordpress.com which is new as of today, 1/16/12 – will be offering more information on Lung Transplantation)