Houston mom grateful for lung transplant after severe COVID

Houston mom grateful for lung transplant after severe COVID

A year ago, Krystal Taylor spent the holidays in an intensive care unit, hoping for the double lung transplant that would save her life.

The Houston woman never expected her condition to deteriorate so quickly when she went to the Memorial Hermann emergency room with a severe COVID-19 infection in the summer of 2021. She ended up spending nearly seven months in the hospital, including two in a medical hospital. induced coma. By Thanksgiving, doctors determined she needed a transplant because her lungs were too scarred to function on their own.

The prospect of a transplant scared Taylor. But all she could think about was getting home to see her husband and three children again.

“It was heartbreaking because my three children were waiting for me at home,” she said.

Taylor, now 32, underwent a successful double lung transplant on January 2. She returned home a few weeks later and is now at the top of what doctors say is a critical one-year period for monitoring organ transplant recipients. Mostly, though, she’s happy to be back home for the holidays with her family this year.

“I’m very thankful and grateful to have gotten to this point,” she said.

Taylor was surprised when her condition deteriorated so quickly after contracting COVID-19 in July 2021. She was just 30 years old at the time and had no pre-existing medical conditions. She had not received the COVID-19 vaccine at that time; Studies have shown that the vaccine reduces the chances of serious illness, hospitalization and death.

Taylor’s husband, Junior Vasquez, and the couple’s three children — daughter Mia, now 13; daughter Mylee, now 11; and son Bentley, now 8 — also contracted COVID-19, but they quickly recovered. Taylor’s illness only worsened.

Two weeks later, she was experiencing a stabbing pain with every breath. “It hit me hard,” she said. “It felt like I was breathing through a glass.”

Doctors checked her oxygen levels shortly after she went to the emergency room at Memorial Hermann Hospital Northeast and found them to be extremely low. They admitted him immediately and put him on an oxygen machine.

They tried to improve Taylor’s breathing through treatment, including steroids, but her condition continued to worsen. She developed pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs that makes breathing even more difficult. Pneumonia associated with COVID-19 tends to be more severe than typical pneumonia, and Taylor’s lungs were in the teeth.

She soon progressed to acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, a life-threatening condition that allows fluid to build up in the lungs and causes dangerously low blood oxygen levels. There is no direct treatment for ARDS, but patients are usually kept on a ventilator in an ICU with the hope that their lungs will improve over time, said Dr. Soma Jyothula, lung transplant physician with UTHealth Houston Heart and Vascular Institute and Memorial Hermann. supervised Taylor’s treatment.

“We want to give them every opportunity to regain their function before we start saying we need major surgery like a transplant,” Jyothula said.

Even on the ventilator, however, Taylor’s lungs were having trouble absorbing the amount of oxygen her body was using to function. On August 5 – two days before her eldest daughter’s birthday – doctors decided to put her in a medically induced coma to reduce the amount of oxygen her body was using, Jyothula said.

The experience was heartbreaking for her family. Vasquez received daily calls with updates on her condition. Taylor’s family couldn’t go to her hospital room because she was so sick; they could only see it through a window or through video.

“It was like something was missing,” Vasquez said. “My children were always looking for their mother, but she was still in the hospital.”

Taylor remained in a coma for more than two months, during which time she was transferred to Memorial Hermann’s main campus at the Texas Medical Center. Doctors finally woke her up on October 20, her birthday.

“It was scary because when I woke up, I didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “I didn’t know how much time had passed. I didn’t know where I was.”

She learned the full weight of what she had lost shortly after waking from her coma. Her grandparents, who she had been close to all her life, both contracted the coronavirus shortly after she went into a coma. She was still unconscious when they died soon after.

Two months in the ICU in a coma did not improve the extensive gash in Taylor’s lung. They just weren’t getting enough oxygen for her to survive without the support of a ventilator. The team at Memorial Hermann realized she needed a new set of lungs.

“Obviously, after a certain period of time, you realize ‘You know what? We have tried everything,” said Jyothula. “That’s when we make an assessment that it’s end-stage (lung disease).”

Taylor was added to the transplant list around Thanksgiving. The wait for the surgery was difficult, she said, as she had to spend Christmas and New Year’s away from her family.

The good news finally came on January 2, 2022. Taylor found out by accident when a nurse came by that morning and asked if she was ready for her surgery.

“I cried a lot,” she said. “It was an amazing feeling.”

The operation lasted 12 hours. The next day, she got out of bed and was walking.

Taylor returned home a few weeks after the surgery to find friends and family she hadn’t seen in seven months there to greet her.

“They put up a ‘welcome home’ sign, a big sign, in the front yard,” Vasquez said. “They (drove) booing, with balloons and everything.”

The first year after a lung transplant is a critical period because patients are at higher risk for rejection, infections, and other complications. For this reason, Taylor said she has been very careful. She hasn’t returned to work yet and avoids crowds, so her husband does all the grocery shopping. She wears a mask when she has to go out or whenever she is around anyone outside of her family.

As she approaches the critical one-year anniversary of her transplant, she feels mostly gratitude. She is especially grateful to the donor – an anonymous young woman – whose lungs have allowed her to live. She plans to write a letter to her donor’s family to thank them for their sacrifice.

Taylor is also thankful to be home spending the holidays with her family. She missed birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s last year while fighting for her life in the hospital. She is making up for lost time now that she is home.

“I feel like last year I missed being with my kids so much that this year I just want to be with them,” Taylor said. “It’s such a great feeling.”

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