Reclaiming her voice with a gift of new lungs
It was just last year that singer/songwriter Chloe Temtchine was performing in front of a live audience with a breathing tube running from her nose to an oxygen tank she nicknamed “Steve Martin,” one of her favorite actors, by her side.
“There were times when I could barely breathe, but I would sing through my pain,” says Temtchine, who suffered from pulmonary hypertension (PH), a type of high blood pressure that affects arteries in the lungs and on the right side of the heart. “Music was the one thing that kept me going.”
Now 38, Temtchine was 25 when she started feeling ill. “At the time, no one knew what was wrong with me,” she says. “I was diagnosed with everything from pulmonary embolism to an autoimmune disease. I was even told to see a psychiatrist.”
It was not until she came home to New York from a trip to Europe and landed in a hospital seven years ago that she was diagnosed with severe pulmonary hypertension.
“My pulmonary pressures were at 180, and I was in heart failure. I was told that I had pulmonary veno-occlusive disease, a rare and fatal disease, for which life-expectancy is less than a year,” she recalls. She would require supplemental oxygen 24/7 to stay alive.
None of the medications doctors prescribed were working for her. After doing some research, she embarked upon a strictly raw vegan diet free of salt, fats and oil, and, over the course of three years, she began to feel better. At the same time, her fan base started to grow, and she became a well-known figure in the PH community.
“Hundreds of emails were coming in every day,” Temtchine says. “I put everything out there about my health experiences in the hopes that I could be of help to others who were suffering.”
Then her health again started to decline. “I was trying to convince myself that everything was fine, but it definitely wasn’t,” she says.
This past August, she was walking on a treadmill when her heart rate shot up to 175 and wouldn’t go down. She went into cardiac arrest, ended up in a Los Angeles ER and was placed on ECMO (extracorporeal mechanical oxygenation), a pump to circulate her blood through an artificial lung. ”They said if they couldn’t separate me from ECMO, I would need a lung transplant or I would die.”
The thought of a lung transplant terrified her. “I think I was more scared of having a lung transplant than I was of dying,” Temtchine says. “But I eventually understood that it was my only chance to survive.”
She found her way to UCLA and Abbas Ardehali, MD, (RES ’95, ’97), William E. Conner Chair in Cardiothoracic Transplantation and director of the UCLA Heart, Lung and Heart-Lung Transplant programs.
“Chloe faced a life-threatening situation and was at high surgical risk for complications,” Dr. Ardehali says. “That made her a perfect fit for UCLA’s lung-transplant program. We have the expertise to be the last resort for patients who are considered too high risk to be treated elsewhere.”
Temtchine was on the transplant waiting list just eight days before a donor was found. She received her new lungs in August, and now has both a new lease and a new take on life.
“I feel like I was literally born on August 5, the day I received my new lungs,” she says. “No words could ever do justice when it comes to expressing how grateful I am. It has been a miracle and a truly surreal experience.”
Temtchine can’t wait to rebuild her voice and sing again. While the pandemic has kept her indoors, she plans to retake the stage and perform with Steve Martin still by her side. “He has become a part of my show,” Temtchine says. “The only difference is that now he and I will no longer be connected to each other.”
As Temtchine’s life has changed, so, too, have her goals. “I used to want to win a Grammy; now I just want to feel well,” she says. “I’m so thankful that I do.”