It is our mission to care for patients when others are unable, so when the family of a young woman in desperate need reached out for help, UCLA Health responded with the expert and compassionate care that is at the core of everything we do.
I receive three or four emails or phone calls a week that begin, “You don’t know me, but I need your help.” One such email came to me in December 2016 from a family friend of a young woman in Texas, whose story you will read in this issue of U Magazine (“The Littlest Wookiee,” page 22).
At the time, Kathlyn Chassey — who has given her permission to use her name and tell her story — was 24 years old and hospitalized in the final stages of her lifelong struggle with cystic fibrosis. Her family and friends had sent out desperate pleas, looking for a hospital that would accept her for a potentially lifesaving lung transplant. One after another, every center deemed her condition too precarious and turned her down.
I immediately contacted Dr. Abbas Ardehali, the surgical director of our Heart, Lung, and Heart-Lung Transplant Program, and within hours, he and his team were reaching out to Kathlyn’s family for more information. Less than a week later, she and her mother and father, who is a chief master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, were on a specially equipped C-130 military transport plane en route to Los Angeles for further evaluation at UCLA. Kathlyn was listed for a lung transplant and had her surgery, and just a few weeks later, she left UCLA with a pair of healthy lungs.
Isn’t this our moral obligation to, whenever possible, provide the highly specialized care that others cannot? Compassion and service, caring for individuals and for populations, are at the core of everything we do.
Why am I telling you about this now, more than two years after Kathlyn had her lung transplant? Because, on November 26, 2018, I had the pleasure of celebrating again with Kathlyn. I was at Caltech, in Pasadena, and Kathlyn and her family were at their home in San Antonio as we watched a live stream of Mission Control and the arrival of NASA’s InSight Mars Lander on the surface of the Red Planet.
It was an electric moment, and it was a special event for UCLA. Jerry Stoces, the family friend who reached out to UCLA, had, as a thank-you, arranged that the names of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Dr. Ardehali, pulmonary critical care specialist Dr. David M. Sayah and me be inscribed on a small disc that was affixed to the lander’s deck. Also etched on the disc were the names of Kathlyn and her parents Chris and Julieann. There we are, linked together for all eternity, 300 million miles from home.
The weekend after that, Kathlyn returned to Westwood for UCLA’s annual Heart and Lung Transplant Holiday Party. She spoke to the 400 attendees and told them, “The greatest thing [since her transplant] is that I get to spend more time with my family and my friends ... and there is hope that I can live to be an old grandma. Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,” she concluded, quoting Maya Angelou, “but by the moments that take our breath away. This is so amazing.”
Amazing, indeed. That we were able to step in to help when others could not, and now this young woman has a real future to look forward to — I am grateful to our expert care teams for their compassion and dedication and to Kathlyn and her family and her friends for having given us the opportunity to be of service.
John C. Mazziotta, MD (RES '81, FEL '83), PhD
Vice Chancellor, UCLA Health Sciences
CEO, UCLA Health