Before her surgery, Jennifer Golden had been too ill to stand or brush her hair. The disease, which causes thick, sticky mucus to accumulate in the lungs, often leading to difficult-to-treat infections, had taken an increasingly harsh toll on her small body. And as is sometimes the case, Golden's CF also severely damaged her liver. Doctors told the young woman several years ago that replacing both her lungs and liver was her only hope for survival.
"Because of her small size and the necessity for both the lungs and liver to be usable, she knew - as did we - that her wait might be long," says Sue McDiarmid, M.D., director of UCLA's Pediatric Liver Transplant Program and Golden's doctor for 10 years.
While they were waiting, Golden's lung-and-liver-transplant team mapped out her complex surgery. The procedure is very uncommon - fewer than 50 have been performed in the United States since 1994, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.
As part of their planning, the transplant team consulted with reconstructive surgeons to determine where it would be best to make their incisions "so that Jennifer's abdominal muscles, bone and skin would not be impacted," notes Douglas Farmer, M.D., surgical director of the Pediatric Liver Transplant Program. "Our goal was to perform the surgery efficiently and with minimal blood loss."
After two years of waiting, Golden received a call that a donor had been found. She and her mother quickly flew to UCLA, while her dad followed behind in the family car. At around 4:45 a.m. on December 4, Golden was wheeled into surgery.
"She was remarkably brave to even agree to this surgery," Dr. McDiarmid says. "To have to live for two years, waiting, was very difficult for her. Watching her breathe and hearing her cough was truly heartbreaking."
The operation, involving 23 members of the surgical team, took 13 hours to complete. When she came out of surgery, Golden's ability to breathe was immediately improved. "We are optimistic that Jennifer will do well," says Abbas Ardehali, M.D., surgical director of the UCLA Heart and Lung Transplant Program.
The former high school tennis-team captain can now look to the future. Her plans include being with her fiancé, continuing her college studies and returning to the tennis courts. "I hope that if a family out there is ever suffering with the death of a loved one, they will consider the priceless gift of organ donation," Golden says. "Someone did that for me, and it saved my life. My family and I cannot thank them enough."
To watch a video about Jennifer Golden, go to: www.transplants.ucla.edu/lung