Rebecca Poole: Lung Transplant Patient Story
The Challenge: Cystic Fibrosis
Rebecca Poole will never forget the moment she realized her life had changed. It's when it finally became clear even the smallest, everyday rituals and tasks were getting much harder.
While walking through a busy airport, her bags seemed heavier than normal. Reaching the gate exhausted her, and she had to take frequent breaks to catch her breath.
Rebecca was born with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that causes glands throughout the body to make thick, sticky mucus. It can affect the lungs, pancreas, sweat glands, and intestines and can lead to serious breathing issues and lung disease.
Because CF is an illness that progresses slowly, Rebecca was a fairly healthy child.
She loved running and riding horses. It was all routine for her, despite some gastrointestinal problems that came with her illness.
After college, in 2005, she became a clinical trial monitor.
This job required her to always be on the move. She traveled by plane almost weekly to hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics.
All in all, Rebecca was no stranger to the busy lifestyle. But, in 2014 her health started to decline.
One night — while brushing his teeth before bed in their Cincinnati home — Rebecca's husband, Ray, heard his wife cry for help. She was trying to catch her breath and couldn’t get up the stairs.
“It was something we never experienced before, just scary and kind of eye-opening to what our current situation was. Because suddenly she couldn’t come up the stairs on her own anymore.” said Ray.
For Rebecca, this was a shock.
“It was kind of like a slap in the face, like this is really happening. And it wasn’t good,” she said.
Months later, Rebecca had heart failure and, later — on New Year’s Eve — went into respiratory failure. She rushed to their local hospital where doctors put her into a medically induced coma.
She spent the next two months on a ventilator.
When she finally awoke in February of 2015, doctors told her a lung transplant wasn’t an option because she was too sick. They gave her days to less than a couple of weeks to live.
“It was scary. I knew I couldn’t get off the ventilator. But I also knew that if I couldn’t get a transplant, I was going to die.” said Rebecca.
The Path to UPMC's Lung Transplant Program
Driven to find a solution for his wife, Ray encouraged Rebecca to become stronger by introducing little exercises every day. Building up strength could help her qualify for a lung transplant.
Sadly, after five transplant programs turned Rebecca down, the Poole’s started to lose hope.
“You're kind of starting out with low expectations. And, at the same time, you’re still hoping and trying to do everything you can to qualify wherever it is you can. We were really feeling like nobody was going to consider her to list.” said Ray.
It was then that their doctor mentioned the UPMC Lung Transplant Program.
On May 12, 2015 — uplifted by a new chance at life — Rebecca and Ray made the journey to Pittsburgh. They came to UPMC and started the lung transplant evaluation process.
“I don’t know if I had gone to any other place and taken the time to go through all the qualifications. I just don’t think I would have made it because I was so sick for so long.” Rebecca said. “So, it worked out well that we could get to the right place at UPMC.”
A leader in lung transplant, UPMC has performed more than 2,000 lung and heart-lung transplants. Our expertise allows us to accept high-risk cases, giving hope to people like Rebecca.
The Solution: A Lung Transplant
After her lung transplant evaluation, Rebecca's care team found she was a good candidate and placed her on the waiting list.
On June 17, 2015, Rebecca and Ray got the call that a set of lungs were ready for her transplant.
Kissing his wife goodbye as she went into surgery, there was nothing left for Ray to do but wait. Exhausted, he said he had to trust Rebecca's transplant surgery that night would work — and it did.
Following her double lung transplant, both Rebecca and Ray noticed she was on the road to good health. Slowly but surely, she was getting her strength back.
The Results: A New Outlook on Life
Now, the couple has a new outlook on life. They both hope to spend more time volunteering and spreading awareness for CF.
Rebecca also plans to get back to running, and enter a 5k.
“It’s been two years’ post-transplant, so no excuses,” she said.
Best of all, Rebecca says she has restored positive feelings. Standing in the airport, she emotionally reflects on how different a person she was the last time she was there.
“I was carrying my own bags, with no wheel chair or oxygen concentrator. But I wasn’t just walking like normal. I was cruising.”
A fighter who made it on the other side, proud and strong.
Rebecca's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.
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