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LUNG FORCE Walk Honors Wendy

A sister, a mother, a daughter lost to lung disease

Wendy is my little sister. There are three of us kids I’m the oldest, Wendy is one year behind me, and my brother Kevin is six years younger than myself. Our parents are both still alive and living the retired "snowbird" life (summers in Wisconsin, the rest of the year in Florida).

I was the BIG brother, so it was always my job to look after Wendy and Kevin. The three of us were always very close and have enjoyed family events, weddings, kids growing up together and looking after our parents in their retirement. Never in our wildest dreams did we expect one of us to leave at the age of 47.

Wendy and I had a special bond. We spoke to each other nearly every day. We were both born in Rhode Island at the same hospital while my father was serving in the Navy. My mother is from Wisconsin, so once my father's military duty was finished, we ended up "coming home" to Wisconsin.

Wendy’s story started in August, 2016, with a cough and difficulty breathing. Her doctor thought it was nothing more than a summer flu. Her condition, although not very serious, continued until December 2016. When she returned to her doctor he thought it might be be pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics and steroids. He also placed her on oxygen to help her breathe.

But still her condition worsened, which concerned us all very much. A few days later, after a visit to the Emergency Department Wendy was referred to a pulmonary doctor who diagnosed her with Nonspecific Interstitial Lung disease. X-rays revealed that both of her lungs were extremely damaged, so plans were made to immediately begin the process for a double lung transplant.

Unable to work, the first two months of 2017 were spent at home while plans were made for the transplant. As part of the diagnosis process, the doctors wanted to perform a lung biopsy to confirm the lung disease. Wendy was very scared. Our parents flew up to be with the family and we spent many dinners together out as a group. In fact, one of the last group pictures we have with Wendy before she ended up in the hospital was taken by the hostess at one of the restaurants. That picture is very important to my mother.

The biopsy confirmed the doctor’s diagnosis. Wendy had extremely advanced damage to both lungs and desperately needed a double lung transplant to survive. In all other respects, she was a very healthy 47 year old woman. Strong heart, strong body, strong will to live. Her lungs were gone, with little to no warning.

Unfortunately, the biopsy started a chain of events which led Wendy through four separate ICU stays at St Luke's Hospital, culminating in a horrific 35 day nightmare where we as a family had to make the decision to place her on "comfort care" and let her go. On April 20, 2017, at 8:17pm Wendy quietly slipped away, surrounded by those who love her. We are still in shock and are all struggling to go on without her.

Our parents, who have health issues of their own, are devastated. Our mother also has lung tissue scarring which we expect will ultimately kill her as well. She has the added burden of seeing what happened to Wendy as she succumbed to this lung disease.

It’s only been a few months since Wendy left us and I miss my sister very much. It's hard to make it through each day not hearing her voice or planning our family events. I wish we could have caught this disease sooner. The doctors tried so hard to get her the lung transplant. She was young, she was strong, and she had a huge heart!

Editor’s note: Wendy's brother Paul and daughter Ashley contributed to this story.

LUNG FORCE Heroes

LUNG FORCE Heroes are patients, caregivers, family, friends and co-workers of those who are impacted by lung cancer. Our Heroes share their powerful journeys - stories which help educate the public about what it’s like to have lung cancer or lung disease. Heroes may also be asked to speak at a LUNG FORCE Walk Kick-off event, Corporate Recruitment event and/or on Walk day.

If you're interested in becoming a LUNG FORCE Hero, please contact Amanda Stengel for more information. And, we invite you to Share Your Voice on our website and read about other Heroes' experiences too. Everyone’s story is unique, and we appreciate you getting involved and becoming a LUNG FORCE Hero!

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