Given the number of lung transplants each year in North America, perhaps when a continent-wide alert is on and you’re at the top of the list it’s not too surprising that lungs are found. But almost half of transplant candidates die on the waiting list or become too ill for the surgery before it happens; and at that point they’re regretfully removed from the waiting list. Natalia was fighting for her life when the call finally came. Members of her family were literally less than 24 hours from donating parts of their own lungs–and writing their wills–when the lungs were approved.
The Toronto Star says, “Lung transplant came at the eleventh hour.” We can leave off the “miracle” part and thank the devoted family, dedicated surgeons, and modern communications and transportation–and the thoughtful people who sign their donor cards when they are young and healthy.
Then the call came. After a fruitless 3 1/2 months of Natalia Ritchie being on the transplant list, a set of lungs was available. “The call came literally at the 11th hour,” [her husband] Martin Ritchie, 35, says in an interview. “I can’t imagine it coming any closer.”They were debating whether she was even a transplant candidate anymore; she’d slipped so far.”
The call came around noon but it was 6 p.m. before the surgical team, led by Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, determined the lungs were suitable and they were ready to go ahead with a projected 10-hour double-lung transplant operation.
Ritchie, chief financial officer of Toronto-based renewable energy company Greta Energy Inc., talks to the Star on Tuesday after spending the morning with their 4-month-old baby, Scarlett; a long day awaits him at Toronto General Hospital, where his 30-year-old wife is in stable condition. “I know the lungs are working, which is huge,” he says. “I see her chest heaving and there’s no coughing or rattling for the first time in years. It’s pretty amazing to see that those are taking.”
Had the organs not been available, Ritchie and Natalia’s brother, John Boguslawski, and father, Chris Boguslawski, were ready to share their lungs with her. The trio had passed tests proving them psychologically and physically sound. “We were meeting on Saturday to decide which two of the three of us would go in,” Ritchie says. “And then the call came. It really was a miracle.”
In October, Natalia Ritchie entered St. Michael’s Hospital, site of North America’s largest cystic fibrosis program. This month, she had to be moved to Toronto General and put on a Novalung – a machine that acts as an external organ, oxygenating the blood and removing [carbon dioxide].