Tri-Cities mom was on a path toward death, until this Seattle milestone transplant

National Donate Life Month

Erin Moya of LifeCenter Northwest shares information about becoming an organ donor in the State of Washington.
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Erin Moya of LifeCenter Northwest shares information about becoming an organ donor in the State of Washington.

For Lindsey Decker, the first indication that something was wrong was when she was 23.

She fainted in the street randomly, and when she woke up, her stroller was tipped over and her 7-month-old was crying. She didn’t know what happened.

Her doctor wrote it off as low blood sugar, but soon Decker was struggling to climb a flight of stairs without running out of breath.

The conclusion was pulmonary hypertension, a condition of high blood pressure in the lungs.

Last month, the young Kennewick mother had lung transplant surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center, where she received two donor lungs.

She was the 1,000th lung transplant patient for UW Medicine, a figure that only 10 other U.S. programs have reached.

After her initial diagnosis, she lived with pulmonary hypertension for 10 years without incident.

She had a pump in her chest that delivered medicine to her at all times, and she said she wanted to stay on that treatment for as long as she could.

Lung transplant surgery was far down the road, and she was in no hurry to get the risky surgery.

Turn for the worse

That is, she said, until January of this year, when her physical condition quickly changed.

“I started retaining a ton of fluid. My legs were completely swollen, I had a belly that looked like I was eight months pregnant,” Decker said. “They did some testing and decided that my disease had progressed.”

That shot her to the top of the organ donation list. She was on the list just two weeks before she received a match.

Lindsey Decker is pictured four days before her lung transplant. She started retaining fluid in January, which made her legs and stomach swell. Lindsey and Chase Decker

“When it came to this point in January or February, I just knew I couldn’t go on the way it was,” Decker said. “The next step was transplant, and it was scary.”

She has been recovering in the in-house rehab at the UW Medical Center in Seattle since her July surgery. She does three hours of physical therapy every day, and is relearning how to walk and get dressed.

“I’m getting stronger every day, but it’s a long process,” she said.

She said her surgeon told her she was the “sickest patient he ever had to do the surgery for,” and because of that she has needed extra time to recover.

But, Decker said, her lungs are working beautifully and she is glad the surgeon had 999 patients to practice with before her.

She expects to be back in Kennewick sometime in October.

“I just feel blessed that it happened when it happened, because they said I would have only lived like a month (without the transplant).”