After a double lung transplant and months of outpatient rehabilitation at the Regional Medical Center, 48-year-old Sandy Graham’s arduous health care journey and her recovery have been recognized.
She recently was named “Patient of the Year” by the South Carolina Association of Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Rehabilitation – an award RMC rehab therapists said Sandy has earned due to her remarkable progress. The honor was bestowed upon her at the association’s 30th annual symposium last month in Columbia.
“I can’t believe I actually won,” said Sandy, whose story of recovery inspired the staff at the RMC’s pulmonary rehabilitation program to nominate her for the award.
“We chose to nominate her because she worked so hard to get to the point of getting her transplant, all while working full-time at Family Health Centers, Inc., where she worked in administration for 24 years. There were days that we had to go get her out of her car in the parking lot and help her in a wheelchair just so she could get into the department to exercise. She kept up with her exercise after her transplant,” said Kay Berry, RN, staff nurse at the Pulmonary Rehabilitation program at RMC.
Berry said as therapists and nurses, they worked with and tracked Sandy’s journey before and after the transplant. Her positive attitude and desire to rebound has made her an inspiration to other patients and the staff.
Sandy’s lung problems began in 2006 when she learned she had a form of pneumonia known as bronchiolitis obliterans with organizing pneumonia (BOOP). This led to a diagnosis of interstitial lung disease, a disorder that causes progressive scarring of lung tissue. The scarring associated with interstitial lung disease eventually affects a person’s ability to breathe and get enough oxygen into the bloodstream.
She became a patient at RMC’s pulmonary rehabilitation program in September 2015 after her doctors at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) told her she needed a lung transplant to replace her own lungs, which had deteriorated. She needed to get her body stronger in order to undergo the transplant procedure.
“She exercised faithfully two days per week in our pulmonary rehab program. On November 10, 2016, Sandy was listed for a lung transplant, but was told she was going to be hard to match because of an antibody,” Berry’s team wrote in the nomination.
Due to a continual decline in her health, Sandy was admitted to MUSC in December 2016, and again a month later. As they were discharging her the second time, the doctor said, “We have a donor.” Her surgery was performed on January 5, 2017.
The road to recovery was not easy for Sandy. She developed blood clots in the donor lungs shortly after the surgery, which led to more surgery. She later suffered a stroke and had to be placed on dialysis. Sandy spent several months at both MUSC and Roper Hospital, where she underwent rehabilitation, followed by a lengthy hotel stay so she could be near her doctors.
In May 2017, Sandy returned back home to Orangeburg and has continued to undergo rehabilitation on an outpatient basis at RMC. Staff members say Sandy is a positive role model for all of their patients enrolled in the rehab program.
“Sandy continues to exercise two times per week. She enjoys talking with patients about transplant and lung disease. She always has a smile on her face and is always determined to do more every day,” the staff wrote in the nomination. Sandy was unable to walk on the treadmill when she first came back to RMC due to the effects from the stroke, but now she’s walking on the treadmill for up to 15 minutes at a time, riding the recumbent bike and using other equipment. Her right hand was affected by the stroke, but she has since learned to write with her left hand.
“She is truly an inspiration to patients, her family, but most of all to the staff that cares for her,” the staff wrote.
Sandy credits her husband, Todd, the staff at RMC and other friends and family with helping her to endure her journey of recovery. Her team of support at RMC includes her certified respiratory therapist, Theresa Bramblett; registered nurse Jesse West; Kay Berry and Terri Rash, who are both registered nurses and certified cardiac rehab professionals, and the RMC Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy programs.