Double Lung Transplant Comes with Bittersweet Memories

November 04, 2020 8:00 AM

When one family donated their young daughter’s organs, they never expected to be on a transplant list 15 years later.

Scott Weston overlooking a lake
Scott Weston, post-transplant. Courtesy of Weston.

Scott Weston believes in fate. And for very good reason, given the circumstances surrounding his double lung transplant last July 2019.

Tragically, his story begins with the death of his daughter, Ericka, who in 2003 passed of a brain tumor at age 12. The family donated their beloved daughter’s organs with the hope of saving the lives of others.

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When it came time for Weston’s lung transplant 15 years later, he was sure his daughter was “pulling some strings.”

The 52-year-old resident of Alanson, Mich., and special education instructor who teaches in Cheboygan, says he had been relatively healthy his entire life. His one health condition, emphysema, was scarring his lungs, possibly due to exposure to workplace allergens in his twenties.

Over the years, Weston felt mild symptoms from his lung condition, but his energy level was never compromised as he kept up with his special education students, ages 10 through 18. He and his wife, Stacey, were also busy raising “two sets of kids,” including two biological daughters, now grown, and four adopted children (ages 15, 18, 20 and 23).

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Although his work with special education youth, along with raising a family, has its share of stress-related incidents, Weston says his choices in career and family are a labor of love. “Stacey and I know we’ve made a difference in their lives.” 

When Weston’s oxygen level began to decline five years ago, he began paying more attention to his own health. A visit to his primary physician ended with a recommendation that he see a pulmonologist, who diagnosed him with the disease.

Patients with emphysema experience an obstruction in airflow caused by air sacs in the lungs that have been compromised due to smoking, a dusty workplace environment or genetic factors. Symptoms include a chronic cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and chest tightness.

But Weston’s symptoms didn’t keep him down — until a few years ago when his condition worsened. “My lungs were failing,” he says.

Weston traveled to Michigan Medicine where he met with pulmonologist David O’Dwyer, M.D. “He had such a calming and professional demeanor,” Weston says. There, he was also diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, or high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs.

“Dr. O’Dwyer said, ‘Let’s try to get you as many years out as possible before we consider a lung transplant,’” Weston recalls. 

He began supplemental oxygen with only minimal deterioration for a few years. But by Christmas 2018, Weston says his condition was getting worse. “By June of 2019, it was very clear that I was sick and would need a lung transplant.”

"I got my life back. My oxygen level is 100% and I’ve had no rejection issues. It’s been a wild ride, but I knew my Ericka was watching over me."

Weston was seen by Michigan Medicine pulmonologist Dennis Lyu, M.D., whose team evaluates patients to determine their eligibility for a lung transplant. Among other things, patients are evaluated for conditions such as cardiomyopathy, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, which could lessen their chances of a successful transplant. Lyu says the goal of lung transplant is to “enhance the quality of life for patients with end-stage lung disease and to improve their longevity.”

Weston proved to be an eligible candidate and was added to the Michigan Medicine transplant list. He waited patiently and on August 3, 2019, he “got the call”. The transplant would be performed by thoracic surgeon Kiran Hari Legisetty, M.D. 

Lyu says Weston’s transplant was fairly straightforward and went extremely well. “The match was as ideal as you could get. He now has 100% of his lung function, while before surgery it was only 53%.”

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Weston couldn’t be more thankful. “After many hours of surgery, countless prayers, positive energy and support from family, friends and doctors, I had two healthy lungs that were given by total strangers,” he says.

Eleven days later, he was released to recuperate at his daughter’s nearby home, and in September he was able to travel back home to Alanson some four hours away. 

Weston’s recovery includes physical therapy three times a week and walking five miles a day.

“When Ericka died, my wife and I were angry. It was very hard. But we believe that things happen for a reason,” Weston says.

For the family — all of whom are listed as organ donors and actively promote organ donation — the bittersweet reason is summed up by Weston: “I got my life back. My oxygen level is 100% and I’ve had no rejection issues. It’s been a wild ride, but I knew my Ericka was watching over me.”