Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lung transplant recipient Samantha Peterson adjusts to breathing without pain

TAMPA — Samantha Peterson had never taken a comfortable breath. Now she had two new lungs that worked perfectly, and it scared her to death.

She lay in the intensive care unit at Tampa General Hospital, watching monitors, listening to beeps and buzzes, unable to sleep.

"I was afraid," she said Monday. "I couldn't feel anything."

For the first time in her 18 years, the air that filled her lungs didn't hurt. She didn't feel like she was drowning. It was so new, so strange, that she feared something was wrong.

Three nights later, she slept like a baby. And Monday afternoon, after 102 days in the hospital, Samantha enjoyed a long, hot shower and held still while her big sister, Meghan, fixed her hair.

It was time to go home. Nurses and doctors stopped by to celebrate. The lungs worked great, but her heart was still broken.

"I want to go to the beach and watch the sunset," she said, choking back tears. "That was my mom's favorite place."

Eileen Peterson had always been Samantha's nurse, through 18 years of agonizing treatments for cystic fibrosis. In November, Samantha's liver and kidneys shut down, and she fell into a coma.

She was still unconscious and near death when Eileen, exhausted, left the hospital on Jan. 2. She drove to her St. Petersburg home, stretched out on a couch — and died of a heart attack. She was 52.

In the months ahead, Samantha will live with Susanne Gaskins, a registered nurse at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg and a friend of Eileen's.

"She's like one of my own," Gaskins said. "Everyone falls in love with Samantha. We'll provide a pit stop for her until her dad can move closer."

(Sam Peterson works on turbines and other heavy equipment and lives in Homosassa. He has been unable to work for the last three months, spending almost every day at the hospital.)

Samantha hopes another man in her life moves closer soon — Brian Jenkins, her first and only boyfriend. They met last year on a Web site for cystic fibrosis patients.

Brian, 25, of West Palm Beach received a double lung transplant eight years ago. In November, his lungs failed him and doctors flew him to St. Louis, where he had the transplant. Samantha and her father drove up to visit him.

Shortly after they returned, she was stricken. In December, Brian was approved for a second transplant. He and his mother rented an apartment in St. Louis and await a call, but now it appears he may wait in Tampa.

"I want to be closer to Samantha," Brian said Monday. "Our doctors are talking, and we think it will happen."

Dr. Tarik Haddad, one of Samantha's pulmonologists, is amazed that Samantha is doing so well. "She was on dialysis when she arrived," he said. "She had multi-organ failure. All bets were off."

But as his associate, Dr. Mark Rolfe, added, "She's a tough one. She's a fighter. And I'll tell you this: By summer, you won't even recognize her. She'll be running and eating bratwurst like the rest of them."

Rolfe has a party for his transplant patients at Christmas and another in the summer, and takes pride in doing the cooking. "It's a great reward to see their progress," he said.

"I am so grateful to be alive," Samantha said. "There are so many people to thank."

About 900 cystic fibrosis patients receive lung transplants each year, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Fifty percent are alive after five years. Dr. Rolfe says medical advances improve the odds every year.

"I don't know if Samantha will be an old lady," he said, "but she'll definitely now have a better quality of life."

Bill Stevens is the Times North Suncoast editor. He can be reached at (727) 869-6250 or [email protected]

facts

Breath of life

For more information about lung transplants, visit www.newlungassociates.com.

To become a registered organ donor, you can complete a form at a driver's license office or go to lifelinkfound.org.

For previous coverage, go to links.tampabay.com.

Lung transplant recipient Samantha Peterson adjusts to breathing without pain 03/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 12:36am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pasco deputies: Citgo gas station was selling pipes for crack and meth

    Crime

    TRILBY — A Citgo gas station is facing hefty fines after Pasco County Sheriff's deputies said clerks weren't just selling gas, but doling out pipes for crack and meth.

  2. What to expect from the Florida Orchestra's 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' show

    Events

    With just a few short tings from the celesta, a small piano-style instrument, and you're instantly transported to Harry Potter's wizarding world.

    Courtesy of the Straz Center
  3. Police: Boy, 12, burglarized Melrose Elementary during Hurricane Irma

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — A 12-year-old boy is facing a felony charge after police say he burglarized Melrose Elementary while the school was closed for Hurricane Irma.

    Melrose Elementary at 1752 13th Ave. S in St. Petersburg was burglarized while the school was closed for Hurricane Irma. A 12-year-old boy has been charged, police said. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  4. How Jameis Winston's turnovers doomed the Bucs again

    Bucs

    The Bucs' rise or fall is based on the play of quarterback Jameis Winston. His failure to take care of the football was arguably the biggest factor in their 34-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday.

    Jameis Winston has turned the football over 25 times in 17 road games. [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
  5. Wrenching photos show hurricane battered Puerto Rico on brink of crisis

    Hurricanes

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — As life in Puerto Rico grinds on nearly a week after Hurricane Maria knocked out all the power, most of the water and left people waiting in excruciating lines for fuel, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló said the island was on the brink of a "humanitarian crisis" and it was up to Congress to …

    Residents bathe in a natural spring in the hill town of Toa Alta, Puerto Rica, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. As life in Puerto Rico grinds on nearly a week after the Category 4 storm knocked out all the power, most of the water and left people waiting in excruciating lines for fuel, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Monday that the island was on the brink of a "humanitarian crisis." [Victor J. Blue | New York Times]