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At 18, new lungs after a life of cystic fibrosis

Samantha Peterson visited Brian Jenkins at his hospital in St. Louis in November.

Special to the Times

Samantha Peterson visited Brian Jenkins at his hospital in St. Louis in November.

TAMPA — Samantha Peterson, the 18-year-old cystic fibrosis patient featured in a St. Petersburg Times story Sunday, received a double lung transplant Wednesday at Tampa General Hospital.

"Everything went smoothly," her father, Sam, said after the seven-hour surgery performed by Dr. Christiano Caldeira. "She now has a good set of lungs. She's not out of the woods, but we're hopeful."

Samantha, who has suffered from cystic fibrosis since she was 8 months old, fell into a coma in late November. On Jan. 2, her mother, Eileen, 52, died of a heart attack at her mother's home in St. Petersburg. She had become a licensed practical nurse to care for her daughter.

Samantha is the youngest of three daughters. They grew up in Homosassa in Citrus County.

The Sunday story focused on Samantha's relationship with Brian Jenkins, 25, of West Palm Beach. They began corresponding in April on a Web site for cystic fibrosis patients. Brian shared his good fortune — eight healthy years after a double lung transplant.

Their relationship blossomed, and they took turns traveling across to state to meet in person. It was the first romance for both.

Then, in November, Brian began having difficulty breathing again. His body was rejecting his lungs, and doctors flew him to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, site of his transplant at age 17. On Dec. 23, he was placed on the list for a double transplant.

Samantha and her father drove to St. Louis to visit Brian in the hospital. Shortly after they returned home, she suffered liver and kidney failure, and doctors determined her survival depended on new lungs.

"I'm thrilled," Brian said Wednesday evening. "I can't wait to hear her voice again."

He recalled the feeling he had after his transplant. "You can't imagine how good it feels to be able to blow air out," he said.

Barring any complications, Samantha could go home in four to six weeks, according to her pulmonologist, Mark Rolfe.

About 900 cystic fibrosis patients receive lung transplants each year, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. As many as 90 percent are alive one year after the transplant, and 50 percent are alive after five years.

The first year is critical, Rolfe said, because of rejection and infection issues. "We have patients 12 years out doing very well," he said.

Tampa General Hospital, which has performed more than 150 lung transplants since 2002, works closely with LifeLink to secure organs. Hospital spokeswoman Ellen Fiss said details about the donor must remain confidential.

Bill Stevens can be reached at stevens@sptimes.com or by calling (727) 869-6250.

At 18, new lungs after a life of cystic fibrosis 02/11/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 12, 2009 12:03am]
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