Stephen and wife Kelly

Double lung transplant recipient Stephen Orloff shared some insight into the incredible support he received throughout his transplant journey.

Everyone who has been through the transplant process — whether a donor, recipient, medical professional, caregiver or family member — knows that the journey is long, twisted and filled with daily surprises of peril and triumph.

In my own sojourn, I came to believe that it was only going to be my own inner strength and commitment that would guide me for what promised to be a soul tempering experience. But I was wrong: the foundation for my success in transplant was my dedicated, ferociously protective and completely committed wife Kelly.

Waiting for a Double Lung Transplant

I received a double lung transplant on June 13, 2013. I was approved for listing in 2009 and finally officially listed in 2011. In the five years leading to transplant, Kelly was everywhere and everything. Making appointments, maintaining oxygen and medications throughout the house as I was unable to move easily, keeping the household going, constantly fielding inquiries from friends and family, and setting up a system of rotating support — both at home and planned for in-hospital treatments to never allow me a moment of self pity.

She drove me to three (yes, there were three) false alarms while I was hunched over in the back seat praying that my oxygen tank would last for the trip, and then, after the crushing news that it was not to be … home again to wait. Sometimes when she thought I could not hear, I would listen to her sob quietly and pray for help and then quickly gather herself in front of me to order another task like medication or bathing. Then the call came.

Healing and Rehab After Transplant

Kelly was magnificent. Although I was unconscious for five days or so due to complications, Kelly slept in the waiting room the entire time. She had dozens of family members organized for shifts after I was finally released from the ICU into the intermediate care unit. She kept socks on my feet as I asked her to not let me be cold (an artifact from my Army days) and gathered not a few hard looks from the ICU angels for it.

The healing and rehab was long and difficult, and the details of Kelly's sacrifice over nearly seven years from diagnosis to transplant are so vast and all encompassing that they beguile description. But the results speak for themselves.

The Power of a Strong Community of Support

On April 13, 2013, 10 months after my lung transplant, Kelly and I, as part of Team Penn Medicine, raised more than $2,000 for the Gift of Life Donor Dash and ran the 5K race – finishing together.

One year before that, I couldn't butter a piece of bread but Kelly never gave up hope.

Her persistence, courage, fortitude and refusal to surrender inspired me then and inspires me still. And in case you are wondering, I came in at 45:44. I then turned around and went back to finish with my wife who was just a few yards behind, as she had ORDERED me to run as fast as I could you to show her that it had been worth it – and I did.

That is what it is like to have a wife like Kelly.

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