Patient story

Carson SmithCarson Smith

A Different Kind of Race

published in the February / March 04 Paducah Life magazine
used by permission

There are so many butterflies in my stomach; I'm sure they'll escape at any moment. Then a voice reaches into my world of nervousness and pulls me back to the present, "Ladies, on your mark, get set, and bang, the starter pistol cracks!"

The race has begun, I'm on the heels of the girl in first, perfect positioning. The wind in my face on the back stretch, around the curve, my heart beating wildly, the last 100 yards, my feet pounding the beautiful blue rubberized track at Paducah Tilghman High School. I've passed the girl ahead of me, 50, 40, 25 more yards. I cross the finish line to the sounds of crowd yelling encouragement and congratulations. I did it! I won!

Suddenly the scene jumps and I'm in a hospital, being wheeled into surgery. I look into the eyes of my hopeful, fearful, family. Suddenly I wake up, and release a sigh that has a double meaning as I realize I was having a mixed up dream. It is a sigh of sorrow and a sigh of relief.

The first part of my dream was what I've always wanted to do. Ever since I could remember I just knew I would run track for Paducah Tilghman High School. My dad was a high school and college runner, and it was what I really enjoyed doing as well. Now, running as a member of the Tilghman Tornado High School track team is a vision that has been set just out of reach, forever.

That was the second half of my dream, being wheeled into surgery. I was being taken into the operating room, and when I returned I would have new lungs. When I awoke I was relieved it was only a dream, that I didn't actually have to go through that emotional process, yet.

I need a lung transplant.

It was the middle of my freshman year, right before track season, when the doctor told me to stop all physical activity. Now, two years later, it's that time of year again. If you drive by PTHS any afternoon between 2:30 and 4:30, chances are good you will observe the track team once again preparing for what we hope will be another state championship season. My level of physical activity has slightly improved - I'm allowed to take dance classes now, but the most drastic change is in my medical diagnosis.

My freshman year the doctors suspected severe asthma. Today, they, and I, know they were mistaken. I actually have Pulmonary Veno Occlusive Disease, (PVOD) the rarest form of Primary Pulmonary Hypertension. It is a progressive disease which at this point has no cure and the only proven therapy is a double lung transplant. There is fibrous material growing in the veins in my lungs. This inhibits the oxygenated blood from exiting my lungs and being pumped to the rest of my body. Consequently my heart works over time trying to compensate for my slacker lungs; eventually the heart will tire and quit beating.

If I receive a lung transplant my heart could go back to a normal work load, and I would be able to live and exercise. But, healthy lungs are hard to come by, so a lung transplant is at least two years away, according to the transplant center in St. Louis, where I'm on the transplant waiting list.

I've had to completely change my lifestyle. I've had to switch from identifying myself as an athlete and centering on athletics to centering on nonphysical activities. Fortunately, I'm still allowed to dance. Sometimes I think it is the only thing that keeps me from dropping off the edge into insanity. I have at least a small dose of activity twice a week.

This lifestyle is not my choice, to say the least, but since I've been enduring endless medical testing, hospital trips and out of town specialists visits, I've realized how many invaluable friends I truly have. People are so caring, loving, helpful, concerned. I have always known and believed with all my heart that people are basically good, but still, the outpouring of goodness has shocked me. Instead of the race against other girls in the 400 meter run, which I'd rather be running, my race, has turned out to be me racing time against this disease, which has been made less daunting by the support I know I have behind me.

My friends are there voicing their encouragement. Many are good enough to ask what they can do to help. THe only thing I ask of you is that you sign up to be an organ donor, and tell your family about your decision. Make sure they know you want to give someone else the gift of life. This may not help me, but it might be a life saving gift for some one just like me. Or...someone just like you.


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