VESTABURG, Mich. -- This Christmas, Jamie Purchase has a lot to celebrate. She's got a loving husband and a healthy 10-year-old son. But, the 32-year-old says the "best Christmas gift ever" came this past September, when she underwent a successful lung transplant.
On September 6, Purchase became the 23rd lung transplant recipient at Spectrum Health and the first female patient with cystic fibrosis (CF) to receive a new set of lungs.
"It's been the best gift that I've ever been able to ever receive, a life-saving gift," she told FOX 17 News. "I think about the donor daily, and I just think about all the simple things I was unable to do before that I can do now."
Diagnosed with the genetic disease as a baby, Purchase has spent her entire life fighting the complications that come with it, including the buildup of mucus in her lungs that made it extremely difficult to breathe. When she was finally added to the transplant list in January 2014, her lung function had dropped to about 25 percent. Three months after the transplant, her lung function is the best doctors have ever seen it: 70 percent.
"I still remember what it was like to hear her breathe when I sat next to her," said Purchase's son Colton. "She was always on oxygen, and it made her depressed."
But first, Purchase had a disappointment on Mother's Day. After being prepped for transplant surgery, she learned the donor lungs weren't the right fit. Several months later as her health declined, she received the news she'd been waiting for as she slept in the hospital. Within hours, she was wheeled into surgery.
Waking up afterward, she said was very emotional. "It felt like balloons blowing up in my chest, so deep, that I hadn't felt in so long, that it made me cry," she remembered. "To think that I'm breathing with someone else's lungs, it's a very, very surreal feeling."
Purchase has decided to place a special tree in her living room this year in honor of her donor. Covered with green ribbons and green and blue ornaments, it's a constant reminder of her life-saving gift.
"I decided to do 25 ribbons in honor of each year of my donor's life," she said. "Green and blue represents organ donation. I just wanted to bring awareness to it, for people to become organ donors so more people can get that gift of life like I have received."
Other than age, Purchase knows very little about her donor, which is standard protocol. She has been able to send three letters to the donor's family and said she would love to meet them in the future if they agree to it.
Though she still has cystic fibrosis, the condition should not affect her new lungs.
Purchase was featured as a "Pay it Forward Person of the Week" in May 2012 for her unwavering efforts to inspire and help others fighting CF. She says the efforts will continue: she is planning for the annual "Great Strides" walk in Edmore for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. She's been organizing the walk since 2006 and has raised more than $10,000 for CF research.
To learn more about becoming an organ donor, click here.