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Organ donation gives United Methodist second chance at life (UM News)

November 10, 2022

If you routinely check that organ/tissue-donor box on your driver’s license, you may not give it a second thought. For United Methodist Jennifer Loud, however, that simple gesture saved her life.

She was diagnosed in 2002 with Mixed Connective Tissue Disease,  an autoimmune disorder that shows features of three different connective tissue conditions, including scleroderma.

Loud first experienced severe sensitivity to cold temperatures, swollen hands, painful joints and a consistently dry cough. Chest X-rays showed minimal scarring in both lungs. Her scleroderma symptoms worsened as the disease progressed.

In 2009, her right lung collapsed, and surgeons inserted a chest tube to reinflate the lung.  However, the left lung did not reinflate. The surgeons performed a procedure that resulted in gluing her left lung to the chest wall.

“By 2017,” Loud said, “I was diagnosed with end-stage lung disease. I also had developed a serious heart condition called pulmonary arterial hypertension. My prognosis was poor. A double lung transplant was the only option.”

Trusting God to guide her to the transplant center that would best meet her needs, Loud was ecstatic when the University of Maryland Transplant Center at Baltimore accepted her.

Loud and her husband, Marc, met 40 years ago at the Howard University School of Law. Married for 32 years, they are parents of 23-year-old twin sons.

“Our lives before the transplant centered around raising our sons, being active in their school community, attending their sporting events and supporting their many other activities,” Jennifer Loud recalled. “I operated and managed my own law practice, focused on probate, estate planning and personal injury.”

The couple was active in The Emory Fellowship, a United Methodist congregation. They fulfilled many roles at their church and in their Shepherd Park community in Washington. “I was appointed by the mayor to serve on two citywide boards,” Loud said. “I also served on the The Emory Beacon of Light Inc, the nonprofit arm of The Emory Fellowship, and the local board of the National Scleroderma Foundation.”

Five years ago, Loud’s illness forced a drastic lifestyle change.

She was on supplemental oxygen 24/7.

“I moved around my house with the oxygen tank,” she said. “I showered, slept and exercised with my oxygen tube attached to me. I continued to work on the few cases that I retained. However, at some point, I had to stop working altogether.”

Constantly battling infection, Loud quit attending worship, visiting friends and family, going to restaurants and flying. “After I was placed on the transplant list,” she said, “I was not allowed to travel more than two hours from the transplant center.”

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, initially bringing transplants to a halt. Loud’s medical appointments became virtual. “My husband only let a few family members inside our house,” she said. “The phlebotomist who came to do my weekly labs did so in our Florida room, away from the main part of the house.”

Loud’s first day of surgery lasted 14 hours. It continued for another five hours the following day. She had more than 10 additional procedures, was in intensive care for three months and spent another three weeks in rehabilitation. She was on a heart and lung life-support machine for two weeks and on a ventilator.

“During my four months in the hospital,” Loud said, “my church, family and friends prayed nonstop. They organized 24-hour prayer vigils. They rallied around me and supported me. Pastor and Mrs. Daniels prayed twice daily. They all showed their solidarity by wearing T-shirts that read, ‘In this family, when one person fights, we all fight. Team Jennifer.’

“The transplant,” she continued, “saved my life. On their own, my lungs were functioning at less than 30% capacity. I was dependent on supplemental oxygen to breathe. My heart was failing because of the pressure to my pulmonary artery caused by my failing lungs. My situation looked very bleak. I was facing certain lung failure in less than two years.”

After the surgery, Loud said, she went through a period of physical and occupational therapy at home. “I also had a medication regimen of 40-plus pills and tube feeding throughout the day,” she said.

Marc worked from home to manage his wife’s medications and tube-feeding schedule. Loud’s sister, a nurse, traveled from Florida to teach Marc how to care for Jennifer. Another sister who lived nearby rotated duties with Marc. She and neighbors prepared meals for the family for several months. One neighbor furnished a weekly meal for almost two years.

Jennifer Loud’s faith never faltered.

“God answered all of my prayers.”

Celebrating the two-year anniversary of her transplant on Aug.6, Loud is thriving.

“I have not used supplemental oxygen for almost two years,” she said. “I did yoga for a while. I walk for exercise. In May, I flew for the first time in five years. My family and I are planning our first family vacation in more than four years.”

Loud considers organ donation “a gift of a second chance of life. It is a selfless and thoughtful gift by those who choose to do so,” she said. “Currently, 106,000 people are on the national organ-transplant waiting list. For those people, organ transplant is the last and only chance to stay alive. Organ donation is viewed by the Christian church as a tremendous, final act of charity.”

A year after her transplant, Loud received a letter from her donor family. She learned that her donor’s gift of his lungs, kidneys, liver and cornea had saved or transformed the lives of four people.

Responding to the letter, Loud said, “I expressed my tremendous gratitude. I shared with my donor’s family that my view is that his gift comes with certain responsibilities and charge on my life.”

One responsibility, she noted, is to thank God every day for her life. The second is to share her story as a way to honor her donor and, most of all, to glorify God.

“I believe my story will give others hope for challenges that they experience,” Loud said. “My hope is also that others will see the second chance that organ donation has given me and will consider being organ donors themselves.

“I believe that I must live my life to its fullest. I have an obligation to enjoy and experience life even more than I did before, as my expression of appreciation for the gift that was given to me. I must continue to seek and fulfill God’s purpose for my life, especially for the extra time that has been added. I must look for and find ways to be of service to others.”