“Six years ago I learned that I would eventually need a lung transplant,” says Dawn Burke, 62, of Keyport, NJ. She had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a disease that scars the lungs.
Her earliest treatments involved portable oxygen tanks at home and regular monitoring by transplant physicians at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center’s (NBI) Advanced Lung Disease and Transplant Program.
But by 2019, her condition was very advanced. She was admitted to the hospital to await a transplant. Dawn’s team needed to give her increasing amounts of oxygen in the following weeks. They also worked to help her to remain physically active, so she would be as strong as possible when a donor lung was available.
A month into her hospital stay and despite everyone’s efforts, respiratory failure was imminent. Instead of requiring Dawn stay in bed, the entire transplant team has the skills and training to use specialized equipment that still allows a patient to remain mobile.
At day 36 of her stay, Dawn was able to walk down the hall with this advanced equipment—known as “awake ECMO” (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation)— in tow. Helping her with this exercise, were Advanced Mobilization Team members. This effort helped her to maintain her strength while waiting for her organ. Four days later, all rejoiced to learn that a suitable organ had become available for Dawn. The transplant was a success. She was home two weeks later, no more oxygen tanks needed.
“I’m at a loss for words to explain what it feels like to have this second chance at life,” she says.
At one point, Dawn couldn’t walk five feet. Now, she’s participated in four 5k walks and is enjoying and honoring her life. She never misses a chance to encourage others on the road to transplant, serving as a volunteer and guest speaker for the NJ Sharing Network, raising awareness for organ donation. During April, National Donate Life Month, we encourage the community to register to be an organ donor at registerme.org/nbi.