VERSAILLES–Kara Didier, who underwent her second lung transplant in 11 years, is now at home in Versailles. She arrived home on Dec. 8 with a welcoming squad greeting her.
“There were signs on the main blocks welcoming me home,” she said. “Anybody who wanted to come could do so.”
Friends Rose Schlater, Erin Shaffer, and Kara’s family arranged it.
At the end of June/beginning of July, Kara was starting to feel something was amiss with her health. She even felt that way at her daughter Alexa’s wedding on July 1.
“I didn’t want to check my home breathing or do anything lung-related, besides breathe of course,” said Kara, who is a photographer. “My chest was a little tight and getting tighter. We chalked it up to the Canadian wildfires. I had tried to limit my working outside on photo sessions, but in the beginning of it all, I just thought it was a cool haze that would look good for pictures.”
Kara, who said she has never smoked and had not been around second-hand smoke, admitted that she didn’t check what she should have been checking since she had just been to Cleveland earlier in June, and everything was completely normal.
“After the smoke cleared from the wedding, I did my PFTs (home lung spirometry). The FEV1 is looked at in my particular disease,” she noted. “For reference, my FEV1 baseline for the past five years was 2.79…after you put in the other factors such as age, height, and weight, you get your lung percentage. My approximate percentage at that time was 83-85 percent. I sat down the second week of July, and my PFTs had dropped drastically, and I was sitting at about 50 percent lung function. I stayed in Cleveland for a week, came home for two, and then back at it a third time. Each day, it got harder to breathe, and I knew that I was leaving the hospital one of two ways.”
Cleveland was also where her first transplant took place. This time, she was there from Sept. 2 until her release on Dec. 8.
“They kept me a week giving me antibodies, thinking it was an acute rejection,” she said. “There are a number of things that cause rejections. Acute rejection can be fixed and reversed while chronic stays there and keeps going down.”
She admitted to being a little worried.
“I didn’t get on the organ donor list until Oct. 5, and then I went through a lot of testing,” Kara noted. “I was worried I wouldn’t make it. I was top of the world nationwide on the list because I was so sick. They have to match the blood type, the size, and the antibodies of the donor.”
It was on Oct. 12 that they got the call. To undergo another transplant was nothing short of a miracle, Kara thought.
Kara admitted that she had no recollection of much that happened during that time.
She was told that the transplant lasted from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13.
She said this procedure was different than her first one on July 18, 2012.
“I thought I’d be in and out, but they put me on a vent and trach after that, and I was put in a step-down unit to get trach-free. I never really came to until the end of October,” she said.
She said it was Labor Day weekend when friends Rose and Jeff Schlater had come to visit at the hospital to stay with her while her husband Doug came home for the day so he could square some things away back there.
“It seemed like each time Doug would leave, something would happen to me,” Kara said. “We were in the midst of changing rooms for me. As my friends started to go over to my new room, taking my belongings, something happened…my blood gasses were way out of whack. I had too much carbon dioxide in my system. So off to the fifth-floor cardiac ICU I went. It was so horrible, and the hallucinations were such bad dreams.”
She also experienced hallucinations after her first transplant, she said.
“I started in the ICU on Sept. 1 and was still there up until the middle of October,” she recalled. “I didn’t know who or where I was. I don’t recall getting the call…or much of anything else for that matter until about after three days post.
At one point before her release, she was kept another day because her kidney function was really high, and they wanted to start her on another antiviral medication.
After the surgery, she had a feeding tube put in, and it caused her not to eat right. It made her nauseous.
“When they put the tube in my stomach, that hurt worse than the transplant. But the nausea is pretty much gone because I eat in small portions,” said Kara, who lost between 40 and 50 pounds.
She overcame a couple of scares along the way but persevered.
But she’s home now.
“I am still not back to myself, but the lung function is getting better,” she said.
The surgeon for both of her transplants was the same person, Dr. Mason. And she was grateful.
“He made his rounds and got close to me and patted my hand,” she recalled.
Doug and Kara had to stay in the Cleveland area after her release before Thanksgiving.
“But the kids and grandkids came up,” she said. “I had to go back into the hospital because I had fluid in my lungs.”
Except for twice during her hospitalization this time, Doug was with her every day and only came home twice to get her medications and pay bills. “He advocated for me,” she said.
One time, when Doug was home, he and their family, including their three grandchildren, went to the annual Hometown Christmas in downtown Versailles.
“I was a little jealous,” Kara said.
Her husband of 27 years has been a good support for her.
They met while cruising Broadway in Greenville back in the day.
“I was a sophomore, and he was a junior but didn’t date until I graduated in 1996 from Arcanum High School, and Doug graduated in 1994 from Versailles,” Kara reminisced.
Their marriage date? Aug. 10, 1996.
Doug, who used to be a Darke County Sheriff’s deputy, is now working for the Miami County Sheriff’s Department.
“His work has been great since he has been with me,” she said. “All of the deputies there work different shifts and share different cruisers, and now that he’s back at work, they’ve given him his own car so that he doesn’t bring germs home.”
Kara is back to working on her photography.
“I still had two shoots for seniors before the transplant, but I finished them,” she said. “I do Versailles sports and finished in the beginning of August. I was on oxygen then, and people went with me to help me out at these events. My sister-in-law, Beth Simons, and her daughter, Sarah, also helped me.”
Kara loves having air quality information on her phone to help in her recuperation.
Does she have any restrictions?
“I can’t lift more than five pounds,” she said. “I’m a little short of breath still. I have to watch it in crowds. I can’t plant flowers, mow the yard, and work with dirt because of fungus, and I can’t have live plants in the house.”
What are her plans for the future?
“The first thing I want to do when I get better is take another trip in our Mustang convertible,” she said. “We went to Montana last year. I’ve always wanted to go to Maine.”
In the meantime, she is enjoying life once again.
“My grandkids missed me,” she said. “Brinlee is my sidekick. She just turned 4. My daughter is expecting a baby and is due at the end of March.”
Kara, who is active with Life Connection in Dayton, goes back to Cleveland for a checkup on Jan. 13.
She has so much for which to be grateful.
“I am so very thankful to be where I am today. I am so extremely grateful to my two amazing angel donors and their families following through with their loved ones’ wishes to donate their organs,” she said.
She also wrote: “Let me first start off by saying, ‘WOW!!!’ Doug and I are just so blown away by the amazing outpouring of love from our family and friends due to my recent illness and now third chance at life. Thank you just doesn’t seem like enough. It truly meant a lot to us, especially to me. This journey has been extra tough on me, but your love and light helped me navigate it. I also have to brag on my husband. I don’t remember much of September or October, but he showed up every single day and was nothing but loving and nurturing even when I didn’t want to be loved or nurtured. I love him so much and am so lucky to have him. And, thanks again to both of my donors for these beautiful gifts, and I hope I can make them proud.”
She was also elated for the benefit held for her in Versailles on Oct. 5.
“Doug and I hated missing it and would have much rather been to a party like that,” she said. “You all are so thoughtful. Thank you for the prayers, the cards, the texts, the monetary donations should cover whatever insurance does not. This is a huge relief, and we just hope to return the favor someday. Thanks to everyone who donated at the benefit…Hammer Jockey who played. At the K of C Hall, son Austin announced to the crowd that his mom got listed. I just want to wish everyone a very healthy New Year!”
Here are excerpts of a message daughter Alexa posted on Facebook: “Wishing a happy birthday to this rockstar of a mom today. I am so thankful for you and thankful for your second and third chances at life. You are a walking miracle, and God has big plans for you yet. You have been through so much I can’t begin to imagine how you have felt, but this whole time, you have not lost your smile, your spunk, your joyfulness, or your gratefulness. I don’t know how you do it; you’re a literal superhero from what you have been through. So many people look up to you and how you have shown so much strength and courage. I can’t wait for you to meet our little one and they get to see how awesome of a Grammy they have. I thank God every day for you; I’m so glad I was blessed with a mom who fights so hard for not only herself but others. We are blessed to have you. Keep pushing to get stronger each day; God knew I needed you here.”