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By JoEllen Black/Richmond News
In her late 30s, Kathy Graham felt aches in her arms. It wasn’t until she went to an immunologist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City did she find she suffered from more than just general aches and pains.
Graham was diagnosed with polymyositis, a rare muscle disease and scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue; she was also diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, abnormally high blood pressure in the lungs’ arteries.
The trio of diseases has wreaked havoc on Graham’s lungs for 13 years.
Medications have had no real success, according to her daughter, Jamie Brabec.
Graham’s breathing became more labored, requiring oxygen on walks, but in late 2011 her condition worsened. She was forced to leave her job with 31-year employer KCP&L in Henrietta and now depends on an oxygen tank around the clock.
Doctors have told her there’s only one option to improve her condition, a double lung transplant.
Graham’s pulmonary specialist, Dr. Vincent Lam, “made the call and got me into Pittsburgh,” she said.
The call was to University of Pittsburgh, Pa. Medical Center’s lung transplant program.
“We went in December (to Pittsburgh) and they done a lot of tests,” her husband, Thomas Graham said.
This time, the tests were positive and hopeful. Other than her lungs, Graham, 51, is healthy. Another advantage: the anti-rejection drugs she has been taking for years will likely benefit her after a transplant.
“Mom’s been on anti-rejection meds for so long, she has a better chance of not rejecting the new lungs,” her daughter said.
After being considered a good candidate for lung transplant, she and her husband will temporarily move to Pittsburgh in mid-February. Thomas, a 20-year mechanic at Mike Wright’s Auto, will take leave of his job Feb. 14.
The couple must reside in Pittsburgh to place Graham on a donor list. After transplantation, Graham said she would be in the hospital for a month and stay in the Pittsburgh area for two additional months for doctors to check for rejection.
“She’s excited and I’m scared to death. We’re leaving everything here, but she’s ready to get a set of lungs so she can breathe,” her husband Thomas said.
Kathy Graham actually describes herself as “anxious, very anxious,” but she is ready to resume a more normal life. She said she has kept her medical condition private to most until recently.
“We haven’t made it public until now, just our close friends and family,” said Graham, a native of Orrick.
“That’s what I look forward to, getting to spend a few more years with my granddaughter and hopefully more grandchildren,” she said.
“We’re still young enough to enjoy life,” her husband said, now that their children are grown. “It’s our time and we can’t. I know that bothers her, too.”
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The Grahams have health insurance, but relocation costs, medication and other items are costly. The couple’s daughter, Jamie, has organized a benefit Sunday, Feb. 9, to help defray out-of-pocket expenses.
“Transplantation is the gift our family is praying for in order for my mom to live a longer, better-quality life. But with it comes high costs. This event is designed to help relieve moving expenses, medical expenses and the cost of lifelong medication,” Brabec said on her Facebook page.
The event is a benefit spaghetti dinner and silent auction at Richmond Shrine Club, 400 Wollard Blvd. The silent auction is 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dinner is served until 2. Proceeds will go toward HelpHOPELive, a non-profit group that assists transplant recipients and their families, to help pay for Graham’s expenses.
“They take that money, and when we have expenses, they’ll pay for it,” Thomas Graham said.
Twenty-five to 30 businesses have donated funds for the meal or auction items, Brabec said, who’s also selling Kathy’s Krusaders T-shirts for $15. Those who cannot attend can send donations to: HelpHOPELive, In honor of Kathy Graham, 2 Radnor Corporate Center, 100 Matsonford Road, Suite 100, Radnor, PA 19087.
Brabec said her mom is appreciative.
“I’m very overwhelmed (about the fundraiser). The community has been wonderful,” she said.