Rarely performed procedure gives Lake City woman a second chance
She was sick since the day she was born and as the years passed her condition dramatically got worse; to the point that it was no longer manageable and the likely outcome was death.
But she is alive tonight. The result of doctors working in two states and a surgeon who brought about a miracle that made her a part of medical history.
South Dakota can be unforgiving in the Winter.
The snow piles up. The winds howl. The chill cuts through you.
But if you know where to look it also provides stories of inspiring perseverance.
"I knew it was going to happen but they said it would be far down the line. I had it in the back of my mind but I didn't think anything of it." Britiny Schultz was born on Valentine's Day 1988. A holiday of love and hearts.
But something was wrong with Britiny's heart. "I had a hole in my heart when I was born and had a surgery at one month and 2 years old and in 2007."
That hole is her heart pumped a dangerous amount of blood into her lungs...a condition called Severe Pulmonary Hypertension. "It makes your blood vessels break in your lungs and it causes you to cough up blood." Britiny routinely coughed up blood for 12 years.
"We work together and I could see her going downhill and she was going downhill pretty fast." Britiny's dad Bruce works with her on the family's cattle opertion near Lake City.
Every day he saw the effects of Britiny's failing health. "I was in her room and I could hear her breathing. It was just...very laboring. She could barely breathe."
In June of 2015, Britiny's doctors told her she was running out of time; placing her on a transplant list.
Her needs were specific: a new heart...and new lungs....all from the same person who had to be roughly the same age, weight and size as Britiny. "I was gradually getting worse. Yeah. you could tell. Tired all the time." Britinty's diminishing lung capacity made taking a breath impossible.
"It was heartbreaking. it hurt to listen to her hardly get up those steps and have to stand at the top of the steps and breathe." Schultz family friend Joleen Christianson lost her son to suicide two years before Britiny went on the transplant list. Now she feared for Britiny. "I was worried about losing another one and that scared me."
Britiny worked as long as she could as she...and her father...wondered if or when the call would come that could safe her life.
Her dad Bruce told us, "She has never said 'why me?' or anything like that."
On July 11th, 2016.....392 days after being placed on the transplant list.....the phone rang. "He said we got a possible match for you are you willing to accept and come down?"
The man on the other end of the phone? Doctor Richard Daly at the Mayo Clinic. "There's a point where patients are deteoriating where we need to decide that if we get a chance we need to go ahead." Daly is a 25 year transplant surgery veteran who knew Britiny's condition was bad.
A few hours after the call, Britiny was on a medical transport plane in Britton, South Dakota with her dad....just barely beating a thunderstorm. "When we got off the ground in Britton it started to pour."
With Britiny in the air, the prep work for her transplant was underway at Mayo.
"There is a certain amount of choreography involved with figuring all that out." Daly had to figure out when Britiny would arrive....and what time her new organs would arrive.....so he would know when her surgery would have to begin. "We wanted to be starting her surgery well before the organs arrived back here so they're not waiting to be implanted so we time it to be really ready to implant them when they arrive."
When Britiny arrived at Mayo, she was prepped for surgery.
"Scared me to death. Was happy as heck. I was all over the place." Britiny's dad Bruce watched nurses wheel his daughter away.....hoping her body would tolerate the surgery and not reject the organs.
"I turned around and waved good bye and that's it."
Doctor Daly and his transplant team were ready. "It was a big operation in her case because she'd had previous surgery which causes scarring and makes it a little more challenging." The surgery lasted several hours; the surgical team involved more than a dozen people.
When it was over Britiny had survived; a new heart beating in her chest and new lungs taking air into her body. "I still have chest pain where they cut me and everything."
Seven months later, Britiny is home...taking a regimine of 6 medicines multiple times a day to prevent her body from rejecting her new organs.
Her surgery made medical history. She's only the 21st person in the 54 year history of the Mayo Clinic Transplant Program to undergo a heart and double lung transplant.
"I am very blessed to be where I am now." Britiny is a South Dakota native; tied to the land.
When I asked her what is most important right now....she gave a perfectly South Dakotan answer: She wants to get well so she can go back to work. "Every day I love wanting to get up and go outside and get to work. That's who I am. I love being outside with the cows and the farm."