Lung transplant

Joyce finds renewed life after lung transplant

As a nurse practitioner, Joyce Jensen understood more than most people exactly what she needed in a transplant center. She wanted a place that had more than just gifted surgeons—one that also had great success rates and a team of caregivers that was accustomed to caring for patients who had just had a lung transplant.

Joyce standing next to her partner, Chris, both smiling and showing off gold medals hanging around their necks.
Joyce and her medal-winning partner, Chris.

Then she found the UW Health Transplant Center. It had everything that was on her list and more. “I felt like that was where God wanted me to go,” she said.

A long road to recovery

Joyce had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) since she was 2, and though she went into remission in her teenage years, her health problems came back when she was an adult. In her early 30s, she noticed she was short of breath. Her doctor performed a lung biopsy and discovered she had autoimmune lung disease as a result of the RA.

The disease was progressive, and by the time Joyce was in her mid-30s, she needed a lung transplant. That was what led the Grand Rapids, Michigan, woman to conduct her search for just the right transplant center.

Once she connected with UW Health, she underwent testing. She qualified for transplant, but she and her husband Greg wanted to take their 5-year-old son to Disney World to make memories in case she didn’t make it through the surgery. Her health had improved enough for her to travel so she asked her care team to delay her waitlisting.

By spring 2014, Joyce’s health had declined, and her transplant coordinator activated her on the wait list for a new set of lungs. She received her gift of life on Oct. 10, 2014.

“The care was great at UW Health,” she said. “All the nurses were always there when I needed them.”

Joyce stayed in the hospital for a month and a half after her surgery as she battled some complications. When she returned home to Michigan, she worked hard to rebuild her strength and after six months she felt strong enough to go back to work.

Grateful to be alive

Joyce’s new lungs have worked well for her the last nine years. Because she’s so grateful to be part of the transplant community, she has become involved with Team Michigan for the Transplant Games of America, an event that brings together recipients, donors and their families every two years.

Joyce and Greg traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2018 as supporters—she didn’t compete. “It’s so inspirational,” she said. “You get to be around people who understand your journey. It’s healing on so many levels.”

Then, in 2022, her new friends on Team Michigan talked her into competing with a partner in the cornhole event. She and her partner wound up winning a gold medal. “Now my claim to fame is that I got a gold medal in cornhole,” she said.

Now, Joyce can largely live a normal life—with a few exceptions: She doesn’t go camping in the dirt anymore because it would be bad for her lungs. And, in the primary care clinic where she works, she avoids directly caring for patients who are actively coughing or have a fever.

She connected via letters with the family of her donor, which was how she found out he was a 13-year-old boy. “That was hard, knowing there was a child who passed away,” she said. “So now my motivation is living for him and making him proud.”