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Sharon Erato never actually thought she would receive a lung and kidney transplant.
Oh, sure, she went through all the required testing at University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, but she never truly believed her name would ever be on the wait list for a double organ transplant.
Then, suddenly, she received the call that her name was officially on the list—and she was very, very nervous. Suddenly, the idea of undergoing a major, life-changing surgery was more real than it had ever been. It became even more real when she was in line for Milwaukee Brewers tickets in May 2022 and learned that a set of lungs and a kidney were waiting for her if she wanted them.
She did. Oh, she definitely did. And her transplant, she said, was a true gift. “It was absolutely wonderful,” she said. “I cannot say enough about all the doctors and nursing staff.”
The path to a multi-organ transplant
Sharon’s health problems began when she was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension in 2012. Doctors at a hospital near her Waukesha, Wisconsin, home gave her medications, but they didn’t relieve her fatigue, so she started 24-hour intravenous medications in 2014. By summer 2021, she had been hospitalized twice with fluid overload. Her local doctors told her it was time to see Erin Lowery, MD, pulmonologist and director of UW Health’s lung transplant program.
Dr. Lowery, however, told Sharon she had too much extra fluid in her body, so she sent her to a nephrologist, who recommended a regimen of dialysis before Sharon could even think about a transplant. By the time Sharon was ready for her transplant, it was clear that she needed both a set of lungs and a new kidney.
Fortunately, UW Health had just started to perform this particular multi-organ transplant. The process required two complete sets of surgical teams—the first for the lung transplant, and the second for the kidney transplant. “We wanted to be able to offer this sort of multi-organ transplant to patients who need it, and now we can,” said Erin Lowery, MD, pulmonologist and medical director of UW Health’s lung transplant program. “We were able to do this because we had two fantastic transplant teams that were really good at coordinating with each other.”
Sharon was placed on the wait list for a new set of lungs and a new kidney on May 6, and on May 13 she received the call that the gift of life was waiting for her. She underwent her transplant, stayed at the hospital for three weeks, moved to Restoring Hope Transplant House for a few more weeks so she could be nearby for all her follow-up appointments, and then finally returned home to Waukesha.
She has endured some complications, including a diabetes diagnosis (her medication affects her blood sugar levels). But she is still doing very well—she no longer has to undergo dialysis, transport oxygen when she’s active or take her medications via an intravenous pump. “I feel great,” she said.