She stepped cautiously off the airplane and on to the tarmac with her sister holding her arm.
After sevens months away from family and friends, Mary Gould’s welcoming at J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport on Thursday afternoon wasn’t even a little bit overwhelming for the 61-year-old Eskasoni resident.
It was only three months earlier that she had undergone a double-lung transplant at Toronto General Hospital.
She had grown very weak for months before her surgery. At her lowest point, the family feared she was going to die.
Eight years earlier, Gould was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a fatal disease characterized by a progressive decline in lung function. There is no known cause and there’s no cure.
“She had so much fluid, she was actually drowning in her own fluid,” her son Calvin Stevens said as he watched her walk off the plane.
“Her doctor said if she remained in Cape Breton for another week or two, she would have had a massive heart attack.”
Stevens said his mother waited until after her son Tyler’s wedding in August before making the decision to uproot her life in order to increase her chance of receiving an organ transplant.
Gould’s mother died of the disease, so she knew what sort of battle she would be facing.
She left for Toronto with her sister Annie Catherine Denny on Sept. 29, not knowing how long she would be away.
“It was hard because you didn’t know what was going to happen from day to day. She was getting worse, and worse, and worse,” Denny said.
After being set up in an apartment, a place they lived in for months, Gould finally got the call on Feb. 8. There was a three-hour window to get her to the hospital and go through a battery of tests before the transplant could begin.
Many of her siblings and four children were there in Toronto for the operation on Feb. 9.
The eight-hour surgery, including post-operation complications, made it a very stressful period for the family, Stevens said.
“Her lungs weren’t absorbing oxygen. We were all very nervous over that,” he said. “After the surgery they had to put on an artificial lung machine.”
Following a challenging first week, her son said the improvement in her appearance and overall health has been “incredible.”
Gould wasn’t expecting too much fanfare when she walked through the sliding glass doors from the tarmac into the airport arrival lounge.
Her three grandchildren were first to greet Gould, each burying their head in her arms.
Gould was given flowers and balloons bounced around the arrivals gate. Several signs indicated how much they had missed her.
She walked slowly, carefully, but showed no signs of struggling for a breath.
“When I did get my lungs it was an act of God, (the) power of prayer,” Gould told the Cape Breton Post
“When I did get my lungs I only had a few days left.”
During her time away, her children tended to her church fundraising and community volunteer work as a gesture of support for their mother.
Even though the surgery was rated a success, Gould will have to continue having blood tests at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney every two weeks. She must also travel for followup examinations in Toronto every three months.
And she will need to take medication for the rest of her life — an anti-rejection drug — to ensure she faces no further complications from her brand new organ.
Asked what she missed the most during her months away, she simply whispered, “Family.”
The number of lung transplant recipients due to a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in Canada, 2003-2012
• Bilateral lung: 322
• Single lung: 107
• Heart-lung: 3
Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information