The following story first appeared in the June 2 North Ridgeville Press
She will be 55 years old in July, the month in which she marks six years since her double lung transplant. Kathy Lewis, formerly of Avon Lake, subsequently began the support group, “A Second Chance,” to help others facing, or who have undergone, lung transplantation.
North Ridgeville’s Bill Harnish and Paul Papes are members of her group, having undergone lung transplants themselves not long ago. Lewis, who now resides in Westlake, recently took advantage of the opportunity to remind people of the support system available to them as they, and their families and friends, together face life-changing surgeries like hers.
“It’s more common than you think,” Lewis said of transplantation, adding she started the support group “because there wasn’t one” in the area. “You feel very alone when you’re awaiting transplant. Things go through your mind … like someone has to die in order for me to live, and why do I deserve this (organ)?”
Diagnosed with a genetic form of emphysema in 1996 for which there is no cure, she received her transplant in 2004 from a 23-year-old male organ donor who had suffered severe head trauma. For Lewis, her life’s mission has become donor awareness.
“People should sign (on their driver’s licenses) to be organ donors,” she said, noting there were only four original members of A Second Chance; there are currently more than 30. “The support group’s value lies in the fact we’ve been through it. I’m just amazed that there are a lot of people we’ve touched.”
Robert Schilz, director of lung transplantation and pulmonary vascular disease at University Hospitals Health System and one of the top lung transplant experts in the field, shared high praise for Lewis and A Second Chance in a May 17 interview.
“Kathy is a passionate, enthusiastic and wonderful example of both: 1) how transplant processes can change people’s lives, and 2) using that new life to really be a sponsor, advocate and mentor for people that may be facing the transplant list,” Schilz said. “She works tirelessly in the support group. (Group members) are spectacular supporters of the transplantation process … to raise public awareness. There is no book that prepares you for every eventuality in the transplant process; cases are very
For Harnish, the group “is a place where everybody knows where you’re coming from.”
“Everybody’s in the same boat,” Harnish said May 20. “You have to experience it to know, and everybody there knows.”
Like Lewis, he’s become an advocate for organ donation. He works with Donate Life (www.donatelife.net) and goes to events to talk about his experience and inspire action from the public.
“Did you know if everyone in the country was an organ donor there would be no waiting lists?” he asked. “I’ll speak to driver’s education classes. It’s their first
opportunity to volunteer to be a donor if something should happen to them. The young man who donated to me saved eight lives just through donating his major
Pulmonary rehabilitation specialist Lynn Gorton, who knows well Lewis, Harnish and Papes, said their lung transplants allow them “to live a lot more of a carefree life.”
“All of the people in A Second Chance have been a joy,” Gorton said. “They’re able to enjoy life again and get back to being their old selves.”
She shared why people choose to come to the support group.
“They know it’s really important to talk about what they’re going through,” she said. “There is no other (lung transplant) support group in Northeast Ohio. This is a team effort; we all work together.”
And team member Lewis is living proof organ donation matters.
“There is life after transplant,” she said. “This is all bonus time.”