NEW MADISON — Deb Davidson-Smith is a major endorser of organ donations now that her life has been extended.
The former local florist underwent a lung transplant nearly three years ago, but more than letting people know how she is doing since her transplant, she wants people to start donating their organs to such organizations as Donate Life.
“I want them to see how I would have gone without one. Without that person donating, I’d been out of the picture completely. It would be a different kind of picture,” she said as she sat at a table with her mother, Wilma Lee Davidson, and daughter Ambrosia “Amber” Ayette.
Davidson-Smith’s transplant took place three years ago on June 2 at the Cleveland Clinic.
“I needed a double lung transplant but only a single was available,” said Davidson-Smith, who was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in November 2001. “I can live with one. I got a new left lung. They won’t remove the old one.”
She said at one point she, too, was diagnosed as having asthma.
“I quit my old job because I was around a lot of chemicals and decided then to bring my flower shop back,” said the businesswoman who did so in 2008. “Then, it kept getting worse. Walking from the shop to the house and back, I could hardly breathe. I kept getting bouts of bronchitis. I needed to exercise to build the lung but it got worse.”
She is taking 39 pills a day to stay alive.
It took a year and a half for Davidson-Smith to get on the transplant list.
“I only needed one thing to be rejected,” she said. “I had to jump through hoops, but I got on the list in February 2012.”
Davidson-Smith’s first appointment at the Cleveland Clinic took place in March.
“I was poked by needles over a thousand times,” she said. “I had bruises and scars. You have to earn the lungs. It’s scary.”
The family began their wait for “the” call. In the meantime, because she needed 24/7 attention, family members stepped in to take care of her.
“Our bags were packed at all times,” Ambrosia said. “This taught us so much.”
Then, it came. They got the call at 1:30 a.m. and were told to be there by 6 a.m. that day in June 2013.
On the morning of the transplant, all headed for Cleveland; the Smiths in one vehicle and Ambrosia and Deb’s parents, Wilma Lee and Duane Davidson, in another vehicle.
The second vehicle had to return home, however, because they left behind Davidson-Smith’s father’s Alzheimer’s medications which were needed because all three of them were going to stay with her after her transplant.”
“We weren’t there [for the transplant] and I felt terrible,” Ambrosia said.
Even though the patient got there at 6 a.m., she still had to have some tests run. The transplant, which took four to six hours, began at 3 p.m.
Davidson-Smith was in ICU recovery a few days.
“She was only in the hospital about two weeks altogether,” Ambrosia said. “They were amazed at how well she was doing. She had to stay near the Cleveland Clinic for at least six weeks, so we got an apartment and someone had to be with her 24/7.”
At that time, Ambrosia stayed with her mother from Sunday to Wednesday and her grandparents from Wednesday to Sunday.
Eight days after Davidson-Smith’s release from the hospital, a friend came up to stay with her. It was then that Davidson-Smith developed flu-like symptoms at 4 a.m.
“She spent about a week in the hospital getting treated for acute rejection,” Ambrosia recalled. “She had to write us notes because she had a tube down her throat.”
The family didn’t return to their homes until August.
“The whole time was like an episode of ‘I Love Lucy,’” said Davidson-Smith.
Since then, she has gotten three things off her bucket list.
“One, I got my transplant; two, I wanted to go back last year to Myrtle Beach with my friend, Wini [Hittle], and three, I wanted to be grandma,” she said, beaming.
Yes, that’s right. She is going to become a grandmother for the first time, when Ambrosia gives birth in the ensuing months. The mother-to-be and husband Matt are expecting Aug. 9.
There have been a couple of benefits for Davidson-Smith; one in New Madison and one in Greenville.
“Those paid for all the medications and the apartment for a couple of months,” Davidson-Smith said. “We were able to get through that year. My husband got laid off a month after the transplant. And, there was a change in our insurance.”
Married to Tom Smith for 17 years, she grew up in Greenville and graduated from Greenville High School in 1978.
Now, she and her husband live in the New Madison area.
“It’s a wonderful community,” she said of New Madison. “They love us down here.”
Would she like to know who her donor is?
Davidson-Smith said she had overheard that the donor was a young man who died in a car accident, but she probably won’t pursue it.
“I probably won’t do it,” she said. “It’s kind of private.”
Does she feel any different?
“I feel weird….like someone else is inside me,” relied Davidson-Smith, who admits to getting tired more often.
“I definitely see a change in her hope,” said Ambrosia of her mother. “And, I know she’s going to be here and she can live. Before, everything was kind of iffy Now there is hope.”