A lot of people have been cheering for Margie Pratt since she developed a bacterial infection in her lungs 15 years ago that did not respond to treatment.
The cheering continued this week as Margie, of Douglassville, celebrated the 10th anniversary of transplant surgery that provided her with two new lungs.
“It’s so wonderful, and it seems unreal that it’s been 10 years already since I had the surgery,” Margie, 55, said on Wednesday as she prepared for her workout at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s exercise medical fitness facility in Exeter Township.
When the infection occurred 15 years ago, she knew that something was seriously wrong.
“I’d be walking around campus and I could feel shortness of breath,” said Margie, who is employed by Albright College. “I knew I shouldn’t have been that short of breath from walking up the steps.”
Her condition went undiagnosed for a time, and she became sicker. Margie relied on oxygen and often a wheelchair to get around. During that time, her husband and daughter, who is now 19 and a student at Albright, cheered her on, as did her co-workers.
“People would park my car for me and carry my oxygen tanks inside,” she said. “My co-workers really went above and beyond.”
Finally, she was referred to a pulmonary team at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, which informed her she would require a double lung transplant.
A dilemma, however, was that to qualify for the surgery, however, Margie needed to be able to walk 600 feet in six minutes. To put that into perspective, she needed to be able to walk the length of a football field, turn around and walk back to the starting point within six minutes.
While that would not be difficult for most healthy people, it seemed nearly insurmountable to Margie. Until, that is, she participated in the pulmonary rehabilitation program at Penn State Health St. Joseph that worked one-on-one to help achieve her goal and qualify for the transplant, which was performed on April 19, 2009.
Margie spent 19 days in the hospital and participated in a University of Pennsylvania rehabilitation program three days a week for several months. When released, she came right back to Penn State Health St. Joseph, where she now continues with an exercise maintenance program. Cheryl Tutella, a Penn State Health St. Joseph clinical exercise physiologist who works with Margie, has seen remarkable progress through persistent dedication.
“She has done tremendously well,” Cheryl said before an anniversary celebration for Margie on Wednesday. “She’s kept a very positive attitude when she’s encountered little things that would come up, and she’s been able to overcome those things. She’s optimistic, determined and an inspiration to others.”
Steven Brubaker, an exercise physiologist who also works with Margie at the medical fitness facility, said she is always welcoming of newcomers and willing to share her experiences and advice.
“She genuinely cares about people, and other patients respond to that,” Steven said. “She understands what people are feeling, and she’s able to help them.”
As for Margie, she has been happy to celebrate this week, noting that, compared to some transplant recipients, the 10 years since her surgery has been relatively easy.
“I’ve had virtually no major problems,” she said. “It’s such a blessing.”
Margie knows that the lungs she received came from a male who had spent time in prison. She does not know how he died, and opted not to have contact with his family.
And yet, she has for a decade maintained a profound sense of gratitude toward the donor.
“It gave me another chance at life, and I am most grateful for him being a donor,” she said.
Currently participating in a step challenge and anxious to get on the elliptical machine, Margie said on Wednesday that she has no plans to give up her gym time.
“I know I need to be here, because if I’m not, my health will deteriorate,” she said. “But, I also want to be here, because I’ve made a lot of friends and there’s a real social component. This place promotes health in a lot of ways.”