River Heights Woman Waits For Life-saving Lung Transplant

Apr 21, 2014

Jerusha and paul with silk sunflowers
Jerusha and Paul in the hospital in Salt Lake, holding silk flowers from Micheal's in Cache Valley.
Credit Bessie Wakefield

Jerusha Daines is a 43-year-old wife and mother. Three months ago, she got a cough that never got better. Now, she’s on the top of the donor list for a new set of lungs. After seeing doctors in Cache Valley, Jerusha and her husband, Paul, saw a specialist in Salt Lake, where she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension.

“We don't know how it happened. The doctors say it's idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. When we first saw the doctor, he said she's the healthiest person she's seen with this,” Paul said.

Pulmonary hypertension is a condition that affects the heart. The blood vessels constrict, making it more difficult to get blood through the lungs and resupplied with oxygen. Pressure builds and in turn makes the heart work harder. The heart overworks itself, and it can lead to heart failure. Pulmonary hypertension is estimated to affect only about one in two million people. To give an idea of scale, Utah’s population is about 3 million.

On April 8, Jerusha was accepted into the transplant program at the University of Utah. Since then, doctors loosened the matching requirements for a transplant, but this doesn’t necessarily mean just any lungs will do.

“They're still looking for as close as possible," said Paul. "But because of her condition, they've opened it up a little bit to be a little bit more lenient on the requirements for a donor. But they're still pretty tight. I talked to the doctor yesterday, and he said that they've actually turned down several sets of lungs because they haven't been healthy enough and not quite a good enough match."

Once the doctors find lungs that match, Daines will be flown to the University Hospital, and the surgery will last six to 12 hours. After the surgery, she will stay in the hospital for a few weeks. The next step is intensive physical therapy to be sure the lungs work correctly, for six to eight months. Paul and Jerusha will live in an unusual home for that time.

“The University of Utah has a parking lot, they have a space where you can put a camping trailer or an RV, and Jerusha's aunt and uncle have kindly donated their new camping trailer for us to live in while we're here,” he said.

No one knows how long finding the right lungs will take, but for now, Paul says he and Jerusha are doing okay.

“It's been really tough, but Jerusha's a strong girl. She enjoys life, and she doesn't want to miss a thing. The hardest thing for her is being able to not go outside and put her feet on the floor, and go do things,” Paul said.  

Bessie Wakefield is a friend of Jerusha. She and others have coordinated fundraisers, and a facebook page to raise awareness of pulmonary hypertension, and share Jerusha’s story. Wakefield says the effect is palpable, especially to Jerusha.

“To have people caring about them, that’s the thing Jerusha will say over and over is that, they love me. I had no idea that people would do this for me. They love me,” Wakefield said.

Wakefield and others have organized a "Less-than 3-mile Run/Walk/Crawl/Ride" fun run at Ryan's Park Place in River Heights: 400 S. 600 East.

There are three ways you can participate:  

  • Free entry, pedometer and t-shirt with a commitment to a post-race donation determined by your number of steps per breath: 6200 steps divided by 3 steps per breath is $20.66 donation.
  • $15 race entry including t-shirt.
  • $10 race entry only. 

Extra shirts will be sold at the event.  Visit the "Helping Jerusha" facebook page.