As most people enjoy ample helpings at Thanksgiving, lung-transplant recipient Lara Marsh of Omaha will give thanks to many for helping her to keep on living.
Thanks to those who have attended fundraisers for her the past five years. Thanks to the performers who sang at a recent cabaret show in her honor. Thanks to relatives and friends for moral support.
And thanks to the family who donated a loved one’s lungs.
“I know how hard this time must be for that family,” she said. “I’m just grateful that they saw to it to contribute to my life.”
Lara, 43, artistic director of the Omaha Community Playhouse’s professional touring wing, the Nebraska Theatre Caravan, received a double lung transplant on Nov. 5.
She has lived most of her life with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract and other areas of the body.
Lara, whose sister died from CF at 18, went on the transplant list a year and a half ago, and traveled to Denver in August — but the available lungs from an accident victim proved to be too damaged.
Three weeks ago, she and husband Craig got another call and immediately flew to Colorado in an air ambulance. She received the organs in surgery that lasted 10½ hours at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Aurora.
She knows only that the lungs apparently came from somewhere south of the Denver area, that the donor was petite like she is and was a teenager or a young woman.
And that a grieving family will observe the holidays without her.
“I wish them peace this Thanksgiving,” Lara said, “knowing that they helped someone.”
Lara’s lung capacity had dropped to 25 percent of normal, and she often used an oxygen device at work.
“Because of all the fluid that builds up and clogs your lungs,” she said, “I’d hear popping and cracking every time I inhaled. CF-ers get short-winded very fast, and you have coughing attacks. That’s what my life was like before surgery.
“Now post-surgery, even though my breathing is not as deep as it’s going to be, it’s still deeper than before. And I don’t feel that junky rattling. It’s smooth breath, which feels great.”
She was released from the hospital a week ago and is staying with Craig at a hotel in the Denver area at least until the end of January. She walks hallways with him for exercise and stays away from crowds.
A highlight came Nov. 16, when she got on Skype and spoke to performers and attendees in Omaha at a fundraiser called “Sing Your Lungs Out for Lara.”
“I think they were overwhelmed by seeing me on computer,” she said by phone from the Denver area. “That was kind of funny to see. It was special.”
Lara has health insurance through her employment. But even before the recent event, more than $126,000 had been raised for related expenses through her “Places, Please” campaign — named for what a stage manager says to a cast just before the curtain rises.
The money is held and dispersed through the nonprofit Children’s Organ Transplant Association in Bloomington, Ind.
Lara worked as an assistant director on “Les Misérables” at the Playhouse and was greeting performers who had come to Omaha in early November for rehearsals of the two nationally touring troupes of “A Christmas Carol.”
The transplant call, she said, “came at the most inconvenient time for work.”
But cystic fibrosis is never convenient, and she was glad to finally get new lungs.
The personal drama of living with her chronic disease hasn’t kept her from working hard in theater.
“I love everything about theater,” she said. “It’s thought-provoking, it’s an escape and it creates imagination. In every creative way, it can touch a person.”
A distance runner in high school in Plattsmouth, Neb., when she was Lara Scholten, she is ready to go the distance with her new lungs.
“There’s a lot of recuperation,” she said. “It’s going to be a long road.”
She said she couldn’t do it without her husband of 14 years, a union sound technician at the Holland Performing Arts Center. Long before they married in Elizabethan costumes on the set of Shakespeare on the Green, he knew all about her CF.
“I told him from the get-go, and he never held back,” she said. “You don’t want to be in a relationship with somebody who gets scared and then leaves you. He’s my rock, whether holding my hand as we walk the hallway or letting me cry on his shoulder.”
Aunts in the Denver area will bring food on Thanksgiving, and Lara said she needs the calories to help in her recovery.
She urged people to be thankful for their health and to sign up as organ donors.
“So many people are dying all the time who were in need of organs,” she said. “Those body parts should be allowed to go to somebody who can use them to live more life.”
|FROM THE NOTEBOOK|
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha in their new blog, From the Notebook.|