Virus ends daring life of two-lung transplant patient

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BOSTON (AP) – Before her double lung transplant, Joanne Mellady could barely put on a shirt without losing her breath. Then she barely stopped moving.

Mellady, who died of coronavirus in March, had a list of buckets that made his family blush.

Since obtaining her transplant in 2007, the widow and former technology consultant from the city of Washington, New Hampshire, has traveled back and forth on the east coast and traveled to Alaska and the Grand Canyon.

Mellady, 67, has transformed from a shy 24-hour oxygen addict to a lively risk taker ready to try almost anything. Hang gliding, skiing, skateboarding and kayaking were among the thrills she gained.

Before her death, Mellady was talking about a return visit to Alaska this summer and participating again in the Transplant Games (now postponed). She has won petanque, bowling and swimming medals in previous competitions and hoped to participate in the golf event.

“She had this list of buckets she made and chased her with revenge,” said Mellady’s sister Jean Sinofsky. “She enjoyed it every day. She lived her life as everyone should. “

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of ongoing stories that remember people who have died of coronaviruses around the world.

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Sinofsky and another sister, Joyce Smith, remembered how Mellady’s sense of wonder left a distinct mark on their children, who called her “Aunt Jo” and still treated her like another teenager.

They remembered that when one of Smith’s sons won a trampoline in a raffle, Mellady was one of the first to try it – and flipped. And how she slipped down her snowy driveway to pick up the mail with her 12-year-old dachshund, Oscar, during the ride.

“Whatever came out, she wanted to do it,” said Smith. “She had a second chance in life. She knew she had the second chance and she was lucky to have it. “

For much of his previous life in Massachusetts, Mellady was hindered by a mysterious lung disease. Then, in the late thirties, she tested positive for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic disorder.

Hereditary disease predisposes people to lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and the emphysema that Mellady developed before his transplant. The condition is caused by a lack of protein in the blood called alpha-1 antitrypsin, which protects the lungs from inflammation.

When Mellady’s lungs were replaced in 2007, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic said they were among the worst they had ever seen, running at 15% of their capacity.

Over the next 13 years, Mellady inspired other patients about to undergo similar transplants, a source of support for their loved ones, and a wealth of information for doctors studying his condition.

She ended up living more than twice as long on her new lungs than the average of 6.3 years for lung transplant patients.

Dr. Marie Budev, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s lung and heart-lung transplant program, oversaw Mellady’s care and said she was the first person in the program to die from COVID-19 and the second to be positive.

This scared Budev because transplant recipients are considered particularly vulnerable to the virus because of the drugs they take that suppress their immune systems, making them more susceptible to infections.

Five other people who underwent a lung transplant at the clinic were infected with the virus and one died.

Budev said Mellady’s death was devastating because it had become a testament to the possibilities of living a full life after receiving an organ transplant.

“She knew it was a lifetime lease that she had obtained,” said Budev.

Mellady has been involved in several research projects in Boston related to his condition and has been active in groups looking for a cure for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency that has supported organ donation.

“She was buzzing about helping others and helping the field of medicine, especially transplantation,” said Budev.

Gary Schmidt, who received a double lung transplant almost seven years ago, repeatedly asked Mellady for advice on anti-rejection transplant drugs he should take and free medical transportation.

“When I had the lung transplant, you don’t know what’s in the future … It opened me up right away and made me feel more comfortable than there was in life ahead of us, “he said. “It was huge. “

After her lung transplant, Schmidt of Watkins Glen, New York, underwent open heart surgery, was on dialysis for three years, and then received kidney transplants.

“Throughout all of this, she said not to let you be shot. You will recover from this. You are a strong person. Get out there, ”said Deb, Schmidt’s wife, about the calls and cards they received from Mellady. “Honestly, I don’t think he would have gone through a lot that we went through without Joanne. “

In early March, Mellady had lunch at an Irish restaurant with her sisters, brother Fred Smith, and other family members.

The following day, Mellady entered a hospital in Concord, New Hampshire, with what she thought was pneumonia.

She tested positive a few days later for coronavirus and her health has steadily declined. Towards the end, she was on a ventilator and her family was unable to visit her.

Instead, a nurse on March 29 held a phone in Mellady’s ear while her sister-in-law Diane Kozwich and her sisters said their last words.

Sinofsky seemed more optimistic, saying that she loved him and that she would see Mellady soon. Mellady was removed from a ventilator the next day. It lasted four minutes.

“I just told her that I will miss her very much and that I will take care of Oscar and that I love him,” said Smith.

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