Tammy Robinson

Double Lung Transplant Warrior and 18-Pint Blood Recipient

I would not be here and would not have survived the transplant if not for the available blood.

Tammy Robinson

Blood Recipient Tammy Robinson

Tammy Robinson knew something didn’t feel quite right. She was only 42 years old in 2002 when she began getting overly tired, losing weight and started missing a lot of work.

For two years, doctors were perplexed. They had no idea what was causing her symptoms. A chest X-ray revealed a mysterious cloud in her lungs. Many doctor visits later, an open lung biopsy was sent to the Mayo Clinic and a diagnosis was revealed: Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF).

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is an irreversible scarring of the lungs, in which the lungs become fibrotic and breathing becomes increasingly difficult. This is a fatal and terminal diagnosis that literally takes your breath away. Doctors are unsure what causes the disease, but it usually affects males who are around 70 to 75 years old, and is rare in women and in people under age 50.

Robinson, of Mt. Washington, did what any person in the 21st century does when faced with an unknown; she turned to Google to learn more.

"I read and studied as much as I could to understand what was happening to my lungs and my body," she said. "I was so frightened of an uncertain future. I was scared; ready to shut down."

Robinson lived with the disease for 14 years. Patients diagnosed with IPF often experience mild symptoms until it evolves and worsens, leaving only one treatment option: a lung transplant.

“My initial reaction was 'No way, not me, not going to happen,' " she said. "I was in shock and disbelief."

It happened. Robinson's symptoms worsened. She ended up on oxygen 24/7 and had to quit her job.

"I knew I was in for a fight, a fight for my life," she said. 

Preparations for the transplant began in 2015. The transplant application process, thorough testing, living with a phone on her hip and waiting on "the call" to deliver news of new lungs became a new normal. Many back-and-forth trips were made to IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where the double-lung transplant procedure would occur.

She endured many tests, doctor consultations and a few obstacles that included an accident on a frigid, icy morning when her car was rammed by three semi tractor trailers, resulting in a 40-car pileup. The accident left her with a broken nose in two places. Robinson's daughter, who had been driving the car, had to get stitches in her chin.

"We were both traumatized," Robinson said. "My oxygen supply in the trunk ruptured and my car was a total loss." 

The day of her transplant had finally arrived. "I got 'the call' on March 8, 2016," she said of the double lung transplant she underwent in the middle of the night.

During the 11-hour procedure, Robinson's iliac artery that supplies blood to the legs, pelvic area and reproductive organs was nicked, causing internal bleeding. Her medical team urgently responded with 18 units of blood.

Robinson says she's very thankful for both donations. She shares her story so others won't take these gifts for granted. She likes to dispense advice to those who may feel apprehension or fearful of needles, particularly when she had to "get poked so many times I lost count." 

"I would close my eyes and think about a happy place; a time spent with my daughters, a fun vacation, or I think about things that make me laugh," she said of her calming technique that has allowed to to relax and not focus on what was before her. 

As important as her mission is about transplant education and donation, she said she feels equally as passionate about blood donation.

"I would not be here and would not have survived the transplant if not for the available blood," Robinson said.