GRAYSLAKE – What started as a cough that just wouldn’t go away turned into something much more serious for a Grayslake resident a couple years ago.
“For me, it was very much one day I was fine and then one day I wasn’t,” said Catherine Horine, 60.
On Nov. 11, 2013, Horine woke up with a cough. She remembers the exact date only because she had relatives visiting that weekend. One month later, Horine still had a terrible cough and nothing her doctor prescribed eased her suffering.
Another month passed and she found herself in the Advocate Lutheran General Hospital emergency room in Park Ridge, under the advice of her doctor. A pulmonologist was assigned to her case and she spent seven days in the hospital, with doctors running every test they could. Eventually, she was discharged with medication and directed to see an allergist and immunologist.
But things didn’t get better. In fact, they got worse. Horine was constantly coughing, in pain and short of breath. In December 2013, Horine was once again in the hospital for more tests, but the doctors couldn’t come to a definite conclusion
Without being able to give Horine an answer, her doctor referred her to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. In February 2014, still with a terrible cough, in pain and getting weaker every day, Horine traveled to Mayo Clinic.
It was there she finally got her diagnosis: idiopathic bronchiolitis obliterans, and three cracked ribs from coughing so hard.
“He [the doctor] looked at me and said ‘you need a lung transplant by the end of the year or you won’t make it,’” Horine said.
Bronchiolitis obliterans is a lung disease characterized by fixed airway obstruction. Inflammation and scarring occur in the airways of the lung, causing severe shortness of breath and cough.
With a diagnosis, Horine began the process of finding a hospital to handle her surgery. She was turned down by one hospital, who deemed her case was too complicated, but was then connected with Loyola XX. Through it all, Horine's condition was getting worse, but her doctor never gave up on her, she said.
Horine’s first meeting with Loyola was on April 1, 2014. Even at that meeting, the doctor heading her case told Horine he was on the fence about accepting her and would have to take it to the whole transplant team, she said. And so she waited, while also undergoing more testing. At this point, Horine was on oxygen 24/7 and could barely walk without feeling out of breath.
“To describe being on oxygen, when I had to pull oxygen off to change my shirt, it felt like someone was putting a pillow over my head,” Horine said.
On June 10, 2014, Horine got the call that Loyola would take her case. She was placed on the transplant list and the waiting started again.
Four months later, Horine again found herself in the hospital with respiratory distress. By that time, she had already received two calls about a possible lung, but both times the lung was deemed unsuitable. She realized her year was ticking by.
Finally, at 11:30 p.m. on Nov. 2, 2014, Horine’s phone rang. It was the call she had been waiting for. The next day, she underwent a lung transplant.
“It’s not fun and it’s not for sissies, let me tell you,” Horine said.
She spent weeks completing at-home rehab, then outpatient rehab, before being released to exercise on her own. It was during this time Horine thought she’d like to complete a walk for transplant, donation or lung health. This past September, she participated in the Respiratory Health Association’s Hike for Lung Health in Chicago. She asked her youngest brother to walk with her, but the day before the race, all of her local family surprised her and told her they were all walking with her.
“It was such a wonderful day,” Horine said. “… To be able to accomplish something, that a year ago seemed like it would never happen and to have my family walking with me… it was just very special to me.”
Although the lung is doing well, Horine still has to take about 35 pills every day to keep her body from rejecting the organ, and she does experience side effects from the medications, but she is grateful for every day.
“I’m here,” she said. “And every day I wake up is a blessing. I think of my donor every day.”