Barb Davern will celebrate her second chance at life Friday.
The Glendale woman and her husband, Tim, will accompany the “Donate Life” balloon in the Fiesta Bowl parade in central Phoenix. The Daverns will join 24 individuals and couples who have benefited from organ donations.
“We had asked them before what we could do to give back and we’ve been volunteering for a while now,” said Barb Davern, who received a double-lung transplant four years ago. “Whatever they ask us to do, we’ll do. Frankly, I’m very humbled to be asked to take part in this. And for me to be able to walk two miles, well, again, I’m just very thankful.”
As far back as she can remember, Davern had problems with her lungs. She developed chronic asthma at age 4. Without the sophistication of treatment available today, things grew worse.
“In the 1950s they just didn’t really know how to handle it,” she said. “So I got pneumonia and developed scarring on my lungs.”
That scarring led to weakened lungs and repeated bouts of bronchiectasis, bacterial infection of the lung tissue Barb learned to live with for decades. About 10 years ago, her doctor suggested she consider a double-lung transplant.
“At that point I was still functioning,” she said. “I just didn’t think I was ill enough.”
In 2005, after another hospital stay and another suggestion of a transplant, Barb said she was still in denial. An August visit to the University Medical Center in Tucson was still not enough to convince her.
“The doctor there told me if I did not get a transplant, there was a 50-50 chance I would not last the year,” she said. “So of course I convinced myself to focus on that 50 percent that says I’ll be fine. I lived my whole life this way, you know? I didn’t know any different. I could not comprehend how bad it had gotten.”
Still, the process had begun. A medical board that oversees transplant applications reviewed Davern’s case. She was approved in February 2006 and placed on the waiting list of patients.
“We were told to expect a wait of 18 months to two years before her name would come up,” Tim Davern said. “So at that point it was still hard to imagine her actually getting new lungs.”
But Barb did not have to wait two years. As luck would have it, she barely had to wait two weeks. The Daverns returned home the evening of March 12 to a ringing phone. It was a nurse from the UMC in Tucson.
“She said, ‘Barb, we have lungs for you. Can you be in Tucson in the next four hours?’ It was the call,” Barb said. “I told her my middle son was getting married Wednesday and they told me they could bump me down the list but there was no way to know when new lungs would be available again.”
The choice was clear, and after some frantic packing, Barb and Tim were on their way. Barb was in surgery by the following morning and Tim said he received regular updates.
“At 5, they were in the operating room, at 8, they called to say they had started,” he said. “At noon, they told me the new lungs were in, that it had taken longer than expected to get the old lungs out because they were so diseased. They left her open until the late afternoon to be sure her body was accepting the new lungs and by 8 that night she was brought to her room in recovery.”
The Daverns said even then they understood how fortunate they were and how their fortune came at the expense of someone else’s life. In her case, Barb said the lungs came from a 14-year-old Valley boy whose donations saved the lives of five people. Some tough times followed, but Barb said she is happy and healthy now and thankful for quite literally every breath she takes.
“I remember that first time I got up in the hospital to walk around and it dawned on me that I was taking full, deep breaths for the first time in a very long time,” she said. “It was amazing. It still is.”
Barb said she hopes Donate Life’s appearance in the parade will help convey the message of which she describes herself as living proof: that organ and tissue donation works.
“It saves lives,” she said. “After 55 years of struggling to breathe, I am proof of that. And the truth is there are so many people out there with a story just about exactly like mine. When they say donating tissue and organs is giving the gift of life, that’s exactly what they mean. It is a gift.”
More than 2,000 people in Arizona need a life-saving organ transplant, with more than 110,000 waiting for a transplant in the United States
The Fiesta Bowl parade will begin at 11 a.m. Friday in central Phoenix and will be broadcast Channel 15.
Those who wish to register as an organ and tissue donor in Arizona can do so at the Motor Vehicle Department, online at www.DonateLifeAZ.org or by calling 1-800-94-DONOR.