Mary Lou Drittler
Mary Lou Drittler had suffered the effects of emphysema since 1991, when she was diagnosed with the disease. By 1996 she was on oxygen most of the time and was able to do very little. She lost her breath after walking just a few steps, and led a mostly sedentary life. When shopping and running errands, she traveled in a wheelchair.
After her pulmonologist told her she could benefit from a lung transplant, Drittler explored her options. She considered several hospitals and even looked into Lung Volume Reduction as an option, for which she was not a candidate.
Finally, in December 2001 she seriously looked into lung transplantation. One area hospital turned her down right away. "I very quickly got a letter back telling me I was too old; they wouldn't even talk to me. They have a very strict limit that you have to be 63 to apply and they did not operate after 65. I was 66 at the time," recalled Drittler, who resides in Silver Spring, Md.
After that, she decided to go to the University of Pittsburgh, because Bartley Griffith, M.D., director of Cardiac Surgery and Cardiothoracic Transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), had performed a lung transplant on a friend of hers there nine years earlier.
When she learned that Dr. Griffith was coming to the UMMC, she decided to follow him here and get her transplant at the Maryland Heart Center. She met with Dr. Griffith and Jo Ann Sikora, a cardiac surgery nurse practitioner, and then met with the whole transplant team in January 2002. "They determined that I was a good candidate because I was in generally good health other than the lung," said Drittler.
She officially went on the transplant waiting list on April 29, 2002, but she didn't have to wait long -- two months later she had a lung donor. Dr. Griffith performed the lung transplant on June 27, 2002. He said Drittler's operation was a success.
"Her overall wellness speaks for itself. She took on a high-risk operation and we took on a high-risk patient and together we won," said Dr. Griffith, who is also professor and head of the Division of Cardiac Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "I think it speaks to a number of things -- her heartiness and the fact that this program is full of physicians, nurses and caregivers who will go the extra mile."
Since the transplant, Drittler's condition has improved dramatically. She is participating in an outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation program, and she exercises regularly at home on her treadmill.
"Now I feel good and I'm back to my normal life," said Drittler. "I'm a lot more active. I spend time with the grandchildren, go shopping, and I join all these transplant groups so I can go to a lot of parties."
In fact, Drittler recently attended an annual holiday party held for UMMC heart and lung transplant recipients, their families and the doctors and nurses who took care of them.
She appreciates the care she received at the Maryland Heart Center. "I couldn't have gone anywhere where I could have gotten better treatment," Dritter said. "The whole transplant team is really caring and on top of things."
And Drittler is no stranger to UMMC. At one time, one of Drittler's daughters was also a patient at the Medical Center. "My older daughter had breast cancer and she had a stem cell transplant done here and at that time I felt the same way. The care is unbelievable," she said.
Since the transplant, family members have noticed a change in Drittler.
"She's doing so much more," said Michele Burhofer, one of Drittler's daughters. "Before (the transplant), she wouldn't come over to my house at all. Now she comes over and spends a weekend and just enjoys herself. She has a new appreciation for life."
Her caregivers have also noticed a difference. As Sharon Lesser, a pulmonary clinical nurse at the Medical Center observed, "Mary Lou looks wonderful and her spirits are great. Every time I see her she has a bigger and brighter smile on her face."
By Michelle Weinstein Murray