Camille was 28 when her heart stopped beating and her lungs drew their final breath.
I watched the video her mother recorded that day – Camille on a gurney, rolling down the hall, into an elevator, toward an operation so dangerous it had been not attempted here for 20 years. Maybe she’s confident or maybe it’s just her way, but Camille’s smile is bright until they stop before the final door.
“I’ll be here when you wake up,” her mom says.
“OK. I love you,” Camille replies and, finally, a tear escapes. “G’night.”
One way or another, Camille’s heart was going to stop. Doctors diagnosed her pulmonary hypertension when she was four years old and they thought she might survive for three more years.
The blood vessels in her lungs were far too small and getting smaller. Over time, her heart grew to twice the normal size, trying to push harder, trying to keep up.
When you can’t breathe, everything is hard, but Camille defied her illness. She became a cheerleader in middle school, played in the high school band, went to college and finished her Nursing degree.
Since 2011, there have been frequent trips to specialists in New York and Boston – over 20 flights with Wings of Mercy. She has exceeded every doctor’s expectation, but by the fall of 2017, she has pushed her body as far as it will go. Camille is placed on the transplant list and moves into an apartment near the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, hoping a match will be found.
Three months later, her lungs fail. To keep her alive, doctors connect her to an ECMO machine — a box that pulls blood from her body, removes carbon dioxide and adds oxygen, then pumps the blood back again. Until a transplant is found, the red box will be Camille’s heart and lungs.
A few weeks later, on a Friday night, a surgeon steps into her hospital room. There has been an accident, an unexpected death that left behind a heart, two lungs, and a grieving family who has offered them to Camille.
It is a confusing moment – tragedy and hope mixed strangely together. Camille is excited and sad and scared, all at the same time. Her parents rush across the country to join her at the hospital and, early the next morning, Nancy pulls out her cell phone and films her daughter rolling toward the operating room.
The transplant takes ten hours. Camille’s old heart, huge and weary, is carefully removed, and then her small and withered lungs. Surgeons install the donated heart and lungs, but there is a problem. For three days, Camille’s chest cavity is left open. For three days, her family and friends pray and watch and wait.
On March 29 of 2018, Camille takes a deep breath and wakes up.