Joplin woman receives ultimate birhday present — a life-saving lung transplant

The Joplin Globe
Posted: Dec. 29, 2016 4:10 pm

Caryn Durbin has gotten plenty of birthday presents in her lifetime, but picking the best one is easy.

The Joplin resident awoke at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis on Nov. 14, her 30th birthday, after a bilateral lung transplant surgery that began the day before to find she had received several gifts in one.

With the new pair of lungs she desperately needed, Durbin gained the ability to sit and hold a normal conversation without losing her breath. She can now — or soon, anyway — shed the oxygen tanks and tubes she says she's felt "strapped" to for so long.

She will finally be able to run and play with her 10-year-old daughter, Bailey. Durbin wants to eventually go back to work. She may even resume her pursuit of a college degree, a goal she admittedly used to feel little reason to attain considering the average life expectancy of a person born with cystic fibrosis: just 37 years.

"You live your life and, I mean, you kind of live it in a denial with a chronic illness of the fact that you're really going to plummet to a point where you need a surgery like that," Durbin told The Joplin Globe ( ).

Cystic fibrosis is caused by the inheritance of two copies of a defective gene, one from each parent. Both parents must carry the defect to pass it on to their children. When both parents are carriers of the defective gene, as Durbin's parents, Ron and Debbie, are, there is a 25 percent chance of the child contracting the disease in each pregnancy.

Defying the odds, Durbin and both of her siblings, Josh Durbin, 25, and Trisha O'Dell, 35, have battled cystic fibrosis since birth.

"I can remember being 10 years old; that was like the last time that I really got mad about having it," Caryn Durbin said. "I shut myself in the stairwell at our house and started bawling and asking God why I had to have CF."

Since then, Durbin said her faith has shaped her attitude into a more positive one.

"Growing up, you deal with a lot of dark stuff early," she said. "But I have wonderful grandparents; my grandpa is a preacher, and grandma plays the piano in church. They've been, my whole family has just instilled a lot of faith."

Cystic fibrosis causes a thick buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. The mucus blocks airways in the lungs, which can lead to bacteria becoming trapped, causing infections and other damage. Mucus in the pancreas keeps the organ from releasing digestive enzymes that help the body break down food and take in nutrients.

"These kids have all three fought with work-related job loss because of their illness," Ron Durbin said. "It makes you angry, you know, but you understand you can't have people on the job getting coughing fits. Especially in public service, restaurants, stuff like that."

Each case of cystic fibrosis is at least slightly different. Caryn Durbin said her siblings' more severe symptoms have been sinus and digestive issues. Both have also had respiratory complications, but Caryn's have been the most advanced.

"You either have somebody clap on you and help just move and shift the mucus from the walls, or there's a therapy vest that you put on and it just shakes you," she said. "So that came out when I was like 10, but before that, (my mom) did it all on all three of us. Just beating us 30 minutes each, twice a day."

"I took out a little bit of anger," Debbie Durbin joked.

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