Family House Diaries: A Thanksgiving to Remember

Monday, November 22, 2010 — A double-lung transplant gives a Lincoln County, N.C., woman a second chance at life, allowing her to witness the birth of her first granddaughter, attend her son’s wedding and meet the lung donor’s family to thank them face-to-face for their selfless generosity.

Family House Diaries: A Thanksgiving to Remember click to enlarge Mary Scercy embraces a member of her lung donor's family.

Written by Elizabeth Swaringen for UNC Health Care

CHAPEL HILL, NC — A double-lung transplant in March gave Mary Scercy of Denver, N.C., a second chance at life, allowing her to witness the September birth of her first granddaughter and her son’s October wedding.

And, in early November, Mary, 52, and husband Ted, 59, met the lung donor’s family to thank them for their selfless generosity.

“With 12 percent lung capacity, Mary had no hope in January, and we prayed that donor lungs would become available in time,” Ted said.  “When the call came, we prayed for the donor’s family, knowing they were grieving the loss of their loved one. 

A tragic loss for one family becomes a blessing for another. Watch the amazing journey of Ted and Mary Scercy and how their lives intersected with a man they never knew but who saved their lives.

“We prayed for God to guide the transplant team’s work, and we prayed we would know the right things to say when we met the donor’s family.  All those prayers were answered.  Now, we can’t offer enough prayers of thanksgiving.”

“We fully rely on God,” said Mary.  “Always have.  Always will.”

A smoker for 26 years, Mary had kicked the habit 12 years ago, but the damage was done.  Emphysema and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) rendered her disabled although she still managed to substitute teach at East Lincoln High School. 

Lung volume reduction surgery in June 2009 bought time.

“Basically, we cut out the bad parts of the lungs to get the better parts to work better,” said Benjamin E. Haithcock, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the UNC School of Medicine and lead lung transplant surgeon at the UNC Comprehensive Transplant Center, where 15 to 20 lung transplants are performed annually.  “The surgery removed about 25 percent of each lung, and Mary’s breathing improved for about six months.”

On Jan. 20 – the eve of daughter Kimberlea’s birthday – Mary was added to the transplant list where the sickest patients advance to the top.  On March 5, the call came.

During an eight-hour surgery, Mary received near-perfect lungs from Gerry Reid, Jr., a 43-year-old software engineer from Raleigh who had sustained fatal injuries in a horrific traffic accident.  

Gerry was a son, brother, husband, father of two, and a self-described health nut who’d never met a stranger.  By being an organ, tissue and cornea donor, Gerry saved four lives besides Mary’s, gave sight to two people and improved 200 other lives. 

On March 23, Mary was released to SECU Family House, a 40-bedroom hospital hospitality house minutes from UNC Hospitals that provides comfortable, convenient and affordable housing for seriously ill adult patients and their family member caregivers.  Mary returned home to Denver on May 26.

“Family House is beyond anything we could have dreamed of,” Ted said.  “Sometimes I was so scared and lonely as I left the hospital to come to the house to rest, and someone was always willing to talk with me. We came to know and love the staff and other guests like family. We can say the same about everyone on Mary’s team at UNC Hospitals.”

On Nov. 5 at SECU Family House – the place of so much respite, hospitality and support – Ted and Mary met Gerry’s wife, Mandy, and Gerry’s extended family. Over two hours and through many tears, they shared stories of family and faith that will unite them for the rest of their days.  

According to Carolina Donor Services, such meetings are rare, but the Scercys and Reids reached out, knowing in their hearts the much-needed healing that could come from their life-changing meeting. 

Mary’s transplant team attended the reunion, too. “It’s difficult to find the words to describe the meeting,” said Dr. Haithcock.  “What a gift to be able to meet and personally thank a family for an organ donation.  It’s almost surreal, and it’s certainly been an amazing and unique experience for me.”

The Scercys pledged to take good care of Gerry’s lungs.  After all, they were pristine and genetically blessed:  Gerry’s grandparents lived into their 90s and early 100s.

“We know that following post-transplant instructions is crucial,” said Ted, a driver for Estes Express Lines and an advocate for organ donation. 

“When he’s on the road he’s always calling to check in and to make sure I’m taking my medicine,” said Mary, offering proof diligence delivers.  Her daily medication regimen is 37 pills, from a high of 57, and on Nov. 5 she was cleared for three-month follow-ups rather than once-a-month visits.

As the reunion wound down, Gerry’s father, Gerry Sr., asked Ted to offer a prayer of thanksgiving as the families joined hands. 

Immediately after the “Amen” Mandy asked Mary what she thought might be an odd request: “Can I listen to your lungs?”

“Of course,” said Mary, as Mandy readied the stethoscope she’d brought just in case. 

What did she hear?

“Gerry smiling.  Life.  Breath. Answered prayers,” said Mandy.

And what did she see?

A tattoo of a frog across Mary’s sacrum: Fully Rely On God.

To learn about becoming an organ donor, contact Carolina Donor Services, the federally designated organ procurement organization serving 6.1 million people in 79 counties in North Carolina and Danville, Va. See www.carolinadonorservices.org or call 919-489-8404.

Media contact: Stephanie Crayton, (919) 951-4758, scrayton@unch.unc.edu

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