Meet Calgary’s Catherine Bedford, Alberta’s record-breaking double-lung transplant patient in 2015
Catherine Bedford, a 50-year-old Calgary resident, has been through quite a journey in 2015.
As surgeons in Edmonton’s University Hospital performed a record-shattering 61 lung transplant operations in 2015, Bedford was the last person to receive the life-saving surgery during that extremely busy year.
“I can do whatever I want now — I’ve got my life back,” said Bedford, a former dental hygenist who had to leave her position because of her illness.
“It is so important to sign that donor card and talk about it with your families.”
Bedford first discovered something was wrong with her health during her early 30s when she was unable to do common chores, like shovelling sidewalks. And as someone who was physically fit, she could no longer jog.
“I just noticed that exertion just gave me problems breathing,” she said during an interview with The Lung Association March 2.
Bedford had two close calls while giving birth to her two children. When she was 32, she gave birth to a 10-week premature baby boy who, she said, “came out blue” because of a lack of oxygen from her lung health condition that wasn’t diagnosed by doctors.
Then, at 33, Bedford gave birth to a tiny, low-weight baby — the result of a lack of oxygen in her body. That is when doctors realized something was wrong.
“I was diagnosed when (my children) were four and five-years-old,” she said.
Doctors discovered that Bedford had Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic form of emphysema.
From the age of 38, right through to her operation in 2015, Bedford had to be on oxygen, carrying large bottles with her 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Doctors also added her to a transplant list when she was 48 when her condition became worse.
The whole process was a journey for Bedford, as she was once taken off the list because she had resistant bacteria in her lungs. Doctors then gave her antibiotics for four months to fight the bacteria.
Once she was added back to the list on Dec. 9, 2015, Bedford says she received “the phone call” 20 days later.
Nerves rattled after phone call
That was a nerve-racking experience for Bedford who need medication and an ambulance ride because of an anxiety attack — something that is quite common for transplant patients when they get “the call.”
“The whole process was pretty quick,” said Bedford who also supports The Lung Association, Alberta & NWT every year with Christmas Seals and its other direct mail campaigns.
“You have to help out because it is so important to give to research.”
A long journey
Bedford, who is still getting treated in Edmonton to ensure her body doesn’t reject her new lungs, says she now has a new lease on life. She can now run on the treadmill — something she hasn’t done since her early 20s — along with playing sports she loves like slo-pitch, swimming, and water-polo.
As her recovery from surgery continues, Bedford hopes to meet the family of the person who gave her new set of lungs.
“I would like to say thank you — there is no gift better than the gift of life,” said Bedford.
“I am in the middle of writing a thank you card. It’s unfortunate that one has to pass on to save another person’s life, but that’s the organ donation cycle.”
Bedford now has a taste for adventure as she wants to go travelling with her family, along with horseback riding and skiing.
“I just want to do all of these things that I haven’t been able to do in a long time,” she said.
“It has been a long journey.”