Patient profile: Tatyana Abrams
From a hospital room to the classroom, Tatyana excels after receiving new lungs
When Tatyana Abrams was diagnosed with Leukemia at 10 years old, she, her mother Deanna and father Danya knew they were in for the fight of their lives. However, none of them thought overcoming cancer would be just one of the stops on her medical journey.
To beat the disease Tatyana received treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Her cancer eventually went into remission, but it took its toll on her health; by the time she was thirteen her lungs had deteriorated so badly she often needed an oxygen tank to breathe. By 14 breathing was so taxing Tatyana was sent to see the care team at Boston Children's Pediatric Transplant Center. A few weeks later she was listed for a pair of donor lungs.
Despite the seriousness of her condition and complexities involved with a lung transplant, Tatyana was relieved when she heard about the upcoming surgery. "When we told her about being added to the transplant list she started crying," remembers Deanna. "But they were happy tears. She said she couldn't wait to breathe again, and if it took new lungs to get there she was ready."
After months of waiting a perfect match of donor lungs finally became available. The family was understandably scared about the transplant surgery scheduled for the next morning, but their hope far outweighed their fear. "We were like kids on the night before Christmas," Deanna says. "We were nervous of course, but there was also this undeniable sense of excitement in the air."
Early the next day Francis Fynn-Thompson, MD, surgical director of Boston Children's Lung Transplant Program, performed the 11-hour surgery to give Tatyana her new lungs. Over the next few weeks Tatyana continued to heal and get stronger, all while dreaming about returning to school, friends and normal life.
"A lot of people think the second you get a new organ you feel better, like swapping out the batteries in a TV remote," Deanna jokes, remembering her daughter's recovery period. "But it's not like that. I had to explain to a lot of people that transplant surgery is a big procedure and it takes time for the body to heal and adapt to the new organ."
It's been just over a year since Tatyana received her transplant and she's doing great. Now a high school freshman and attending school full-time for the first time in years, she's adapting to her new life better than anyone thought possible. In fact, Deanna says the only school problem Tatyana has is when a visit to a Pediatric Transplant Center clinic interrupts her class schedule.
"There's no where else she'd rather be than school," Deanna says. "I know that doesn’t sound like a typical teenager, but she fought so hard to get there and doing things just like everyone else is really important to her. She's taking on more responsibility and doing great at it."
Since returning to school Tatyana became a teacher assistant and joined Boston Children's Teen Advisory Committee, which provides patients a forum where they can discuss ideas with Boston Children's staff about how the hospital can improve the quality of care provided to adolescent patients. Like her new lungs it's a perfect match for Tatyana, who already displays the qualities of a strong, empathetic young adult.
"Tatyanna's will to give back is very strong," Deanna says. "She's always looking for ways to help, maybe because of all the help she received throughout her illness. Whatever the reason it makes me very proud, and her father and I very excited to see what the future holds for her. A little over a year ago we were just trying to make it through each day and now we're thinking years down the road—it's just amazing."