Sara Rusboldt got quite the Christmas present this year: a new pair of lungs.
The 31-year-old received the double lung transplant Dec. 19 at Loyola University Medical Center. She has been recuperating at her Michigan City home ever since.
Rusboldt, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Stanislaus Kostka School in Michigan City, needed the operation after her lungs failed, a complication of a prior stem cell transplant to treat her leukemia.
"The doctors were very impressed. The first day after surgery I was actually sitting up in a chair. The next day I was out walking. They couldn't believe how well I was doing," she said. "Everyone is very happy and impressed with my recovery process."
She had the eight-hour surgery performed at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois. Earlier, a lung specialist had told her that without the transplant she likely only had about a year to live. Now she's expected to live many more years than that.
"It went very well," Dr. Daniel Dilling, a Loyola pulmonologist, said of the surgery. "She's had a terrific recovery so far. I'd say above average."
In 2011, Rusboldt had leukemia and had to undergo a stem cell transplant. Her sister, Monica Rusboldt, was the donor.
However, Sara's Rusboldt's new immune system saw her own organs as foreign, attacking her lungs and causing severe shortness of breath. She struggled just walking up stairs.
That's when Dilling recommended the lung transplant.
Rusboldt had to wait for a donor but when one became available she went to Loyola for the surgery, six days before Christmas. It was also her grandmother's 90th birthday.
"Our grandma said it was the best birthday present she could have asked for," Monica Rusboldt said.
Sara Rusboldt since has returned home and had visits from a home nurse and physical therapy. She is set to start pulmonary rehab soon. She goes to Loyola every two weeks for follow-up visits. Six months after the surgery, the donor's family will have the opportunity to reveal the person's identity.
In the meantime, Rusboldt is eagerly anticipating her return to teaching. She plans to go back to her job next school year.
"I do miss it so much," she said. "It's nice, my students sent me so many cards and they sent me valentines. I heard from students' parents. I can't wait to see them. I can't wait to get back."