She thinks her legs look a little “twiggy” these days, but Jen McKenna knows that once she gets through her double-lung transplant and bucks the cystic fibrosis, those legs will be muscular yet again.
“They won’t lack so much muscle forever!” McKenna said in an email to The Press, accompanied by photos and a smiley emoji.
McKenna, of Coeur d’Alene, is keeping her spirits high as she and her mom get through each day leading up to the double-lung transplant that will save her life. They are staying in a rented house not far from the University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill, where McKenna is participating in physical therapy and preliminary testing. McKenna left for North Carolina on Feb. 16.
“I’m feeling good, I do my PT every day,” she said in a phone conversation Friday. “I do what I can. I try to walk a little extra and push myself a little extra.”
McKenna dodged the severe cold that blanketed North Idaho toward the end of last month and has been enjoying weather between 40 and 60 degrees. She is enjoying the amphibian chorus that she can hear from the rental house.
“The house is small, but enough, and just perfect,” she said. “It’s got privacy for me and my mom and good living space. We’re right in the middle of a field with a pond in the middle of it, right in the middle of nature... We hear frogs all day. I love that sound.”
McKenna was born with cystic fibrosis (CF), a progressive disease that has wrecked her lungs, stolen her energy and impacted her overall health. As the disease has worsened, she really only had one choice: transplant.
"It took me a while to be able to share that this could happen because I was afraid of the questions," McKenna said during a Press interview in January. "I didn't want to hear the horror stories and the statistics."
A challenge McKenna is facing is the nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) infection that has wreaked havoc on her lungs for nearly 20 years.
With her health already compromised by the CF, the infection (which someone with a normal immune system can fend off) has hung on.
McKenna has been meeting with doctors the past couple weeks who have expressed concern about the NTM.
"They were very pleased my health was stable," she said. "They talked to me about, 'Hey, your biggest challenge is your NTM infection, that's really the biggest concern, so we have to ask, can we effectively treat this post-transplant?' because there are areas where the infection can settle."
She said the doctors required a lung culture, and if tests came out negative, that would be really encouraging about moving forward with getting her on the transplant list.
"Praise God, we submitted a sample and it came out negative," she said.
McKenna will be starting intensive testing the week of the 18th. Once she's listed, she could find a donor match within a few months, although some recipients have found matches within a month or so.
The Press will be keeping in communication with McKenna and her family as they navigate this life-changing journey.