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United woman's wait ends for double-lung transplant

| Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
A.J. Panian | The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Karen Newill of United stands by the perennial purple phlox which grow outside her home in United. Newill, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, underwent a double lung transplant procedure on June 25. She was discharged July 5 from UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh.
A.J. Panian | The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Karen Newill of United, who successfully underwent a double lung transplant procedure on June 25, peruses the many get-well cards she received from family, friends and others which hang on the cabinetry in the kitchen of her home. Newill, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, was discharged July 5. Photo taken Monday, July 15, 2013
A.J. Panian | The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Karen Newill of United holds a T-shirt she received following a double lung transplant procedure which she underwent June 25. The shirt was given to her by her Mt. Pleasant's Dave Sullenberger, her friend and a fellow double lung transplant recipient. Both Newill and Sullenberger suffer from cystic fibrosis.

With each new day, Karen Newill said she discovers a new way that her life has become better than it was before.

A double-lung transplant will do that, said Newill, a 36-year-old resident of United in Mt. Pleasant Township who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 13.

“For 10 years-plus, all I did was cough,” she said.

Since undergoing the procedure on June 25, Newill's cough has all but vanished, her face is flush with healthy color and her voice and laugh are both much louder and brighter, she said.

But the happiest moment so far for Newill came with her freshly rediscovered ability to yawn, she said.

“I was laying in bed the other night and it happened,” Newill said. “I couldn't believe it ... I was shocked. I was in disbelief. To take a breath that deep in to be able to yawn, to actually do it ... I don't even remember being able to do that.”

Roughly one year ago, Newill was placed on the transplant list by physicians at UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh.

While her wait for a donor drew out far past what doctors initially forecasted, Newill said time started to fly around 4 p.m. on that fateful date last month.

At that time, Newill was visiting her maternal grandmother, Mary Sue Hoke, who at the time was a patient at Excela Health Frick Hospital, when her cell phone rang.

On the other end was cardiothoracic surgeon Norihisa Shigemura, who told Newill that UMPC staff had in their possession two lungs from an 20-year-old male organ donor, which they aimed to give to her, she said.

The catch was that she had to be at the Shadyside hospital by 5:30 p.m. that day.

“I was very surprised, but I said I'll be there,” Newill said. “He said ‘Get here as fast as you can.'”

So Newill met her father, Bill Newill, at her house, got in his car and began the trip. She called her mom, Debra Newill, at work along the way to give her the news, the possibility and the deadline to make it happen.

“That's a really small window of time,” said Debra Newill, who soon left work to meet them.

During rush hour, Newill and her father marveled at the lack of motorist congestion they encountered inbound to the city, she said.

“On the Parkway there wasn't much traffic at all. Probably a mile back up at (Squirrel Hill) tunnel, but it went fast,” Karen Newill said.

Soon after, the Newill family united at the hospital, on time, where they were warmly greeted by the Shigemura's surgical team.

By 10:30 p.m., Newill was in surgery. By 6 a.m. the next day, the procedure was complete.

On July 5, just nine days after the transplant, Newill was discharged.

“I was told that's so much sooner than the average transplant,” she said. It made me happy that I could come home and sleep in my own bed. Better rest, and better healing.”

To Debra Newill, who is staying with her daughter as she continues her recovery, the timing all worked out perfectly.

“It just all worked out very nicely. We just finished up with her fundraising June 8,” Debra Newill said. “She's doing really, really good. Better than we ever anticipated.”

Dolly Queer, Karen Newill's aunt, coordinated a year's worth of fundraising efforts for the Children's Organ Transplant Association in honor of Karen to help meet anticipated medical costs related to her post-transplant recovery.

The amount raised totaled $58,000, Newill said.

“She's at home, and she's taking walks up and down her alley,” Queer said. “She's doing great. So relieved that all of this is behind us. So far, she's wonderful.”

A 1995 Mt. Pleasant Area graduate, Newill previously worked since 2001 as a certified athletic trainer for UPMC Sports Medicine in Pittsburgh.

She said she'd like to get back into that profession.

“If I was doing it when my lungs were functioning at only 40 percent, so I'm sure I could do it now,” she said.

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or

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