After graduation from North Allegheny, transplant recipient prepares for next goal

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Kayla Conroy set a few important goals for herself this year, as all high school seniors do.

There was the prom, which she briefly attended in May; her graduation at North Allegheny Senior High School's Newman Stadium on June 7; and a move onto the Clarion State University of Pennsylvania campus, perhaps this fall.

With two of three accomplished, the daughter of Sue and Rege Conroy of McCandless continues with her most daunting challenge: to fully recover from her double-lung transplant surgery March 15.

“I didn't know what was going on,” Conroy, 18, said. “I didn't know I was (that) sick until after the surgery. I was in shock when they told me. I thought I was dreaming.”

What had begun as a case of double pneumonia in January was complicated by an untreatable virus. Surgery was the only option, and Conroy's name was added to the waiting list. In just a week, her new lungs were in place.

“The waiting is so stressful,” her mother, 50, said. “You get a call, but until the doctors go out and check if it's a match …”

Three other sets of lungs were brought to UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh. The fourth, from a young woman in Ohio, fit perfectly.

“Kayla was so sick going into surgery that the doctors were amazed how she recovered,” her mother said. “They used the word ‘miracle' many times.”

For three months, her parents kept her company, first at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, then at Presby, Conroy said. They slept in her room or across the hall.

“They never left my side,” she said. “My brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins — my family is all amazing.”

Brother Nick visited each Wednesday and every weekend from Slippery Rock University. Her younger brothers, Geno and Paul, offered their support. She kept in touch with friends by Facebook and Twitter to update them on her condition and let them know when they could visit.

After the family, ripples of caring came Conroy's way via members of St. Bonaventure Parish in Shaler Township, where the family attends church; neighbors and friends who brought meals to her young brothers during their parents' absence; the North Allegheny community; and those who are part of Kayla's Krusaders, started by her mother's cousin, Leanne Onorato.

“We do everything together,” Onorato said. “There's no way they're (the Conroys) are doing this without us, either.”

The website,, began as a Facebook page to tell Conroy's story on the day of her surgery, but it has become a vehicle for letting the doctors and nurses know about her progress.

Support has come in from around the world, said Onorato, 37, of Ross Township. The page has gotten 1,400 likes on Facebook.

But it began with the large Conroy and Onorato families.

Conroy's future is bright, said her mother.

“She's getting stronger every day. The doctors say she'll be able to do everything she did before, but it'll take six months to a year to feel that way.”

Cardiac therapy continues four times a week, and aqua therapy will become a part of the regime. Some medications will be a part of her life forever, while others will wind down, Conroy said.

“I know how lucky I am and all the prayers I got,” she said.

There were acts of kindness, gift cards and good wishes.

“Without the support of family, friends and community, none of us would have made it through,” her mother said. “We take it one day at a time.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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