Brianne Plines is walking, talking and breathing all on her own.
These abilities sound effortless, but less than two weeks ago Plines could not even take a breath without a machine's help.
Now, Plines has new strength — and fresh hope — after undergoing a double-lung transplant. The surgery could mark major progress in Plines' lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis, a debilitating and sometimes fatal genetic disease of the body's mucus glands that often causes severe respiratory and digestive disorders.
"She looks wonderful. I mean, she is just like a new person," said Plines' aunt, Sharon Linn. "She was only 94 pounds when she went into the hospital. Now, she is gaining weight, she's walking and it's all just amazing."
Plines, 23, grew up in Lodi, and to the casual observer appeared to be "just another kid." Not many would have guessed she was constantly dealing with her disease. She played basketball and baseball up through her time at Lodi Academy, before graduating and going on to study marketing and sales at DeVry University.
"As a student here, I probably saw her every day," said Dorene Hackett, Lodi Academy's registrar. "I remember she missed quite a bit of school, but it seemed like she tried very hard to be here when she could. I remember thinking she was a very beautiful girl."
Though Plines struggled to maintain a relatively normal lifestyle, she still suffered from the side effects of her disease, including shortness of breath and trouble with maintaining a healthy weight.
And while for most people who suffer from cystic fibrosis, treatment via inhalers and respiratory exercises is the norm, when things begin to become worse, as they did in Plines' case, more drastic measures are usually required — including invasive surgery.
When Plines' health began to deteriorate just after she graduated from college in 2008, frequent visits to the hospital became routine, said Plines' mother, Michelle Golladay. In fact, Plines was in and out of the hospital every six months for shortness of breath, and was eventually put on oxygen just so she could stand up and walk.
Plines' health continued to teeter from good to bad, depending on the day, but it was not until this past January, when Plines and her family decided to vacation in Maui, that things began to take a turn for the worse.
By the time she returned to Lodi, Plines could not even get up and walk from her bedroom to the kitchen or living room, Golladay said.
"She had no social life and she lost a lot of her friends, and she felt so isolated," she said. "She had to do inhaled medications four times a day and then this vest therapy on this humongous machine that would vibrate the walls ... She had a 20- to 30-foot cord that would let her go into kitchen from the back bedroom. That was her life for about the past four months."
By March 29, Plines was hospitalized. Doctors, fearing the worst, had Plines flown to UCSF on April 27, where she was placed on the organ donor list for a new pair of lungs.
Plines remained in intensive care, attached to numerous wires and machines to monitor her lungs and to make sure that if anything was amiss, it would not go unnoticed.
"I just couldn't believe it. It was like something out of a science-fiction movie, with tubes running up like a halo around her head and blood going through the tubes into this big machine," Golladay said. "It was interesting, to say the least."
Less than two weeks later, doctors brought good news: There was a set of lungs that matched Plines, and she would be able to undergo surgery that very night.
A double-lung transplant is an extremely complex surgery with numerous risks, including bleeding out and lung failure. Yet the benefits of the surgery include improving the quality of life of patients with cystic fibrosis as well as giving them a chance to survive longer than the typical life expectancy, according to Dr. Lorriana Leard, a pulmonologist at UCSF.
"They have not been able to enjoy simple things like putting on clothes or taking a shower or just being able to go to the bathroom," she said. "The lung transplant gives people the chance to enjoy these activities, a chance they have never had before."
In the early morning hours of May 22, Plines went in for surgery. Ten hours later, she had new lungs. On June 8, Plines was walking, talking and breathing — all on her own — and was scheduled to be moved out of intensive care.
Plines still has a long way to go, though. While she has been scheduled to be moved out of intensive care this week, but it will still be at least another two weeks before Plines can relocate to a beach bungalow in San Francisco that Golladay rented for herself and her daughter to stay in until they can return to Lodi.
Over the next two months, Plines will continue to return to UCSF almost daily for multiple visits to check on the status of her new lungs, have blood tests, go to physical therapy and more.
To help cope with the rising costs of her medical care and her family's need to relocate closer to the hospital, Plines' family has created two fundraising events in Lodi to reach out to the community for support — one at Rick's Pizza on June 16 and one at the Lodi Eagles Club on June 18, with both events allocating some or all of the all proceeds towards Plines' care.
"Even with the weeks of multiple trips for doctors appointments, blood draws, therapy, she will be able to walk again, ride a bike," Golladay said. "Everybody is different. Every case is different. But Brianne is doing great so far, and we plan to return to Lodi after all of this."