Emma Greene is dancing again. Greene, 18, is also breathing deeper and better. She can go shopping without toting along an oxygen tank. And in September, she will start classes at the University of California, Davis.
Greene is back home in Lodi with a new liver and lungs following transplant surgery at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. It was the first such double organ transplant performed at the hospital, which is affiliated with Stanford University.
With a GPA of 4.5, Greene was the valedictorian of the Lodi High School Class of 2011.
This week, curled up on the couch of her family's home on Lodi Avenue, Greene recounted the surgery and its aftermath.
The post-op recovery was difficult, at times anguishing, but she's deeply grateful for her new energy and mobility.
"I am happy," she said. "Before the surgery, I was getting sicker and sicker, and I was wondering if the transplant would ever happen. I felt depressed."
Greene has CF, or cystic fibrosis, which attacks the lungs and respiratory system. In advanced stages, CF makes it very difficult to breathe. One of Greene's doctors, Carol Conrad, has described the condition as trying to breathe through a straw.
In Greene's case, the CF secretions clogging her lungs were also damaging her liver.
Greene was on the transplant list for two years before the call came last fall. The 12-hour operation was on Oct. 1. All that Greene knows about the donor is that she was 24 and died of a brain aneurysm.
The massively complicated operation went generally well, but it was an ordeal nevertheless.
"I had heard that the first breath you take after the transplant is wonderful," she said. "But I didn't even remember my first breath. When I was aware of my breathing, it didn't seem that different."
Problems with her IV caused her arm to bruise, swell and ache. The use of steroids made her face and body swell. Her sense of taste was thrown off.
"I would sip an Italian soda, and it would feel like it was burning my mouth," she said.
There were early concerns about internal bleeding. Those subsided after a few days.
The steroids, along with causing her to swell up, made her emotionally fragile.
"For a couple of days, I was very weepy," she said. "I was just sobbing. I remember asking one of my doctors, 'Will I ever get better?'"
She did, steadily.
She was released from Packard to the Ronald McDonald House, a special housing compound adjacent to the hospital. She and her mother, Hayley, later moved to an apartment near campus.
On Christmas Eve, she was allowed to come home. She has been in close contact with another transplant patient, Tiffany Senter of Shasta City. Senter also has CF and is also a top scholar. She underwent a lung transplant only days after Greene's surgery.
Greene and Senter have become close and supportive friends.
Greene no longer has to use oxygen. Nor must she use the other machines, one known as BIPAP and one as an IPV, that helped keep her airways from closing down.
What she must do now is take medicine — lots of it. Some of the pills reduce the chance of her body rejecting her new organs. Others fight off infections.
For six months after the operation, Greene is still considered at high risk for infection. When she goes shopping now, for instance, she must wear a mask. Her doctors advise her to avoid places with many people in tight quarters, such as movie theaters.
Still, she feels better and is regaining strength day by day. She enjoys moving to a dance video game called "Dance Dance Revolution Extreme." She sometimes joins her mom at a local fitness studio, where she pedals the stationary bike.
Later this year, she plans to help coach Lodi High's Science Olympiad team. She is also hopeful of getting a job until classes start at Davis in September. She will major in evolution and ecology, formerly known as zoology.
While Greene's future has brightened, it remains uncertain.
The transplants come with no guarantees. The CF will likely seep into Greene's new lungs at some point in coming years. But there are new medications and treatments being developed for CF, as well, so there is reason for optimism.
Hayley Greene said her daughter's transplants were a testing and emotional experience.
"It was pretty draining for Emma, for everyone," she said. "But it's really good to see Emma be Emma again."
Contact Editor Rich Hanner at email@example.com.