Jewish Hospital Lung Transplant Recipient Thankful for Gift of Organ Donation During Holiday Season

William Justice

William Justice had worked as a coal miner in Eastern Kentucky for more than 32 years, when black lung disease nearly took his life.

Justice had never been a smoker. He suffered from coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), also known as black lung disease, which is caused by long-term exposure to coal dust, common among coal miners. Justice spent months very ill, in-and-out of the hospital with lung problems.

“My lungs were so bad that even little things would get me down,” said Justice. “The doctors told me that I didn’t have much time left.”

Finally, his doctors recommended that Justice visit Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky for an evaluation. At that time, he began pre-testing for a lung transplant. His heart was strong, but his doctors asked that he meet correct body mass index (BMI) and weight requirements before he would be eligible for a transplant. Justice worked hard to meet the requirements. On Valentine’s Day in 2017, he was placed on the list to receive a lung transplant.

“I knew that a transplant was risky, but I felt like it was my only hope,” said Justice. “The doctors were confident that they could save my life, if an organ donation became available.”

Justice continued treatment while he waited for a lifesaving organ donation. He traveled to Louisville for a visit at the Jewish Hospital Trager Transplant Center on November 20, 2017. He thought never expected it would be more than a check-up.

“That day, one of the coordinators came and found me, and she was crying,” he said. “She told me, ‘we found you a set of new lungs, and you’re receiving a transplant.”

Justice underwent a lung transplant on November 22, 2017. It was a 10-hour procedure, and he spent around six-weeks recovering in the hospital. He was released on January 3, 2018, ready to slowly ease into his new, healthy life.

This Thanksgiving, Justice says he is most thankful for his organ donor and the donor’s family. He has never met his donor’s family, but he wants them to know how thankful he is for the gift of life. Although his medications prevent him from doing so, he wishes that he could register as an organ donor himself and help others in need, just as he received a lifesaving organ donation.

“There are good people out there who make this possible,” he said. “I understand that with the good, comes the bad. A family lost their loved one for me to continue my life. For that, I am beyond grateful. I hope my story is eye-opening, and encourages others to register as donors.”

Justice still attends pulmonary rehabilitation three times per week in his hometown of Phyllis, Kentucky. He recently spoke to a Donate Life group in his area about the importance of organ donation.

Group – It’s a Good Thing

Cindi Gardner - Rosie Ring

The first time Cindi Gardner walked into the Rosie Ring, she felt comfortable.

“We share. People listen. We get understanding without those sad looks we get from people who haven’t experienced cancer. I don’t feel the stigma of cancer – we all have it or are recovering from it,” she said in a recent testimonial. “It isn’t the dirty word or the elephant in the room no one wants to acknowledge. I don’t have to reveal that I have cancer – that’s why I’m there!”

Cindi Gardner

Rosie Ring is a networking and support group for women facing breast cancer offered through KentuckyOne Health Cancer Care at Saint Joseph East. Since 2013, women in the group have been gathering to discuss everything from the side effects of medicine to coping strategies to quality of life.

“It’s a great combination of incredible women, a social worker who gets it and is open to whatever topic comes up, and a place I can go where I don’t feel like the sick one,” she said in a recent testimonial. “I DON’T FEEL LIKE THE SICK ONE.”

The group meets for different activities that expose them to tools they can use while coping with their diagnosis, treatment and fear of reoccurrence, according to Stacy Florence, MSW, CSW, OSW-C, manager of Business Operations, Oncology Services.

“Group has been where I’ve learned so much – about treatment, recovery, resources, coping strategies, … Oh my! I realize physicians can’t give me a list of every possible side effect, information about alternative treatments, or share personal stories of patients,” Cindi said. “I’m amongst a group of women – intelligent, proactive women – who have educated themselves about self-care and cancer and are willing to share. I can show up at Group and ask, ‘Has anyone????’ and most likely someone has and is willing to talk about it.”

The women do yoga. They take cooking classes. They’ve done a drum circle. They’ve focused on things such as combatting fatigue, physical therapy, eating well, medication management and advance care planning.

“Our activities and outings – from meditation, restorative yoga, dog kennels – are a great combination of fun, distraction, and still with that common bond of cancer<” Cindi said. “If someone needs to take it slow, no one complains. Good news/results, not so good news/results – it’s all OK. Bald heads, compression stockings, lopsided chests – it’s all OK.”

For Cindi, it’s more than the group meetings. She’s made new friends, who often check in with her and they meet regularly for lunch. That includes a special friend “who lets me whine and complain about the side effects of the aromatase inhibitor I am taking. She also deals with the same issues, and we support each other through emails, dinners, and texts. She is a huge support – which shows that Group extends outside of our scheduled gatherings.

“There is just something about the Rosie Ring that is special. I can’t quite put my finger on it and put it succinctly. I just know it works,” she said. “We are a group of women going through treatment and recovering from treatment – living with that shadow of recurrence that no one else quite gets.

“Group – it’s a good thing.”

Learn more about Rosie Ring and other Cancer Care support groups at Saint Joseph East.