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Maryland Doctors Save West Virginia Teen's Life By Giving Her A Lung Transplant

BALTIMORE (WJZ)-- A teenager from a high school in West Virginia will be able to go to her senior prom, thanks to doctors in Maryland.

As Mike Schuh explains, she's lucky to be alive after her local doctors had given up hope.

At age 12, Victoria 'Torry' Chakwin knew something was wrong. She couldn't breathe, tired easily and ran out of energy. Her mother took her to doctors all over the country looking for an answer.

It turns out she was developing idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that can be seen in people of any age, but is more common in those who are 70+ and smoke. For reasons the medical community does not completely understand, her lungs became filled with fibrous masses, retained fluids and lost their ability to process oxygen.

Now 18 years old, one of her doctors said the inside of her lungs were like leather. Late last year and into 2012, as her condition deteriorated, her doctors in Martinsburg, W. Va., began asking transplant centers if she would be a good candidate for a lung transplant. All of the centers declined, saying she was too sick and a transplant was too risky.

WJZ has learned that those centers were looking out not only for their prospective patients, but for the center as well. According to transplant surgeons, a national organization responsible for allotting donated organs keeps statistics on the success or failure of all transplant centers. If the failure rate falls below average, they will be placed on a form of probation and could see the number of organs allotted to them decrease or cease.

When Chakwin's doctor called the University of Maryland's Lung Transplant Center in downtown Baltimore, medical director Dr. Aldo Iacono thought they could help the high school senior. Lung transplant surgeon Dr. Bartley Griffith told WJZ that the UM Lung Transplant Center has had a string of 25 successful transplants. Because of their excellent record, they were in a position to accept a high-risk patient like Chakwin.

When brought here in January, Chakwin said she was very worried that she'd die. She was placed on a special machine which directly oxygenates the blood. While the use of that machine extends a patient's life, it also lowers the chances of a successful transplant. Because a patient needs to be put into a mild coma while the machine is connected, the muscles a patient needs to breathe on their own atrophy. Though Chakwin spent two weeks on the machine, and though her diseased lungs had shrunk to the size of teacups, the transplant team reported no problems they couldn't overcome and her transplant was a success.

On Thursday, Chakwin and her mother returned to the Intensive Care Unit at the University of Maryland in downtown Baltimore. She thanked her transplant team and the many nurses who cared for her during her two-month stay.

"The storybook ending we all hope for doesn't always happen. It did today, and it's what we live for and that's why we have a celebration tour of the ICU," Griffith said.

Meanwhile, Chakwin showed pictures of her prom dress to nurses, doctors and reporters. Because she has been so ill, she's missed out on most of the dances and gatherings teens enjoy during high school. She is excited not only that she is alive, but come Saturday, she'll be going to her first ever high school dance.

Chakwin says she's going to take a year off to regain her strength and live life before going to college.

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