Double Transplant Operation Saves Teen's Life

Sixteen-year-old transplant patient Laura Margaret Burbach received new lungs and bone marrow from the same donor.
Compared to her near-death experience, life now seems like a walk in the park for 16-year-old Laura Margaret Burbach.

When doctors at Duke University Medical Centersaw Laura Margaret last summer, she was frail and weighed just 55 lbs. Her life expectancy was a few months.

CBS News chief national correspondent Byron Pitts reports Laura Margaret was diagnosed with combined immune deficiency disease when she was six-months-old. The blood disorder killed her brother Michael at age 3. Laura Margaret's defective immune system could not fight infections and her lungs were irreversibly damaged.

Despite her illness, this high school cheerleader with a passion for singing and acting embraced life.

"Those were just different outlets for me to pursue something," Burbach said. "Other than just thinking about my illness and allowing myself to succumb to all the things that were happening in my body."

She even kept up with her classes via Skype from her hospital bed.

Where does her optimism come from?

She said she lived her life knowing she probably wouldn't have as long as lifespan as most people. But she is "determined to have as much of a life, as meaningful, and fulfilling to still be able to make a difference," - even if it was cut short.

Laura Margaret's spirit inspired her medical team to come up with a novel idea.

"It was transplant or death," said Dr. David Zaas.

Not just one transplant - but two: lung and bone marrow transplants from the same donor to fix both problems. By taking the bone marrow from the same donor as the lungs, doctors hoped the problem of rejection could potentially be eliminated. The hope was new immune cells churned out by the donor bone marrow wouldn't attack the lungs as foreign invaders.

"What made you guys decide, ok let's try something that's never been tried before?" Pitts asked.

"Until you meet her, until you saw how strong her personality was, and her desire to live," Dr. Zaas replied, "if anyone can survive this, she could probably do it."

But the chance of finding a suitable match was less than 1 percent. The wait could be more than a year - more time than Laura Margaret had. Then the miracle - it took just six days to find a donor.

The lung transplant was a success - and after the bone marrow transplant, Laura Margaret's immune system has been more than 98 percent replaced by the donor. She recently left the hospital beneath a blizzard of pink confetti.

"I can't believe it's really happening," she said. "I was diagnosed when I was six-months-old, and I don't have combined immune deficiency disease anymore - and I can't believe it."