Lung transplant patient finds strength to enjoy life again

Nicola Doyle was having the trip of a lifetime in Italy with her husband in 2010 when she noticed, not for the first time, that she was having some trouble breathing.

About five years earlier, Nicola had been diagnosed with mixed connective tissue disease, which is a broad category of illnesses that includes joint pain, muscle weakness and other issues with internal organs. In Nicola’s case, the disease was affecting her lungs.

After the couple arrived home to Montreal, Nicola could barely climb the stairs in her house without being out of breath. In fall 2011, her respirologist prescribed her supplemental oxygen and informed Nicola that her progressive deterioration would eventually require a lung transplant.

The ensuing search for the best care options led to Toronto General Hospital (TGH), home to UHN’s Multi-Organ Transplant Program. UHN performs about 100 lung transplants a year, making it one of the largest programs in the world. Not long before taking Nicola on as a patient, UHN had performed its 1,000th lung transplant.

After moving to Toronto for treatment, things got worse. On June 2, 2012, Nicola was rushed to TGH and went into respiratory arrest. She needed a breathing tube inserted and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. With the help of Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), Nicola recovered well enough for the next challenge.

On the evening of June 20, Dr. Tom Waddell and a team of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals successfully performed a 10-hour, double-lung transplant procedure on Nicola. Everyone could breathe easier.

“Being able to go for walks with my dog again was such a great joy,” says Nicola. “Before, I couldn’t walk him without being inhibited by the supplemental oxygen I had to wheel around with me.”

These days, Nicola’s life is busy, active and social, and her lungs are functioning well. She’s able to travel with her husband again – one of her favourite things to do.

“I’ve always been a big traveller, but leading up to my transplant it was hard to leave the house, let alone the country.” Nicola’s new lungs have enabled her to visit Ireland, Hawaii, Scotland, Turks and Caicos, Barbados and Bermuda.

“It’s nice to feel like you have choices again,” says Nicola. “I may have been through a lot, but I don’t want anyone to pity me. I live a much fuller life because of what I’ve been through. The little things don’t stress me out anymore. Life is good.”


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