MIAMI - A Port St. Lucie woman is now recovering at home after having five organs transplanted during one surgery. The rare surgery followed a rare blood disorder that threatened to shut down her organs.
Paula DeVos treasures every step she takes on her road to recovery.
“I really never believed it was really me,” Paula said from her hospital bed at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Medical Center. “I’ve always exercised an eaten healthy.”
She first got sick in 2008. She had lost her job and insurance and ignored pains she was having for months. When she finally went to a doctor, she found out she had a six-and-a half pound tumor on her ovary. It was removed during a hysterectomy but days later, she started suffering new pains.
She underwent more tests looking for a cause. Finally, she was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder.
“They told me my red blood cells had mutated,” she explained. “My organs were atrophying. My organs were going to fail, just one at a time.”
She was suffering from Polycythemia, a disorder that was clogging the arteries and veins around her organs.
Once the diagnosis was made, she found out she needed to have an organ transplant. But doctors didn’t need to transplant one organ, they told her five organs needed to be replaced.
She was put on a waiting list for what’s called a multi-visceral transplant.
“It's pretty much the most complex operation a human being can have,” said Dr. Thiago Beduschi, her transplant surgeon.
She waited on the transplant list for a year before a match was found.
There is a shortage of organs available to be transplanted.
“We still have patients on the waiting lists dying waiting for transplants,” Dr. Beduschi said.
The shortage makes finding even one matching organ difficult to find, let alone five.
“The liver has to be perfect, the pancreas has to be perfect, the stomach has to be perfect and the small bowel has to be perfect,” said Dr. Beduschi. The other organ she had transplanted was the large intestine.
Paula knows she’s lucky to be on the road to recovery now.
She says she was able to do it with the love of her husband and two adult sons.
It was a challenge for the family to visit as often as they’d like.
Her husband, Karl, and her son, Andrew, live in Port St. Lucie. Her other son, Brian Lawson, lives in Orlando.
“I just came down as often as I was able,” Brian said. “You can't go through something like this and not pull closer to the people involved in it with you.”
The family tells NewsChannel 5 they’ve spent at least $50,000 out of pocket for expenses during her medical care. And that doesn’t include all of the missed work and travel expenses to go to the hospital. They are planning a fundraiser May 8 at Tutto Fresco in St. Lucie West. They also have created a website to provide information about her recovery and to raise funds. Click here to read more about her story.