Doschanelle “Dosch” Rundt, 24, of Canandaigua readies for life after a double-lung transplant in February.
CANANDAIGUA — Doschanelle “Dosch” Rundt, 24, of Canandaigua, was given maybe a year to live, possibly two years at most.
April is National Donate Life Month. Rundt is especially grateful this month for the selflessness of a donor because on Feb. 2, Rundt was given another lease on life, thanks to a double-lung transplant.
Rundt has cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease that causes a thick, sticky buildup of mucus in the lungs and digestive system. If someone with cystic fibrosis manages to make it into adulthood, his or her life expectancy is about 37 years.
Rundt has been house-bound for the past four years. Day-to-day tasks that most people take for granted were exhausting for her. She couldn’t bathe on her own or even dress herself because it would wear her out. She couldn’t do her own laundry because carrying the laundry basket from one end of the house to the other was too tiring.
Even showing emotion presented its own set of problems because laughing at a funny joke could lead to a coughing fit.
“It was hard to go up the stairs because one class would be over here and the other one would be all the way over there, and I was afraid of being late,” Rundt said. “Teachers understood, but it’s awkward walking into a classroom late.”
Shortly after graduating from Canandaigua Academy, her lung function was evaluated, and she was told she had less than 30 percent lung functionality. She began using oxygen tanks, and a year and a half later, she was put on the lung transplant list.
For four years, Rundt had to stay within 10 minutes of her home, just in case she got the call that lungs were available. Within the past year, her case was so severe, she was put at the top of the transplant list — a list that, for her, was already short because of her AB positive blood type. It wasn’t going to be easy or quick to come by a set of lungs that would be suitable for her.
Then came the call. Three of them, in fact, although Rundt twice had her hopes dashed by calls promising hope of a transplant.
One call came when she was at Highland Hospital in Rochester, where she has spent a lot of time over the years. Lungs were available, but she never ended up leaving the hospital as there was a terrible snowstorm, and the lungs would not have been able to arrive to the hospital in New York City in time.
“That was really emotional. I was really depressed for a couple of days,” Rundt recalled. “I was super scared at first, I was like, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ It sounds terrible, but I was kind of relieved when they said there wasn’t any, but I was also really depressed, because … that sucks.”
The second time, they actually made it all the way to Presbyterian Columbia in New York City, but a transplant wasn’t done then, either.
“They were prepping me, they were trying to put an arterial blood gas line in … and by the time they were done doing that, the surgeon came in and said, ‘These lungs are bad; we won’t be putting them in you,’” Rundt said. “That was heart crushing."
One of the lungs wasn’t working as well as the doctors wanted it to, and she assumes it wasn’t pumping properly.
“They didn’t want to risk it," Rundt said. "If they have to bust my chest open, I’d rather have some good lungs.”
After that, she and her family began losing hope. Her lung function was at 18 percent. Time was running out. Even getting sick would have put her life at risk.
But, as they say, the third time's the charm; despite being second on the transplant list, Rundt got a call that there were lungs available for her one day while she was at yet another semi-regular jaunt at Highland Hospital. The first person on the list couldn’t take the lungs because of their size. The donor was young, and they were just right for Rundt. But there was a risk associated with them.
“Unfortunately, it was someone younger who died. They said if I didn’t take them, they would throw them away. There was a risk, because [the donor] needed a blood transfusion before they died, and they said it could cause problems later, but it might not. They just had to tell me the risk, and I contemplated not doing it, because of the risk,” Rundt said. “But I’m so glad I did it. It saved my life.”
Highland Hospital sent her to New York City aboard a helicopter, her sister by her side. She doesn’t remember much of the trip or the two days post-surgery. Following that, there were three weeks of check-ins every 30 minutes, narcotic regimens, and tubes, tubes, and more tubes.
Now she is home and can breathe freely without any oxygen tanks. But getting a lung transplant comes with its own set of complications.
Not that Rundt is a stranger to taking medications on a regular basis, but she has to take immunosuppressants every day, probably for the rest of her life. She must be vigilant about this, as failing to do so could cause her body to attack her new lungs, as it would be considered a “foreign” object — much like the immune system fighting back against a virus.
For the time being, she can’t even be touched. Rundt is at an extreme risk for infection, especially since she’s on a medication that suppresses her immune system. She gets out sometimes, but for the most part, she’s stuck at home — and lonely.
“I can’t hug my family, I can't hug my friends, I can’t hug my niece. She’s 3 years old and she’s literally my life,” Rundt said. “Being here alone and not being able to touch anyone is literally the worst part of a transplant. [Forget] the pain, the transplant — not being able to touch anyone I love is torture. It is the biggest obstacle.”
Even though it’s difficult to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel with no exact end date, Rundt is excited for what her future now holds once she’s finally able to go out and mingle with the rest of the world.
“Once I’m healthier, I want to be able to go to college. If I do something with my life I'll feel a lot better. I’ve spent years in bed,” Rundt said. “I can’t be a teacher. I’m not sure about being a nurse because I can’t work in a hospital setting. I might want to work with pets.
“The one thing I want to do after a year or so, is, I want to go to GrassRoots again, or a Renaissance festival, or a fair, because I can actually ride the rides now, because I won’t be dragging oxygen with me.”
Despite being cooped up at home, a lot has changed — no more oxygen tanks, no more nebulizers (which she had to use three times a day), no more vest machines (which you’re strapped into and it vibrates your chest to loosen mucus) or percussion treatments (same concept). No more fear about whether the next breath will bring a seemingly endless coughing attack.
“It’s funny because I’ll go to the store with my sister and walk away from my car and be like, ‘Wait!’ Because I’ll feel like there’s a leash,” Rundt said, describing the feeling of forgetting like she’s forgetting her oxygen tank.
She added, “I know people enjoy hanging out with me, but before the transplant I was so boring. I was so sick and so tired, and I couldn’t show much emotion because then I’d be afraid to cough. So if there was something really funny I’d be like, ‘Ha. Ha. That’s funny,’ instead of being like, ’Oh my God, that’s hilarious,’ and laugh. I had no emotion. I was like a drone.”
Rundt has many people to thank, including her father, Aaron Rundt; her stepmom, Bobbi Smith; her older sister, Breana Coats; her niece, Ellie; her two best friends, Alexandria Burke and Kristy Giovannini; her New York City friend, Amy Lee; and the Highland Hospital and Presbyterian Columbia staff.
And there’s one person Rundt wishes she was able to thank — her lung donor.
“To the person who did donate to me — I will not disappoint you,” she said. “I will do everything I can to make these lungs last as long as possible. To use these lungs responsibly and live a full life. I can’t tell how appreciative I am of them. I love them. Thank you,” Rundt said tearfully. “Organ donation saved my life. I can start over. I can … go out and do things and breathe. I can have fun. I can show emotion. I can be enthusiastic about things again. I can laugh, I can talk. I can do things on my own."
By the numbers
40 The percentage of regional registered organ donors (16 and older) in 2017. This is up from 2015 and 2016
32 The percentage of New York registered organ donors in 2017, which also is up from 2015 and 2016
54 The percentage of national registered organ donors in 2017, which is flat from 2016 and up from 2015
771 The number of people waiting for a transplant in the Finger Lakes region
2 The approximate wait in years of those who are waiting for an organ transplant in the Finger Lakes region
111 Local organs recovered for transplant in 2017
157 Local patients removed from the waiting list after receiving a transplant in 2017
For more information
Visit organdonor.gov for details on organ donation. To register to become an organ donor, visit organdonor.gov or your local Department of Motor Vehicles.