Health Check: Cranston woman undergoes double lung transplant

Terry Perrotta says she shouldn't be alive.

"The doctor sat down with me and he said, 'She's the sickest patient on the unit and her chances are not good,'" said Terry's ex-husband John Perrotta.

"And she said, 'Brenda, I'm dying. My heart is giving out, I'm dying'" said Terry's best friend and co-worker Brenda Rappoport.

Terry was dying. It started in 2006 when she was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension.

"It's a disease of the blood vessels and causes the blood vessels in the lungs to get very narrow and as it gets worse, the heart's unable to pump the blood through the lungs," said Dr. James Klinger, who was Perrotta's pulmonologist.

Klinger said she was placed on a double lung transplant list last year.

On Jan. 19, Terry was scheduled for a follow up visit at the Cleveland Clinic where she eventually hoped to have the transplant.

But the day before, when she walked in to work, her fingernails were blue, her lips were blue and she was gasping for air.

"I said, 'Terry please go to the hospital,'" Rappoport said.

She waited until the next morning, the day she was supposed to fly to the Cleveland Clinic.

"I was gasping for air," Terry said.

John Perrotta, who had been staying with her, called 911 and she was rushed to Rhode Island Hospital.

"She quickly was starting to go in to right-sided heart failure," Klinger said. "She was now sick enough that she could get the lungs, but she was too sick to be transported to the place where she needed the lung transplant."

At Rhode Island Hospital, Terry had deteriorated to the point that she was close to death.

But a heart-lung bypass machine became her lifeline.

"So we were able to essentially decompress her heart lung blood pressure, that allowed her heart to function better and allowed her lungs to rest," Klinger said.

About 36 hours later, Terry was well enough to be transported to Cleveland.

But when she arrived there were more setbacks. There were no lungs available and Terry got worse.

A doctor told John Perrotta that his ex-wife was on the edge of a cliff and that she needed a miracle.

On Jan. 30 she got that miracle.

"When I woke up the nurse immediately said to me, 'You had a double-lung transplant.' I didn't' believe her," Terry said.

"She called me four days after her transplant from her bed and these were her first words to me, 'Dr. Klinger, I can breathe again,'" Klinger said.

And while Terry is on dozens of medicines to keep her body from rejecting her new lungs, she says it's a small price to pay.

"I didn't remember what it felt like to breathe anymore. It was just the most amazing feeling in the world," she said.

Terry recently spent some time with her two children this past Mother's Day.

Terry and her friends are planning a dinner and comedy show to help her pay for the thousands she still owes in medical-related bills.

For tickets, call John Perrotta at 401-639-7726. Tickets must be ordered by 8 p.m. on May 20.

The fundraiser will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 23 at the West Valley Inn.