Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

April 23, 2013

Overcoming all odds

Local woman beats cancer, seeks lung transplant

Bart Doan

BROWNSBURG — Stephanie Rath says part of the reason she’s alive today is because of her unwavering “love of living.” As she waits on a double lung transplant due to her lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis, that love may be enhanced soon.

Rath’s friends call her “Pink Pig,” a symbolic nickname to exemplify overcoming the impossible coming from the phrase “if pigs have wings, away they’d fly.” As Rath says, “my wings would be in the form of a double lung transplant.”

With her health declining over the last four years, friends and family have reached out in hopes of raising the needed $65,000 to help her get a surgery that will cost more than $500,000. Rath is nearing the top of a donor list and hopes that her long wait will have less than a month left on its timetable.

Rath was born in Speedway and moved to Brownsburg about 15 years ago.

A team of her friends and colleagues created an avenue to raise funds with the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) as part of National Donate Life Month, where every dollar will go toward transplant-related expenses.

“I really love life and enjoy it so much,” Rath said. “All the love I get from my husband Randy, friends, family, and dogs have kept me going. I want to be there for them and enjoy life as long as I can.

“I’m ready to run and do all sorts of stuff. I’ll be able to breathe again.”

When she first started treatment for the genetic disease, she wasn’t even able to ride three minutes on an exercise bike.

And she had been down the transplant route once before, which is when she found another enemy waiting for her: rectal cancer. But even in the face of fighting both, she’s stayed determined and warded off cancer, giving her another shot at a lung transplant.

“I had to have chemotherapy and radiation and then surgery,” Rath said. “It was a lot. It was hard doing it and having CF all the time. It totally wipes out your immune system and you need a strong immune system because of everything going into your lungs.”

Kim Corbin met Rath 25 years ago when they were both students at Purdue University and the women became good friends.

“She just plowed through (cancer) like she has everything else,” Corbin said. “I think so many times in life, people can go into a victim ‘oh poor me’ kind of attitude when life gets the best of us. She always has said this is the hand she’s dealt. Her glass is half full, but she’s on oxygen all the time now.”

While there is no guarantee of a transplant, Corbin says Rath remains optimistic — excited even — for the day when she gets the call.

“She’s going into a double lung transplant, and she’s not scared at all,” Corbin said. “She can’t wait to get the call. She really is a living example of living live to its fullest each and every day. She’s all about being in the moment and having a positive attitude and wanting to make the most of it.”

Rath concedes that the wait has been a difficult one. The wait is typically five to six months.

“For me, because I’ve gotten sicker a lot quicker, hopefully it won’t be that long,” she hopes, noting that once she gets the call, the process has to be a quick one, as once lungs are taken out of a donor they’re only viable for about five hours.

She would have to go to Pittsburgh to have the surgery.

“But I’ll be able to breathe again,” she said. “The rest of my body is in pretty good shape. I’m pretty lucky.”

Rath was first diagnosed with CF at the age of 19.

Rath also hopes that her story can help inspire others to understand how being an organ donor can save someone’s life. She appreciates the special awareness given this month to those who need organs to continue to live viable lives.

“I would hope that I enjoy life to the fullest, and I’m so excited to live life to the best of my abilities and I hope to give back and help others,” she said. “It seems like part of what has helped me, in terms of staying motivated, is showing others with CF that they can overcome some of the stuff that they go through, and even though it’s a really tough struggle, you just have to keep going on. If you put your mind to it, you can overcome a lot more than you can imagine.

“When you think about it, you can give the gift of organ donation and save five to seven lives. That’s just such an amazing thing to do for other people.”

Anyone wanting to donate to Rath’s transplant fund may do so online at COTAforstephr.com.