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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A woman who had been turned down over and over again for a lung transplant finally got one right here in Pittsburgh.

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Mallory Smith is getting ready to celebrate her 25th birthday, which is just three days away. That might not sound extraordinary, but it is. Smith believes doctors here in Pittsburgh saved her life.

Doctors in her home state of California were preparing Smith for the possibility of dying.

“[The doctors said,] ‘If you want to stop taking your medications, we get it,'” Smith said. “And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not ready to stop fighting yet. I want to get listed for transplant!'”

Smith grew up dealing with cystic fibrosis. She was diagnosed when she was three. Her lungs were so affected, it became clear she needed a transplant.

But there was a problem — a rare type of bacteria in her lungs that made hospitals reject her case.

“We were getting all these rejection letters in the mail, just one after the other,” Smith said. “From Cleveland and Duke, you know, everywhere really.”

She couldn’t go anywhere without oxygen. She slept 12 hours a night.

“I was starting to feel a little bit hopeless until we got the call from Pittsburgh,” she said.

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“We pride ourselves historically as one of those centers that give patients like Mallory hope as being a final option,” Dr. Joanthan D’Cunha with UPMC said, “and we take very difficult cases here.”

Doctors with UPMC said they would do the transplant. So after months on the waiting list, finally came time to get a new set of lungs.

Her friends and family gave her hugs, and then she was wheeled into surgery.

Doctors tested the pair of lungs she was about to get by using a machine to pump the lungs full.

“At the end of two hours, they really looked beautiful,” D’Cunha said.

Doctors say it went extraordinarily well, and now a month later, Smith continues to get stronger.

KDKA’s David Highfield: “You must really view it as UPMC kind of saved your life?”
Smith: “They did. They did. The doctors there are just my heroes because they took a chance on me when nobody else would.”
Highfield: “You get emotional about it?”
Smith: “Uh-huh.”

Smith hopes to go home to California for Christmas and then maybe for good in June. She says she wants to write a book someday and maybe study journalism.

Smith also started something called “Lunges For Lungs.” It’s not to raise money for her medical care, but to help fund UPMC’s research on organ rejection.

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More information on “Lunges For Lungs” can be found on their website here:

David Highfield