Alumna Thankful for Every Breath

January 11, 2013


by Lauren Daley '05

Every day, Lindsay Briggs '08 thinks of this quote:

"Life is not about how many breathes you take, but about the moments that take your breath away."

For Briggs, that anonymous quote is as powerful literally as it is symbolically.

The Carver resident was born with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system. Difficulty breathing is the most serious symptom, but CF also affects the pancreas, liver, and intestine.

Heart Of A Lion
Briggs may have weaker lungs than some other people-but she has the heart of a lion.

Despite being in and out of hospitals since age 13 for "clean-outs"- IV antibiotics that get into the bloodstream through a PICC line, or an IV that stays in the arm for a few weeks at a time-she loved writing, and was determined to study journalism and communications at Stonehill.

In time, she became the editor-in-chief of The Summit-but she was also going for four clean-outs a year at Mass General in Boston.

Amazing Professors
"My professors were amazing, I'd be out for two weeks at a time, and they'd e-mail me. I was too tired to go to class for parts of junior and senior year, and I worked from home. Thank God for e-mail," she said.

Still, she persevered.

But in January 2008, Briggs was so sick that Mass General med-flighted her to Pittsburgh Presbyterian Hospital for a double-lung transplant. At the time, she was at the top of the national donor list-literally, the most severe case in the United States.

But in Pittsburgh, things got worse before they got better-Briggs ingested MRSA, a staph infection, while at the hospital, and then contracted pneumonia. She was on a breathing machine prior to the operation, and "so out of it" she barely recalls that month at all.

"I was so sick that the doctors had a window of three to five days to find a donor. Fortunately, they did," she said, adding that her surgery took over eight hours.

Stonehill Rallies
One thing she does remember from that month is a visit from Stonehill President, the Rev. Mark Cregan, C.S.C. '78, who came to her hospital room the night before her operation.

"Not many people would do that. That was awesome," she said. "I made the best decision of my life to go to Stonehill College. When I got sick, the whole community came together and rallied for me."

During her operation, her fellow Skyhawks sold purple Briggs bracelets at the Info Desk, and held fundraisers at Brother Mike's to help her family with medical expenses. She said her professors were "absolutely amazing and accommodating."

After her operation, on Feb. 29, Briggs was finally taken off the oxygen machine. At 6-feet tall, Briggs had dwindled down to 90-something pounds. She literally had to learn to walk again. With a physical therapist on either side and leaning on a walker, she slowly made her way up and down the hospital corridor.

Still, she persevered.

Through sheer determination, she taught herself to walk on her own two feet, and was sent back home to Carver.

Yankee Surprise
When she got there, Fr. Cregan had another surprise: "Father Mark knew I was a big Yankees fan, and he knew a Stonehill alum with Yankee box seats. So when I got out of the hospital, he took me and 14 of my friends and family to a Yankees game."

Briggs said Fr. Cregan also took special note of her on graduation day in 2008, raising her hand in triumph, even though he could only hand her a blank diploma. She had to take a full course-load during the 2008-09 school year to make up for what she missed.

After that, she worked for a year as a town reporter for the Norwood Transcript, but left that post to freelance for AOL Patch from home. Then Stonehill Journalism Professor and Summit Advisor Maureen Boyle told Briggs about Project Contemporary Competitiveness, a six-week residential summer camp for ninth and tenth graders that takes place at Stonehill.

Switching Careers
Briggs quickly fell in love with teaching kids journalism. She's now going to Bridgewater State University to earn her teaching license, and meanwhile subbing at middle and high schools in Plymouth and Middleboro-although she has to be careful this time of year.

"With cold and flus going around, I'm trying to stay out of schools," she said.

Briggs said she may need another double-lung transplant soon. She's currently "in rejection"- meaning her body is starting to reject the foreign set of lungs, despite the fact that she takes anti-rejection medicine every day.

Her doctors may have to put her back on the lung transplant list down the road. Right now, though, Briggs' situation is a Catch-22 straight from the novel: She's not sick enough to get on the transplant list, but she's not healthy enough to go without medicine or walk up stairs comfortably.

Despite her hardships, Briggs has an amazingly positive attitude. She is also thankful for every breath she takes-and recites her favorite quote every day.

Feeling Lucky
"I'll be driving, or at the gym, or doing certain things I didn't think I'd be doing. And I just feel lucky," she said. "When I was in the hospital, my cousin was pregnant. I didn't know if I'd see her baby, and now the baby is four and I see her all the time. It's things like that."

Lauren Daley ‘05 is a freelance writer. Contact her at ldaley33@gmail.com.

 

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