Lisa Brown can breathe a little easier.
The 54-year-old Tazewell resident was told by doctors at Duke University this fall that it was time to consider a double lung transplant. Finding a set of lungs or even covering the cost of surgery wasn’t what worried Brown the most, though. Her insurance would cover the cost of the surgery, but there were other costs involved.
“They had told us some of the stipulations that we had to have in order to make this happen and one of them was to have $30,000 in an account to show them that we have the means of being able to live there for a year,” Brown said.
Transplant patients are required to live near the hospitals where they undergo surgery for a year to allow doctors to monitor them, particularly in case of transplant rejection. Before procedures can be scheduled, patients must prove they have the financial means to cover the cost of living for that year.
That seemed incredibly daunting to Brown, who tried two years ago to raise funds for the surgery she knew even then was inevitable. She was only able to raise $3,000 on her own.
“I think I just got to the point of saying, well this is just not going to happen,” Brown said.
Brown was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) five years ago. At the time of her diagnosis, her lungs were functioning at just 27 percent. Each year since, her lung function has decreased one percent, bringing her down to 22 percent function this year.
Then in August, Brown fell ill with appendicitis.
The infection quickly spread to her lungs, the weakest part of her body, and wreaked havoc on them. She was in the hospital for about a week.
“The infection took a toll on my lungs,” Brown said. “They actually didn’t think I was going to make it.”
Until her hospital stay, Brown had been working full-time at the Food Lion in Tazewell, where she’s been employed for the last 18 years. Brown said she’s come to know many in her community through working at the grocery chain.
“I have a love for my community and the people that shop there, they’re like family,” Brown said. “The customer base that we have at our little Food Lion, it’s not like customers. It’s like a big happy family.”
When she fell ill in August, Brown’s doctors decided it was time to put her on medical leave and begin considering the transplant. That renewed Brown’s concern about being able to raise the money to live near Duke.
But the affection Brown felt for her community wasn’t a one-sided affair. In late October, Barbara French, a regular Food Lion shopper and a friend to Brown decided to find a way to help. French reached out to another friend, Vickie Boothe, who had previously had some success in fundraising.
“She said, ‘we’ve got to do something to help this girl. She really needs it,’” Boothe said.
Boothe had seen Brown in Food Lion before. They didn’t really know one another, but Boothe recalled that Brown had been very nice and pleasantly polite.
The two women weren’t sure at first how would be best to raise such a large sum of money. They were still brainstorming when Boothe’s 65th birthday neared in early November.
“And I thought, well I might try to make a birthday wish account,” Booth said.
The social media platform Facebook allows users to select or create donation campaigns for their friends to donate to in lieu of gifts for their birthdays. Boothe set up a campaign for Brown called Lungs for Lisa Brown.
And donations poured in. At first, Boothe didn’t think the campaign alone would yield very much, but when the campaign closed Sunday night, community members had donated more than $15,000.
Boothe said through the social media campaign, other fundraiser efforts, and community donations, Lisa was able to reach her $30,000 goal.
“I am just so, so blessed and fortunate that these people in this community have rallied around me and have done what they’ve done,” Brown said. “I knew I had built up a customer base at Food Lion, but I just never imagined there would be that many people to love and to care.”
Both Brown and Boothe called the community support a “God thing.”
“Talk about a blessing. That’s all I can say. It’s just overwhelming,” Brown said. “It’s been a major movement from God. Even though it took me getting sick, I feel in my heart that it was God making the movement and getting me to the transport center the way he did.”
“It’s not me that’s doing this,” Boothe said. “It’s this wonderful community that I call home and the grace of God doing this. I never doubted that we could do it. I know the kind of people that I live with here in this town.”
Less than a week after fundraising efforts began, Brown heard word from her doctors at Duke. She’s now scheduled for a five day transplant evaluation in mid-January. There, her pulmonologists will decide if she is ready for the transplant or if the surgery can wait a little longer.
Once the transplant is done and her year of rehabilitation and monitoring is complete, Brown plans to partner with other local transplant recipients to help raise funds for others in and around their community who need transplant surgery.
“I am so blessed and I would like to see if there’s an opportunity that we can do this for others too,” Brown said.
Her passion has also driven her to create a contingency plan for the funds raised for her surgery. Should anything happen to prevent Brown from receiving her transplant, the funds will help someone else receive theirs, she said.
“That money will be used for what it was raised for,” she said.
Aside from the charity work she plans to do when she has recovered, Brown also looks forward to returning to work at Food Lion.
“My goal is to go back to work and be with my customers again,” she said.
Though Brown has reached her minimum goal, Boothe and other community members have more fundraisers planned through the end of the year and into January to ensure Brown has everything she needs.
An afghan raffle is currently underway at Boothe’s Main Street boutique Between Friends. Donated by Jennifer Griffith, the handmade sunflower pattern afghan will be raffled off Dec. 12.
Those wishing to donate or purchase raffle tickets may do so by stopping in Between Friends at 293 Main Street in Tazewell or by calling 276-988-8235.