Diagnosed with emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 1997, Anne Benford’s doctor told her to go home, get her affairs in order and prepare to meet her maker.
Then came weeks of anxiety.
Trying to get in the best possible shape in case she could get a lung transplant, the Forsyth teacher walked outdoors and worked out at a local gym.
Motorists would stop after seeing her bent over, catching her breath. Folks at the gym were concerned she’d have a heart attack.
Still, Benford kept pushing forward.
She kept working, teaching history, even when she’d have to stop on the walks from her classroom to the lunchroom, reading posters on the walls as an excuse to catch her breath.
“I must have read them 50 times,” the 65-year-old said.
In January 2011, Benford underwent a double lung transplant, a life-saving surgery that she says has given her a second chance at life.
On Saturday, she told her story to dozens of people gathered at a Georgia Transplant Foundation conference in Macon.
The foundation, a nonprofit agency that helps Georgians pay transplant expenses while also providing education and emotional support, is the only one of its kind nationwide, said Martie Rudd, the agency’s manager of patient outreach.
In 2016, the group provided $2 million to help 973 Georgia families.
‘You can get your life back’
An Iowa native, Benford moved to Macon in the late 1980s when her husband, a John Deere employee, transferred to Georgia.
She taught at Mary Persons High School until she retired in 2009, about two years before she received her transplant.
Benford told the group gathered in an auditorium at Navicent Health’s Peyton Anderson Health Education Center that she didn’t go on a transplant list until November 2010.
Before then, she’d been considered a “high-functioning” patient. But it had become clear that she needed a transplant to survive.
She worried that she might not live to receive a transplant.
Maybe she’d waited too long.
About 1:30 a.m. Jan. 3, 2011, her phone rang.
A perky woman at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta called and said Benford had a new set of lungs.
At first, Benford thought the call was a prank, but she soon realized the call did come from Emory.
How do you thank someone who has given you so much? Thank you is inadequate.
She was wheeled into surgery at 11:30 p.m. and placed in a 24-hour coma afterward.
When she awoke, Benford had to relearn how to swallow and breathe.
Six years later, she said she thinks she’s a better person than she was before.
“You can get your life back,” she told the crowd.
She’s tried to help others, in part through mentoring other transplant patients through the foundation.
Benford also volunteers with the LifeLink Foundation to tell people about organ donation.
The donor who gave Benford her lungs and a second chance at life was anonymous.
Benford said she spent three months drafting a thank-you letter addressed to her donor’s family.
“How do you thank someone who has given you so much?” she said. “Thank you is inadequate.”
To donate to the Georgia Transplant Foundation, or for more information, visit http://gatransplant.org/.