EDITOR’S NOTE: At the end of each year, the Daily Times-Call updates readers with its “Where Are They Now” series, which revisits notable area newsmakers and finds out how they’re faring. Through Jan. 2, Times-Call staff writers will bring you stories and vignettes about people, animals and even a Pluto-bound spacecraft featured on our pages over the past year.
LONGMONT — Before her surgery, Nicole Poulin needed a walker so she could rest when she went out.
Just six months ago, she didn’t have the strength to walk around her Longmont apartment. Without oxygen delivered through a tube draped by her nose, just sitting and talking was difficult.
Now, the 32-year-old walks on a treadmill for 20 minutes five days a week. With the help of a trainer, Poulin also lifts weights twice a week.
“I just make sure I don’t overdo it,” she said.
On April 27 — after waiting 17 months for a match — Poulin received a new pair of lungs.
She had been diagnosed almost four years ago with pulmonary arterial hypertension, a rare, life-threatening disease that caused her to lose her breath with very little exertion.
Since her transplant, she said, she doesn’t look to the future; she takes life one day at a time.
“I just want to get through the first year without any rejection,” said Poulin, who takes roughly 15 pills daily, including antibiotics, vitamins, steroids and anti-rejection drugs.
When the call came that a set of lungs might be available, Poulin grabbed her packed bag and called her brother to take her to University Hospital in Denver. Hours later, she was in the operating room.
“I was pretty ready for it,” she said.
A 28-year-old lawyer who worked with the underprivileged donated the lungs. The donor’s parents later wrote Poulin a letter to let her know about their daughter.
“It was the ultimate gift,” she said.
Darrell Ritchie, 38, a friend of Poulin’s for about four years, visited her at the hospital a few days after the surgery and said Poulin appeared excited to have a chance to get well.
“There was a different spark,” said Ritchie, a Longmont resident. “A sense of relief. A sense of joy.”
Still, it was hard in the beginning. Poulin spent five days in intensive care, then three months spent mostly in the hospital, including one six-week stint.
The pain was hard to manage. Especially painful was the development of the skin condition crepedis, in which air becomes trapped in the top layer of the skin. When Poulin was touched, her skin made popping sounds like Rice Krispies in milk, she said.
Even now, her health isn’t consistent. On good days, she exercises with her trainer or takes a walk with her dog, Joe. She drives to her brother’s house in Boulder, or friends come over.
On bad days, she becomes fatigued and rests.
But overall, she is much better.
“I just don’t have the core fatigue,” Poulin said. “I used to feel so exhausted all the time, whether I slept or not. I just felt really weak. I never really had any good days.”
Recently, she traveled to Boston to see her family. It was the first time she had been on a plane in three years.
Ritchie said Poulin sometimes drives to his home for dinner, or the two go to a restaurant.
That’s a major change from the days before her surgery, when she couldn’t drive and felt isolated and lonely.
“She’s starting to live life again,” Ritchie said. “It’s given her control over her life.”
Susan Glairon can be contacted at 303-684-5224 or email@example.com.