Life’s breath

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Lebanon woman waiting for double lung transplant

By Stephen Lega

Cara Cissell Brahm is waiting – and hoping – that some day soon she'll be breathing a little easier.
Since this summer, she has been on the list to receive a double lung transplant.
Cara, 37, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 10 years old. Two of her sisters (both older) were also diagnosed with the condition.
“It mostly affects the lungs, but it can also affect the digestive system and the pancreas,” she said.
Mindy died in 1999. Another sister, Lisa, received a transplant two and a half years ago.
“She's had a few bumps in the road, but she's doing pretty well,” Cara said about Lisa.
Her parents were both carriers, which meant that statistically, each of their seven children had a 50 percent chance of having the condition.
“They didn't know they were carriers,” Cara said.
Before she was diagnosed she had frequent coughing fits as a child. Doctors would give her medicine, and that would help until the medicine ran out, she said.
For years, doctors thought she and her older sisters had allergies. They were all diagnosed at the same time. Once they knew what she had, Cara started breathing treatments and chest percussions to help keep mucus from building up in her lungs.
Cara was 22 when Mindy died.
“It was very difficult. It was hard for everybody,” Cara said. “She had actually been on the transplant list herself.”
Cara’s husband Ben, 39, said Mindy was about half the size of his wife and Lisa and dealt with about twice the difficulties.
When Lisa was added to the transplant list a few year’s ago, Cara admitted she was worried about Lisa, too.
“She was not even 100 pounds. She was very sick. I worried about her getting through the surgery at the time,” Cara said.
Ben recalled that Lisa used to cough constantly.
“She doesn't cough at all now,” he said.
Lisa is hosting a fund-raiser, Cara's Crusade, which will take place Dec. 14 at the St. Francis gym in Loretto.
Ben said any money raised at the fund-raiser would go toward the medications Cara will have to take after she undergoes the transplant surgery.
But it's also a way for Cara's family and friends to show their support.
“If you can't give anything, we'll take prayers,” Ben said.
Cara said she worked for about 12 and half years before she was laid off a few years ago. Looking back, she said that might have been a blessing. Around that same time, she noticed that her lung function had been declining, she said.
“It kind of got to be overwhelming,” she said.
Ben added that her doctors had been advising her to quit working for a while before that, and Cara said she could tell that her lung capacity has been declining in the last few years.
This past summer, her doctors at Jewish Hospital in Louisville recommended her for the transplant because her lung capacity has fallen below 30 percent based on her FEV1 test. The FEV1, or forced expiratory volume, test measures how much air a person can forcibly exhale in one second, according to WebMD.com.
While she waits, Cara tries to stay as active as she can, but she and Ben both said it doesn't take long for her to feel tired anymore.
“To watch her every day to fight for her breath, it puts your life in another perspective,” Ben said.
To make sure she is eligible to receive a transplant, she undergoes blood checks monthly. She also makes sure she has her cell phone with her wherever she goes since the call for a transplant could come at any time.
The Brahms are aware that if Cara does receive her lungs, then that means another family has lost a loved one.
“We pray for Cara, but we also pray for the other family,” Ben said. “If she does get what she wants, someone else has to have a loss of life.”
Ben said he was tested before he and Cara got married so they would know if he was a carrier, too. It turns out he isn't. Their daughter, Laurel, 12, does not have the condition. In fact, she is a budding cross country runner for Marion County.
He added that Laurel has dealt with her mother's condition really well.
“Compared to what I had growing up, she's gone through a lot,” Ben said.
Cara added that she's received a lot of support from her family and from her husband's family. Cara's mother died five years ago from cancer, and she had been a source of strength for Cara and the rest of her family.
“We've all stayed together and it's made us strong,” Cara said.
He added that Donnie Miles deserves the credit for introducing him to Cara more than 20 years ago.
“Once you get to know Cara, you see how special she is,” he said. “She's amazing.”
They also know that nothing is guaranteed, as they have seen from Cara's two sisters’ own experiences.
“You try to do the best you can with what you can,” he said. “Then, it's in God's hands.”


Want to help?
Cara's Crusade will take place Dec. 14 at the St. Francis gym in Loretto. This is a fund-raiser for Cara Cissell Brahm, who is awaiting a double lung transplant.
The event will include live and silent auctions, food and a DJ with karaoke.
For more information, call Lisa Cissell at 502-827-1491. Donations can be mailed to 120 Adison Avenue, Bardstown, KY 40004.