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Debra Aparicio of Schertz, TX

My name is Debra C. Aparicio; born in New York, but raised in Puerto Rico. I am a retired Army Nurse Corps officer, and served proudly for 21 years, taking care of soldiers and their families until I became ill. My husband Felix and I have four wonderful children and eleven grandchildren. After my retirement, I decided to do volunteer work, and I continue to do so. This is my story:
In 2000, I requested a military assignment to Europe for my last duty station since we decided to retire in Italy. We were so excited when orders came for Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) Germany, for my last assignment. Our dream to retire in Italy was coming closer, not knowing that God had other plans for us. We arrived in Germany in December 2000 and immediately started looking for a place in Tuscany, Italy. By spring of 2001, I started experiencing problems when running the two mile military physical fitness test. Later that year, my primary care doctor diagnosed me with walking pneumonia and ordered a chest x-ray. I was given antibiotics and told to get a chest x-ray. It was December, and my mind was preoccupied with going to Italy and spending the holidays with my husband’s family. So, I never went back to get the x-ray. By spring 2002, I noticed that I could not take a deep breathe and it was getting harder for me to walk fast; was short of breathe most of the time and had a terrible dry cough. CT scan was done and I was given a possible diagnosis of an interstitial disease in the lungs, but a lung biopsy was needed to confirm the diagnosis. A Video Assisted Thoracic (VAT) surgery was done and I was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). By December 2002, I was requiring more oxygen and was transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) where I was medically retired in November 2003. On my arrival to BAMC, I was immediately referred to University Transplant Center, San Antonio, Texas in the care of Dr. Angel. In August 2004, the requirement for oxygen increased to 4-6 liters twenty four hours a day, and by October 2004, it was even harder for me to breathe, walk, take a shower, or talk to my loved ones on the phone. That is when it became necessary to have a transplant. I was evaluated at University Transplant Center and placed on the national transplant waiting list in October 2004. Although I only waited two months, the wait seemed extremely long.
On December 22, 2004, 11:30 p.m., we received the call that changed our lives forever! A grieving family, in the midst of losing their loved one, decided to donate their son Kevin organs. Early morning on December 23, 2004, I received Kevin’s left lung. The doctor came to my room and told me that my lung was from a healthy 16-year-old male, and all I thought in that moment was about Kevin’s parents. While I was celebrating my second chance in life, they were mourning the loss of their beloved son.
My husband told me that the surgery lasted around 4 hours. I do not remember the first post-op day, but I know I was intubated. I was extubated on the next day and I was so excited because I was able to take a deep breath. I was discharge home on 28th December (5 days post-op) and spent New Years with family. Like all transplant recipients, I went home with lots of medications, including anti-rejection and other pre-existing medical conditions medications. I do not complain because I can breathe!
Since my lung transplant I have been able to travel to Italy every year and to Puerto Rico twice a year to see my family. When I’m not traveling, I volunteer at BAMC as the Nurse Recruiter Assistant; at Texas Organ Sharing Alliance (TOSA) as guest speaker and doing Health Fairs promoting organ, eye, & tissue donation; and also mentor patients that need lung transplants.
Words cannot express how grateful my family and I are for my donor family’s decision to donate life. Because of their decision to donate Kevin’s organs, I was able to breathe again, see my granddaughter and grandson born, and tell my husband and my family how much I love them. I now see life in a different way, helping people, and Praise God for His miracles. I met my donor family and I thanked them for the “Gift of Life.”

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