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Ringgold woman says double-lung transplant 'not a cakewalk'
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Ringgold woman says double-lung transplant 'not a cakewalk'

Tonya Barker

Ringgold resident Tonya Barker, 55, is recuperating after undergoing a double-lung transplant at Duke University Medical Center last week for a rare lung disease. 

Ringgold resident Tonya Barker received a new pair of lungs in a double-lung transplant at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., last week.

This 8-hour procedure took place from about 5:45 p.m. Thursday to around 2 a.m. Friday.

“It’s been challenging, but she’s progressed well,” said her husband, Kevin Barker.

The surgery required about four hours per lung.

Less than a week after the transplant, Tonya Barker has been “stepped down” to a lower level of intensive care and is walking around a hallway corridor at the facility three times a day, her husband said.

The ICU step-down includes removal of some of the drainage and intravenous tubes and going from one-on-one care to a nurse who may have more than one patient, Kevin Barker said.

Tonya Barker was unable to speak to the Danville Register & Bee on Tuesday because she was still sore from having a ventilator tube in her throat. But her husband relayed a message from her regarding her recovery: “It’s not a cakewalk.”

“Since the surgery, she started out with nine drainage tubes,” Kevin Barker said. “Over the course of the last two-and-a-half days, she’s down to four drainage tubes. They’re going to take two more out today [Tuesday]. The progressiveness of her recovery, to me, knowing what kind of surgery she had, has just been amazing.”

Tonya Barker had a rare chronic lung disease that put her in need of a transplant.

She was diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans in July and hasn’t been able to work at her job at Edward Jones in Danville, where she has been a business office administrator for 18 years.

The Barkers are hopeful that she will be moved to a regular hospital room in a few days. Doctors told them to expect her to be hospitalized for at least a month.

She is on a regimen of 17 pills per day, twice a day — or 34 doses per day. They include antibiotics, steroids and medications to prevent inflammation, acid reflux and her body’s rejection of the organs, Kevin Barker said.

She will transition to all oral medications and, for about a year, will undergo blood testing and exercises.

“For the next 10 to 12 months, it’s going to be very busy for her,” he said.

The Barkers said they do not know whose lungs she received.

In the weeks leading up the procedure, Tonya Barker also endured three false starts — each known technically as a dry run — in which she underwent a 4-hour preparation while a donor’s lungs were checked for viability.

Each time the organs were determined to be unacceptable, so the surgery was called off.

When the transplant finally went forward last Thursday night, Kevin Barker left the hospital’s surgical floor and returned to their apartment in Durham.

The Barkers had to move closer to Duke for Tonya’s procedure.

Friends, the Barkers’ parents and the couple’s pastor were at the apartment to provide support.

“Many things went through my mind,” Kevin Barker said. “You worry.”

He received updates from the hospital every two hours.

“You’ve got her parents and my parents,” he said. “You want to make sure your parents are comfortable. But you’ve got to have faith, you’ve got to leave it in God’s hands. He’s going to take care of her. He’s going to be with the doctors and nurses.”

The Barkers have received numerous phone calls, texts and at least 200 cards from people expressing support. He said they get about 25 to 50 phone calls a day.

“I want to thank everybody for their prayers, phone calls and cards,” Kevin Barker said. “That means a lot.”

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