Fundraiser to help pay for Hemby Bridge resident’s double lung transplant
HEMBY BRIDGE – Nearly four years ago, Sandra Cook received news that shook her world; she had tested positive for Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency and was in need of a double lung transplant.
Over the past several years, friends, family and the community have reached out to help raise money for Cook’s transplant, and are doing it again with a car wash fundraiser on Saturday, June 16, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at South 21 restaurant in Matthews.
But the goal of the event isn’t just to raise money – it’s also about raising awareness of Alpha-1. Alpha-1 is a genetic medical condition where the body does not produce enough of a protein that protects the lungs and liver from damage. Severe cases of Alpha-1 can cause diseases such as emphysema and cirrhosis.
Cook lost her brother in 2003 and her father in 2005 to complications from Alpha-1. Both experienced liver infections. But for Cook, the problem is in her lungs. Because of her condition, Cook can’t leave the house for long periods of time.
“Anything I do, I get out of breath very easily,” she said.
To help alleviate her condition, Cook is receiving weekly chest infusions, which cost anything from $8,000 to $12,000 per month. She also is a candidate for a double lung transplant, which was originally estimated to cost $85,000.
But Cook’s body is currently producing high levels of antibodies, which could be detrimental to her transplant, as the antibodies would likely attack the new “foreign” organ and cause lung failure.
“It’s a difficult and risky transplant,” Cook said.
Prior to her transplant, Cook will have to go to Duke – the only hospital that agreed to perform the risky transplant – and have treatments to lower her number of antibodies, which will make her highly susceptible to illnesses and infections. And, of course, the extended hospital stay and extra treatments will cost even more money.
Thankfully, Cook has garnered support from friends and family as well as the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA). Although the 51-year-old is obviously not a child, COTA took her under its wing because she’s had this condition since birth.
“Because Alpha-1 is genetic, you’re born with it. That’s how I fall into that category,” she said.
Previous fundraisers – auctions, dinners with entertainment, a Christmas tree and bake sale and other car washes – have raised about $73,000 so far. Because of her partnership with COTA, all of the funds raised go to COTA in her name, with no fees charged or money withdrawn.
Cook does not have access to the money directly; however, it will be there for her when the time comes for her transplant. And if something were to happen to her before the funds were used, the money would be redistributed to another COTA patient who needs it.
“It’s in good hands, and if I can’t use it, someone else will benefit from it,” Cook said.
Liz Umholtz, the community coordinator for Cook’s COTA, will be working with Cook’s oldest daughter to organize the car wash and is excited about helping a dear friend.
“It’s the efforts of a lot of people that make this possible,” Umholtz said. “I would love to see us raise over $3,000.”
Cook hopes the event will make the community aware of Alpha-1 and encourage them to get tested so they can take healthy steps to slow down the process of the illness.
“I want to help get the word out,” she said. “It’s so easy to get tested. Testing (for Alpha-1) early really does help you manage it.”
Her doctors aren’t sure when her transplant will be scheduled, as they’re trying to put it off as long as possible for health reasons. In the meantime, Cook plans to continue living her life as normal as possible, enjoying the support from the community.
“It’s very humbling, what they do,” Cook said. “I’m very appreciative and grateful. I tell people I’ll never be able to pay you back, but if I can make somebody laugh or have fun, that’s how I can pay you back.”
She hopes to make a personal appearance at the car wash. And if that’s not possible, she’ll definitely be there via Skype.
For more information on how you can help Sandra Cook, visit www.cotaforsandrac.com.