Austin Kemp got a new lease on life on Aug. 6, when he received a new set of lungs in a transplant surgery at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus. It had been a long journey for the soon-to-be 22-year-old. And it looked like complications would make it a little longer, keeping him in the ICU and getting in the way of celebrating his birthday in style. Until his care team stepped in, that is.
Although he was healthy as an infant, Austin developed a cough at age 5 that wouldn’t go away. He tested negative for cystic fibrosis, and his mom, Gail, says they went to a variety of physicians over the years trying to find a diagnosis. Eventually he was diagnosed with non-specific interstitial lung disease, which causes progressive scarring of the lung tissue, eventually affecting a person's ability to breathe and get enough oxygen into the bloodstream. Austin tried to be a normal kid, playing sports and enjoying life, but his breathing capacity and energy waned as he got older. He came to Mayo about two years ago for an evaluation and was eventually placed on the lung transplant list. His transplant came in August.
As he recovered from transplant surgery, Austin experienced unexpected complications that kept him in the ICU. As his birthday neared, the nursing staff on Mayo 4 South decided a celebration was just what the doctor ordered. “We learned that he’d spent his 21st birthday at home on oxygen and was going to be spending his next birthday here recovering," says Kelly Johnson, nurse administrator for the floor. "The nursing staff knew he was a little down about that.”
So last week — Oct. 8 to be exact — more than 30 members of his care team, including physicians, nurses, technicians and therapists, each carrying a balloon, joined Austin and his family to wish him a happy birthday. They also brought him a special cake. We imagine there was singing. There were lots of photos. Everything but the candles, perhaps.
As it's still hard for Austin to speak, his mom, who was aware of the plans, says “he was definitely surprised." Actually, she was, too. "We had no idea the staff would do as much as they did," she says. "It was over and above anything I had expected, and I can’t say enough about what they did for him.” While no one wants to be in the hospital, least of all on their birthday, she says, “The staff made it memorable and special, and showed how much people cared.”
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