Leaning on her team, patient comes out stronger after double-lung transplant

Tiffany Eyrich

A year ago, Tiffany Eyrich had complications from COVID and lost a baby she never got to meet. She wasn't sure she'd see another holiday season. But thanks to her Mayo Clinic care team, she again was able to embrace the most wonderful time of the year.

After spending Christmas 2021 fighting for her life, Tiffany Eyrich was ready to go "all out" for Christmas this year. For her, that meant decorating the house, baking cookies, wrapping gifts and watching Christmas movies — activities she was not sure she would get to enjoy again.

On Dec. 25, 2021, Tiffany tested positive for COVID-19 while pregnant with her first baby — a boy. Her health began rapidly deteriorating, and her lungs began to fail. Tiffany was admitted to her local hospital's intensive care unit, where she was sedated, and her baby was delivered at only 25 weeks gestation.

When Tiffany awoke, she was hooked up to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, or ECMO, which allows blood to bypass the heart and lungs to allow them to rest. Her baby had passed away before she could meet him.  

Tiffany was transferred to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where experts determined she would need a lifesaving lung transplant. In April 2022, the month of her baby's original due date, Tiffany underwent a double-lung transplant.

Since the transplant, Tiffany's health has returned. She was back at work for the holidays, helping keep her store's shelves stocked for holiday shoppers. She's also decided to go back to school for phlebotomy. Her hope for the future has been restored, and she wants to help others find that same hope.

The News Center team connected with Tiffany to learn more about her diagnosis, her care and her plans for the future:  

Did you receive care elsewhere first? What was that experience like?

I sought care at four other places before coming to Mayo. I was at Well-Span Hospital first. They sent me home on oxygen and steroids that were safe for the baby. I went home for a few days, and this treatment was not helping. I was declining. I decided to get an ambulance ride to Reading Hospital Tower Health. There, I was informed that I had COVID pneumonia and was admitted and told I may be having my baby at 24 weeks.

My health declined during my stay. I was eventually sent to the ICU and put to sleep to deliver my baby. I was intubated and put on a vent. I woke up at Jefferson Hospital with just a scar from the baby, no baby in sight, with a tube of blood attached to me. I learned it was the ECMO machine. This is where I was told I needed a lung transplant and would be referred to Mayo Clinic.

What brought you to Mayo?

My husband, my mom, my doctors, and my employer, Walmart, all fought for me. Mayo Clinic is part of Walmart's Centers of Excellence program, which allows employees who need organ transplant to undergo the procedure at Mayo Clinic at no cost to them. I think this is amazing.

What did you hope to find at Mayo Clinic that you didn’t find elsewhere?

Tiffany Eyrich

I think I was just looking for comfort — something to ease my anxiety — answers, doctors who listen, doctors who have answers, doctors and nurses who showed empathy. I wanted to start living again without fear. I was looking for encouragement. I found all of this at Mayo Clinic.

The doctors were amazing. They were there through thick and thin. I was heard. My questions were answered. I got my lungs. 

I am so grateful to the donor family, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about them. This family will always hold a special place in my heart, and I pray every day that they are healing. They did a very selfless act, and because of this, I have a second chance. That’s something I can never say “thank you” enough for doing.

Tell us about your experience as a Mayo patient.

I could write a book about this! I was in the hospital many months, and I do not have one bad thing to say. I had the best nurses and doctors. I feel blessed.

The nurses were my best friends and my biggest cheerleaders — they laughed with me, and they cried with me. They communicated well with my family and me. I felt safe. I felt at home. I trusted them with my life. Everyone was so eager to help and went out of their way to ease my mind. I didn’t feel like a patient, I felt like family.

What advice would you have for others going through similar difficult experiences? 

The best advice I have is to just breathe and relax. I know it's easier said than done, but stressing only makes you sicker. Tell your nurses everything because they will do their best to help you. Same with the doctors.

Be kind to your care team. Follow their instructions and listen to what they tell you. Stay positive and know that bumps in the road can be overcome — medicine is amazing. Do your physical therapy even if you have tears in your eyes. Read, color or draw — those are stress relievers.

You can do this, and you will come out stronger than ever.

How has your experience affected you?

I am doing great and accepting this new life, this second chance. This experience changed my life in so many ways. 2021 was wild and painful. I lost a baby I never got to meet. But I also experienced happy times, especially at Mayo Clinic. I met amazing people. We shared our stories. I started living again. My health anxiety went away.

I do my best every day to pay it forward and make a difference in people's lives. I believe everything happened for a reason. I call my story a beautiful tragedy. Sometimes I say it is a spiritual thing. Sure, I lost a lot, but I also gained a lot. I thank God every day for this gift of life, and I’m making the most of it.