The Stitch

Determined patient alive and grateful thanks to Baylor doctors

Rebecca Haskin stands in a hallway with her team of doctors.

Rebecca Haskin, a patient at the Lung Institute at Baylor Medicine, has faced significant health challenges throughout her life. From primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD) (a rare genetic condition that can lead to chronic lung infections) to leukemia to thyroid cancer to lung transplant rejection, she has endured a lot. But with her determination to persevere, the expertise of a multidisciplinary team of doctors and multiple lung transplants, Haskin is alive and grateful.

“A lot of people think of transplant and being able to do monumental things like travel, but it’s really the everyday things like being able to drive on my own and go somewhere without oxygen that is amazing,” Haskin said.

PCD is what led to Haskin needing lung transplants. It is a genetic disorder affecting the function of cilia, which are tiny hair-like structures found on the surface of cells throughout the body, including the respiratory tract. These cilia play a crucial role in clearing mucus and debris from the airways, helping to keep the lungs clear and healthy.

“In PCD, the cilia are either not moving or have abnormal movement,” explained Dr. Puneet Garcha, a pulmonologist at the Lung Institute and associate professor in the Margaret M. and Albert B. Alkek Department of Medicine. “This leads to impaired mucociliary clearance, meaning that the lungs are less effective at clearing mucus, bacteria and other foreign particles. As a result, individuals with PCD are more prone to respiratory infections, chronic lung inflammation and progressive lung damage over time.”

“I was sick all the time growing up,” Haskin said. “Most of the time, it was pneumonia and sinus infections.”

Progressive lung damage, despite medical treatment, resulted in end-stage lung disease for Haskin, necessitating a double lung transplant to improve lung function and quality of life.

Haskin was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2015. She was worried she wouldn’t be able to get the new lungs she needed, but after she had surgery to remove the thyroid and received radiation iodine treatment, she underwent her first double lung transplant in 2017 at age 34. Dr. Gabriel Loor, associate professor in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery and surgical director of the Lung Transplant Program at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, performed the surgery.

After the transplant, Haskin was very active and was doing well for about four years until she noticed she was developing shortness of breath when she exercised. Due to the progressive decline and need for oxygen, she required a second double lung transplant.

Haskin says Garcha advocated for her. “Dr. Garcha has been a godsend,” she said. “He went to bat for me and really worked to make sure I could be eligible for the lung transplant.”

The second lung transplant was performed by Loor and Dr. Alexis Shafii, associate professor in the division of Cardiothoracic Transplantation and Circulatory Support, in October 2021. During the surgery, Haskin’s family learned the donor had a congenital anomaly that worked for the patient but would not work for Haskin. So, the double transplant turned into a right single lung transplant. Ten days later, she underwent the single transplant, her third surgery.

Unfortunately, four months after her final transplant, Haskin was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and was hospitalized for 30 days to receive chemotherapy and then outpatient treatment for a couple more months. With leukemia, Garcha had to monitor her even more closely and personalize her immunosuppression treatment to prevent rejection of the lungs.

“I highlight Dr. Garcha because he has been my main doctor who has looked after me – he came on board after the first transplant, before the second,” she said. “Without him, I would not be here. He absolutely saved my life. The rest of the team – the doctors and nurses who looked after me – were fantastic as well.”

Because of the magnitude of the health challenges Haskin has faced, she lives life to the fullest. She plays tennis daily and appreciates the little things. “I try to live every day for what it is because I know how fragile life is.”

By Tiffany Harston, communications associate with the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *