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After Lung Transplant, Northwestern Student Hopes For ‘Normal Life’

Josie Nordman, 20, who has cystic fibrosis, finally received a double lung transplant this Saturday after waiting nearly eight months.

Josie with her horse, Loki.
Josie with her horse, Loki.

Northwestern University student Josie Nordman took her first breaths through new, healthy lungs after a long-awaited double lung transplant this morning, according to her mother.

“The day has finally come,” Josie’s mother, Nicolle Lynn Nordman, posted on the Josie Nordman Lung Transplant Facebook page this Saturday. “We have been waiting silently all day for the final word and it just came. They have LUNGS for Josie.”

The 20-year-old theater major from Homewood was diagnosed at three months with cystic fibrosis, a progressive disease that makes it increasingly difficult to breathe. As a result of cystic fibrosis, Josie has had trouble breathing for her entire life—but things got so difficult this year that she began wearing an oxygen tank 24/7 in January, carrying it with her wherever she went on campus.

Josie was put on a list for a lung transplant at the University of Chicago Hospital last December. The average wait time is five months, but because Josie is so tiny—just 4’10”—it took significantly longer to find a donor whose lungs were the right size. 

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For almost eight months, Josie waited for her phone to ring with the call that doctors had found the right donor. Once she heard from the hospital, she knew she would have just a few hours to get there to go into surgery. For that reason, she kept her phone by her side at all times. 

“In class, it’s in my pocket on vibrate,” she told Patch in April. “If it starts vibrating and someone’s calling me, I have to check it.”

The call she had been waiting for finally came on Saturday.

After several excruciating hours waiting to find out whether the lungs would definitely work, Josie went into surgery at 4 a.m. on Sunday. More than 24 hours later, at 10 a.m. Monday morning, doctors removed her breathing tube, and Josie breathed normally for the first time through her new lungs.

“Please continue praying for Josie,” her mother wrote on the Facebook page. “She has a very long road ahead of her and will continue to need everyone’s support through her lengthy recovery.” 

Nicolle’s post reached a wide network of supporters who have rallied around Josie over the last several months, hosting fundraisers and donating money to help pay her medical bills.

All told, Josie said her family expected the lung transplant to cost $750,000, of which the family would have to pay between $50,000 and $75,000. 

“We have decent insurance, but there’s always stuff that they won’t pay for, or stuff that they stall forever on paying for,” she told Patch in April.

Josie’s sorority sisters at Chi Omega hosted a fundraiser in partnership with the school’s equestrian team, for which Josie had competed until she grew too sick. They raised $6,500 selling wristbands that said “Support Josie,” according to Josie. Friends at Northwestern University also hosted a fundraiser at Cheesie’s Pub and Grill in downtown Evanston, raising $500 toward her medical bills, according to a video about the event.

Anyone can donate online at a fundraising site called “Lungs for Josie.”

Josie says she is amazed by the support she has seen from family, friends, and people she’s never even met.

“There’s no word, really, to describe it,” she told Patch in April. “It’s not even about the money, it’s about knowing that these people are cheering for me and are here for me.” 

If she recovers successfully from the lung transplant, the procedure will fix all of the breathing problems she’s struggled with for her whole life—problems that required multiple breathing treatments a day and eventually the oxygen tank she carried around at all times for the last eight months. 

Now that she has a new set of lungs, Josie will have to take immunosuppressants for the rest of her life to make sure that her body does not reject her lungs, and she will still be dealing with other symptoms of cystic fibrosis, including diabetes. 

But, she said, “stuff like that is no big deal compared to the lung involvement.”

“If things go well, and everything with the immunosuppresants works out, I will essentially have a normal life and be able to breathe.”

A normal life for Josie would mean going back to school full time and returning to acting, something she’s been too sick to do for the past several years. While she has participated in theater on campus by producing some of the student-run shows, acting is her passion. One day, she hopes to act in films, although she said she wouldn’t pass up an opportunity in theater, either.

A normal life would also mean Josie can go back to riding her horse, Loki, whom she’s had since she was 9 years old and boards at a barn in Bourbonnais. She rode for the equestrian team her freshman year at Northwestern, but was too sick to compete this fall. By January, she wasn’t able to ride at all.

“Not all horses are going to be OK with having an oxygen concentrator bouncing on their side, buzzing as they move,” she said in April. 

Because she was too sick to go to school full-time last year, Josie says she expects to finish in three more years. Having the support of friends and the Northwestern community at large was what kept her from dropping out altogether, she says, despite the difficulty of attending classes when she was sick and tired simply by the effort of walking across a room. 

 “Struggling with everything on a daily basis and managing everything on my own is very hard,” Josie told Patch in April. “Knowing that I have an entire university supporting me makes it a little easier.” 

And, she says, when it got tough, she tried to remind herself that things could always be worse. 

“The things you have to complain about are relative to your life,” she said. “I could have all this illness happening to me and not have this incredible community to go with it. I could have a family that didn’t care, so I have to be very grateful for everything I do have—and I am. I’m really grateful.”

To donate to Josie's medical bills, visit the "Lungs for Josie" website.

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