Interview with Mary Ellen Smith 

Interviewed by Justin Lee Herman on October 31, 2002

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH: 

Mary Ellen Smith (Elle) was born on October 9, 1946 with pneumonia.  She struggled with this for two weeks and the doctors could only guess that it was Cystic Fibrosis.  When Elle was 5 she had a lobectomy on the lower lobe of her left lung and another one when she was 12.  In that same year, Elle had a type of sinus surgery called a Caldwell Lux because the doctors found that she had sinus inverses.  After graduating from high school she moved to Washington D.C. to go to nursing school.  There she found out she had Kartegenerís Syndrome.  She was a true Kartegener because she is cardiodextra, which means that the whole respiratory tract is backwards.  Elle was 24 at the time.  She became weaker over the years from working, and just before she turned 50, she got sick and had to move to Chapel Hill.  Finally, on April 19, 1997 she received a double lung transplant at the UNC Hospital and was out within 12 days.  Elle suffer a few normal bouts with rejection, but moved home to Georgia on September 1, 1997 and had been doing wonderfully since.  Currently she lives just outside Savannah in Rincon, Georgia with her husband Jerald and her 14-year-old son Daniel. 

Excerpts from Transcript

Excerpt 1 | Excerpt 2 | Excerpt 3 | Excerpt 4 | Excerpt 5

Excerpt 1

 

Background: 

When the doctor told Elle that there was nothing else that he could do for her,  this is how she felt about the transplant.

 

Excerpt:

He said I was very close to it, and the only thing that he could recommend is that I would do transplant surgery.  I didnít get upset about that at all.  As a matter of fact I was very excited, because when the first heart transplant was done, I remember telling my mother, ďOne day there will be hope for me if itís needed.Ē Sure enough it was needed and the hope was there.

 

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Excerpt 2

 

Background: 

When I asked how she coped with the disease and the transplant, she said that she likes to keep herself busy.  Elle is a mentor to other transplant patients and this is what she believes in and teaches.

 

Excerpt:

We are helping people who are sick or depend on medications and stuff, to look into themselves and see how they can heal themselves though self will.  Itís amazing.  Itís almost like the holistic medicines but itís not.  I firmly believe in the practical doctor.  There are a lot of things that you can do to help yourself.  

 

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Excerpt 3

 

Background: 

Elle was describing her family's feelings to her receiving the transplant and how they coped with it.  This quote is describing how her husband and she cope with it.

 

Excerpt:

He never did talk about it.  We donít even talk about it to this day.  Itís done, itís gone, and itís good. 

 

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Excerpt 4

 

Background: 

I asked Elle to compare her life before and after the transplant surgery.  She is describing her life after the transplant.

 

Excerpt:

I will push until Iím so exhausted that I will just go to bed and sleep a couple of days.  Then I will get up and go again and Iím fine.  Then there are days I will get up and I know that Iím in trouble and I will go straight to the pulmonologist office and say, ďOkay, there is something happening.  What do we do?Ē  Nine times out of ten it may be a sinus infection draining down or something like that and they take care of it.  So itís been very good.  Quality of life [is] much better.

 

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Excerpt 5

 

Background: 

The second day after her transplant surgery, Elle was up walking around the room.  This is how she felt.

 

Excerpt:

I felt wonderful.  I really did.  I mean I knew I was hurting but it wasnít anything that bothered me because I was ecstatic.  I was just ecstatic that I was breathing. 

 

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For more information, contact Dr. Mary Jo Festle, Associate Professor of History at Elon University.

Email: festle@elon.edu

This page last updated 11/24/02