A Brooklyn teacher who postponed a lung transplant so she could prepare her students for important state exams is preparing to return to her classroom.
“This has been the journey of a lifetime, and now I am so happy to be coming home,” Tricia Moses said.
Moses, 39, was diagnosed in May 2011 with scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder that causes skin and connective tissue to thicken; it affects about 26 of every 100,000 people in the United States. Moses’ case was unusual in that the disease settled in her lungs, causing a racking cough and making it difficult for her to breathe.
Doctors told Moses in May 2012 that she needed a lung transplant. But she was so determined to prepare her special-needs third-graders for exams the next spring that she kept teaching with an oxygen tank.
“I couldn’t leave my students because I loved them so much,” Moses said.
Shortly after the April 2013 tests, she went to Pittsburgh to be treated and await lungs becoming available for a transplant.
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is one of the few hospitals that perform lung transplants for scleroderma patients. They are considered high-risk because of certain complications associated with their disease, and Moses’ case was advanced.
“She definitely put herself in danger” by delaying the transplant, said Dr. Maria Crespo, a pulmonologist who oversaw Moses’ treatment. “But her love for the children was inspiring.”
After Moses’ coughing spells grew longer and her need for oxygen increased, surgeon Dr. Norihisa Shigemura decided her condition was dire. When a healthy man’s lungs became available Jan. 28, Shigemura decided to transplant them even though they were too big for Moses’ chest.
“Our window was closing,” Shigemura said.
After eight hours of transplant surgery on Jan. 29, Shigemura trimmed the lungs to fit Moses’ chest over the next three days. She was released from the hospital and returned to her Pittsburgh apartment in March.
While she still takes 45 pills a day, she plans to return to New York this week and to her classroom at Public School 233 in Brooklyn in January.