Double lung transplant recipient carries on mother's legacy, hoping to survive

Jessica Clark
Jessica Clark

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A USC student facing a life-threatening syndrome is sharing her story in hopes of raising research money.

Jessica Clark has had two double lung transplants and does not know if she'll need or be able to get a third.

She is raising money for chronic rejection, which can happen after a patient gets new lungs.

She experiences it after her first transplant and it's possible it could happen again.

Long-term treatments don't exist and Jessica wants to change that.

"I was petrified at best," said Jessica Clark.

"Having watched my mom go through it, I knew what it looked like, and I knew what I was going to end up looking like," she said.

At a young age, Jessica Clark learned a lot about life from watching her mother fight for hers. After two double lung transplants, Katie Clark lost her battle to chronic rejection on Jessica's 10th birthday.

11 years later, Jessica fights a similar battle.

"I wish she'd been there to tell me what to expect, because that was the biggest thing," said Clark. "I think she gives me the strength to do what I gotta' do."

As a kid, Clark was like any other child until she started having trouble breathing. At eight she was diagnosed with Primary Pulmonary Hypertension and received her first double lung transplant.

Life was good until her freshman year at USC when the problems came back.  It was chronic rejection.

"We did absolutely everything they had to stop it, but it had progressed to fast," she said.

There was some good fortune. Clark didn't have to wait long for her second transplant.  But after the procedure she had a massive stroke.

A year of recovery later, she's back to living life. Clark is not yet back at USC,  but she's well enough to live like her mother wanted her to.

"She made it known to me, she drilled it in to me that life is a gift. To roll with the punches and be happy with what you got," said Clark.

"You don't sweat the small stuff anymore. You don't worry about drama, you don't worry about what the weather's gonna' be like today, you don't care. It's good. I'm just thankful I'm healthy now."

Clark knows another case of chronic rejection could mean the worst. No long-term treatment exists.

But she's not complaining or feeling sorry for herself.  She's telling her story to raise money for the Lung Transplant Foundation's Lungapalooza, a fundraiser at Duke Gardens in late October.

She's raised more than $3,000, doing work that she knows would make her mom proud.

"My mother definitely taught me that," said Clark. "To help others and to keep striving forward and not worry about things like what my hair or makeup looks like today. That's not what life's about. I owe that to her."

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