Grayling woman preparing to go on list for lung transplant
Wed, 03/15/2017 - 9:59am caleb
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Ashley Parker has been knocked down and has bounced back up many times in her short life, and after taking a break over the next several months to devote time to her family, she will be taking on the fight of her life.
Parker, formerly Ashley Morgan, just turned 31. At age 11, she was diagnosed in October 1997 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was treated at the University of Michigan Health System. A mass the size of a grapefruit was found between her heart and her lung.
“If it would have gone on much longer, I would have ended up with a heart attack because I had an inch and half of fluid surrounding my heart,” Parker said.
She was treated with chemotherapy and the cancer went into remission. But three months later, the mass returned and physicians opted take a more aggressive approach with the cancer, combining chemotherapy with radiation.
“At that time U of M worked along with Traverse City, and I was the first pediatric patient that they did radiation with,” Parker said.
The radiation was pointed directly at Parker’s tumor, and she again went into remission. As a precautionary measure, bone marrow was harvested from Parker’s body, and was frozen in case the cancer returned.
The cancer did return, this time in May 1999. Not only did the tumor grow back again, but the disease spread to other organs in Parker’s body.
“It came back, but it came back with a vengeance,” she said.
After going through a bone marrow transplant, plus chemotherapy and radiation, doctors gave Parker a grim prognosis. They told her that she would not likely live until her late teens, and had slim chances of having children.
Fate allowed Parker to defy the odds given to her.
“I do have two beautiful children,” she said, referring to Aiden, age 11, and Cady, age 9.
Parker went over a decade and a half without any major health issues and even devoted training and work to the medical field, serving as an EMT for the Frederic Fire Department and EMS Service and working in an assisted nursing facility.
In the fall of 2015, Parker started experiencing upper respiratory symptoms.
“It was like change of weather stuff, but it just wouldn’t go away,” she said.
Doctors first treated Parker for bronchitis. She would feel better for a while, but the upper respiratory symptoms returned. Next, Parker was treated for pneumonia, and was forced to quit working at a nursing care facility, where she was employed.
After going through some X-rays and a CT scan, Parker received a voice mail while at another doctor’s appointment to report directly to Munson Medical Center in Traverse City for inpatient care.
Doctors determined that Parker had a pneumothorax.
“A pneumothorax occurs when air leaks into the space between the lung and chest wall. A pneumothorax can be caused by a blunt or penetrating chest injury, certain medical procedures, or damage from an underlying lung disease,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
After undergoing a battery of tests, surgery and biopsies, Parker was diagnosed with radiation induced pulmonary fibrosis with interstitial lung disease.
Treating the cancer tumors caused scar tissue to build up in her left lung. In addition, Parker’s lung has attached itself to her chest wall, impacting its ability to expand and contract as she breaths. Finally, scar tissue is also growing in her right lung.
“Basically, what helped saved my life – the radiation – is now killing me,” she said.
CT scans in September and one completed recently in January confirmed that the scar tissue in Parker’s lungs is not expanding. She is slated to meet with a team of doctors at the University of Michigan to go on the donor list for a lung transplant. But before she does that, she wants to spend the spring and summer months with her children.
“I want to give the kids the best I can this summer, before I have to start all of this running back and forth and doctor’s appointments on top of doctor’s appointments,” Parker said.
Parker said going through the surgery took a lot out of her.
“It hurt to move. It hurt to do anything,” she said. “The outside healed, but the inside took forever.”
Doctors can’t give Parker a timeliine on how long she will live with or without the lung transplant. She has done her own studies, which indicate she could live between five to 20 years or longer if she receives the transplant.
“I could go five years and I could go back on the transplant list,” she said. “There is no guarantee.”
Parker is on oxygen 24/7 and is taking some medications to maintain her health.
Parker is striving to keep a positive outlook, knowing that is her best medicine from her past bouts with medical issues.
“I’m trying to stay as positive as I can,” she said. “As long as my tests stay stable, I’m going to keep on the path that I’m going. I believe they only give you what you can take. I’ve been through a lot of crap. I just don’t know why I’m getting more.”
Parker’s family and friends recently held a benefit dinner to raise funds for when she goes on the donor list. The Harley Crue, a motorcycle club based in Crawford County, has also stepped forward to support Parker, as they have done in the past when she had cancer.
“They basically adopted me when I was 11,” she said. “Most of the guys from back then are not around anymore. They are some of the nicest men that you would ever meet.”
A YouCaring crowdfunding account has been established for Parker. The site can be found at www.youcaring.com, and her account can be located by typing Ashley Morgan Parker in the search bar. The goal is to raise $5,000 for travel expenses.
“Once I go through the transplant, I have to go down every two weeks to check my levels and make sure I’m not rejecting the lung,” she said.
For those who are hesitant about online donations, funds can also can be sent directly to Parker at 565 Crescent Place Grayling, MI, 49738.