Volunteers rally to help Colleen Leal with mounting medical expenses

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Now that Aloha resident Colleen Leal is on a national lung transplant list, she hopes to one day soon unhook from her breathing machine and be able to catch up with her young grandson.Colleen Leal is anxiously awaiting a life-changing phone call.

When it comes, the clock starts ticking, and the 58-year-old Aloha grandmother has less than 10 hours to arrive at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center.

Waiting for her will be a healthy set of donated lungs and a team of surgeons ready to perform a double-lung transplant that is critical to her survival.

“Getting the transplant is going to mean everything,” Leal said. “I know it will be hard, and I will have a new set of health concerns, but they will be doable.

“I will have my life back. I used to bike and take long walks. I enjoyed quilting, painting, decorating and card-making. I had a dog. Most importantly, I will be able to keep up with my grandson.”

Leal can’t remember the last time she was able to take a deep breath.

In 2007, she began experiencing a nagging cough while working as a senior administration specialist for a Washington County engineer. At first, doctors thought she was suffering from environmental allergies.

“I was coughing all the time,” Leal recalled.

Leal, who was otherwise healthy, grew frustrated when the symptoms persisted and eventually switched doctors. In the meantime, she went back to school for interior design and earned her real estate license.

“I’m a very determined person — I have things I want to accomplish,” Leal said. “That cough just continued, and none of the medicines were helping. It was so bothersome.”

Over time the cough led to a shortness of breath and prevented her from being able to pick things up, carry them or complete other physical tasks.

“It was hard to breathe — I would get winded,” she said.

It was a specialist who ordered additional testing and diagnosed her with pulmonary fibrosis in 2011.

Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease marked by scarring in the lungs. Tissue deep in the lungs becomes thick, stiff and scarred. As the lung tissue becomes scarred, it interferes with a person’s ability to breathe. According to the American Lung Association, many people with the disease live only about three to five years after diagnosis.

Leal is no stranger to lung disease, as her father Paul Collins Scroggins and two brothers, Timothy Darrell Scroggins and Winford Earl Scroggins, died from emphysema. Her sister Bobbye Paulette Martin recently died of lung cancer, and another brother, Julius Paul Scroggins, is fighting lung caner.

While Leal has never smoked, she and her siblings were exposed to secondhand smoke from their parents while growing TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Colleen Leal talks about her struggle with pulmonary fibrosis, which she believes has been a genetic issue, due to her siblings also contracting lung-related illnesses. Being exposed to secondhand smoke from her parents while growing up also likely contributed to the lung disease.

Focusing on health

Leal is not letting the disease get the best of her and is determined to get her life back.

Up until six months ago, Leal walked two miles a day and regularly attended pulmonary rehabilitation therapy, working out on a treadmill and recumbent exercise machine as well as performing leg and arm exercises with bands.

It was a cold that settled in her lungs that grounded her activities to strengthen her lungs.

Two months ago, doctors added her to the National Transplant Registry for a double-lung transplant.

Learning she was a strong candidate for the life-saving procedure, meant she would have to travel to San Francisco every three months for a checkup and more testing.

“I was excited, then thought, ‘Oh my goodness. I’m nervous,’” when she learned she made the list.

Leal returned Aug. 8 from her latest visit with the medical team in San Francisco, where she learned doctors were hoping to keep her as a pair of lungs had been donated and were a good match.

“Someone else needed them more, and I am excited that he got to have them,” Leal said.

She’ll be ready when it is her time. “My bag is packed,” she quipped.

Leal, who admitted she’s a Type A personality accustomed to getting things done and stepping up to help others around her, finds herself in a new role.

“I draw a lot of strength from my family,” Leal said. “I have just amazing people helping me in so many ways.

“I’m blessed. I really am. I am one of the most fortunate people I know.”

Leal’s husband, Michael, and their daughter Sarah Peters and son Michael Jr. are a tight family unit. Sarah’s 6-year-old son Jordan is the sunshine of Leal’s life, she said.

While her activities are limited by her condition as well as the oxygen machine she is forced to be on around the clock, Leal fills her time teaching Jordan to read, playing board games, watching movies and taking him to the park.

“This is hard for me not to be able to do more,” Leal said. “I can’t wait to get back on my feet.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Colleen Leal talks about her struggle with pulmonary fibrosis. Once her name is picked from the National Transplant Registry, she has to be ready with a few hours to travel to San Francisco for the surgery.

Fundraiser set for Friday

The average double-lung transplant costs about $800,000. Even with health insurance, which will cover the cost of the transplant itself, Colleen Leal still faces significant medical expenses related to the surgery.

She will need a lifetime of follow-up care and daily anti-rejection medications. These medications are very costly, and they’re as important to her survival as the transplant itself.

When Leal receives her transplant, she and a caregiver must temporarily relocate 650 miles from her home to be near the transplant center for between six weeks to six months, incurring substantial expenses for travel, food and lodging.

The National Foundation for Transplants is assisting Leal with some of her financial burdens. The nonprofit organization helps patients raise funds to pay for transplant-related expenses.

“My heart goes out to Colleen,” said Kay Horne, NFT fundraising consultant. “I know she just wants to be healthy enough to be more active with her young grandson. At NFT, we want to help Colleen raise the funds so she can focus on her health and her family, not the overwhelming medical expenses.”

On Friday, Aug. 16, volunteers are holding Quality of Life for Colleen, a fundraiser at Vertigo Brewing, 21420 N.W. Nicholas Court in Hillsboro.

The event will be held from 4 to 9 p.m. and is free to attend, but donations are appreciated. Gift certificates to local restaurants will be raffled off every 30 minutes, and the BUNK food truck will be on site.

Live entertainment will include 23 Window with Mike Soto and Gayle Ritt from 4 to 6 p.m. and solo guitarist Josh Taylor at 6:30 p.m.

For more information, contact Del Wiggs at 503-650-6924.

To make a tax-deductible donation in honor of Leal, contributiona can be mailed to the NFT Oregon Transplant Fund, 5350 Poplar Ave., Suite 430, Memphis, TN 38119. Be sure to write “in honor of Colleen Leal” on the memo line. Secure donations also can be made online at Donors should click on “Find an NFT Patient” to locate Leal.

Leal said she has been overwhelmed by the support she and her family have received.

“It makes me think, ‘Am I worthy,’” Leal said. “I’m usually the one helping other people.

“It’s awkward for me to be on the receiving end. I am getting better at accepting help, but it’s not easy for me.”

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