The Phone Call
When the phone rang at almost 11 p.m., I knew it wasn’t good news. My dear friend’s husband was on the phone, and I could hear the upset in his voice.
“Amber stopped breathing on me,” he said.
He went on to explain that there was a team of doctors in the ICU room where she had been moved the previous day, and they were intubating her as he was talking to me.
Even then, even when I knew things didn’t look good for one of my very best friends, I kind of thought she’d pull through. Because she always defied the odds.
A Walking Miracle
See, Amber was born with cystic fibrosis, and at 19 she received a double lung transplant. Before I met Amber I knew little about transplants. I just kind of thought the person got a new whatever and moved on with life. But it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. (Below is a picture of her the summer before her transplant).
Most transplant recipients struggle. They face the daily possibility of rejection and the myriad health issues that accompany that.
Amber was different. For 11 years, she did extremely well. Yes, she had to take a pharmacy full of pills. Yes, her cystic fibrosis attacked other parts of her body since it could no longer get at her lungs. Yes, she had to be careful of infections and other things that don’t even cross most people’s minds.
But overall, for 11 years she was a walking miracle.
Not Giving Up
And then came the day, just after her son’s first birthday, that she got the news that all transplant patients dread to hear – she was in rejection. Nobody knew why, but for several scary months, her lung function which had been at an astonishing 95% for these past 11 years, fell to 50% and then 45% and then 35% and then 29%. Finally, they were able to stabilize her at 30%.
Instead of the weekly treatments over 90 minutes away, she was able to go down to monthly treatments.
But she still only had 30% lung function, and her small airways continued to deteriorate. I could see her struggling on a daily basis. She had a hard time keeping weight on and the circles under her eyes got darker. And she was always tired, but still, she pressed on. She had a little boy to take care of (he’s 3 1/2), and a husband she loved. And, of course, there was the tribe of people she called friends.
This summer, it became obvious that something was changing – and not for the better. Although she had been stable for about 2 years, something wasn’t right.
Because she had always fought back and overcome the odds, it seemed normal for everyone to expect her to do it again.
But this time was different.
The Last Stand
When she finally told her husband a week ago that she just couldn’t breathe, he drove her to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus where she had had the transplant almost 14 years before. The doctor saw something in her lung scan and went in for a closer look.
It was an infection – something all lung transplant patients dread hearing.
Still, this was Amber. She beat the odds. She was still living when she should have been dead 10 times over. But this was one time too many. The infection was too strong, her body too worn out.
This morning, she drew her last labored breath and went to meet Jesus.
Fierce – Determined – Fighter
I wish I could tell you why something like this happens to a young mom and wife, but I can’t. What I can tell you is that for as long as I’ve known Amber, her life message has been “God’s goodness and sovereignty in the midst of suffering.”
And she didn’t just say that; she lived it. She fought every day to live out her life and to love her people well. So, as I did several years ago when my friend Carla Dysert passed away, I’d like to offer you a challenge because I believe every hard thing, every loss can be redeemed if we allow God to do that – if we work to find the meaning in the sorrow.
I want to challenge you to fight like Amber Payne fought. To not give up on that dream, on that relationship, on that difficult diagnosis.
Because she didn’t.
There were so many times I saw her tired and worn out, but still, she got up the next day and put one foot in front of the other and kept fighting for her health and for the people she loved.
Take the Amber Payne Challenge
What is it in your life that feels overwhelming right now? What relationship seems too far gone to save? What dream feels too far out of reach? What diagnosis seems too big to bear?
Can I challenge you to do what Amber Payne did all of her life? Can I challenge you to push just a little harder, to fight just a little longer, to hang in there one more day?
Will you take the Amber Payne Challenge today?