By Alison Tobin ’18
Merrimack College students collectively identify themselves as warriors because that is the school’s mascot. However, this label goes far beyond that for some students.
Everyone has something they have fought through in the past or are fighting through now that truly makes them a warrior. For junior Kristen Gamble, identifying as a warrior means so much more as she almost lost her father to the chronic and very fatal disease of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Here is a look at her story and why she is a real warrior:
To you what does it mean to be a warrior? What makes you a true warrior?
To me, a warrior is someone who can experience hardship and challenges and come back from it. I consider myself a warrior because I have experienced things in my life that have knocked me down and I was able to build myself back up.
When was your dad diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis? Can you elaborate a little on what this is and what it meant for your dad?
My dad was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis when I was a sophomore in high school. IPF is a chronic and very fatal disease that is characterized by decline in lung function. It is scarring of the lungs and affects one’s breathing ability. The cause was unknown, however, my grandpa died from the same disease when I was younger. The only cure for the disease is a lung transplant along with rehab to make the patient stronger. My dad also had to start using an oxygen tank because even short walks took a toll on him. He had to start applying to different transplant centers to eventually get on the list to become a recipient, but this process was not easy. Eventually, after visiting many centers he was accepted into the Duke Medical Transplant program, however, this meant that my parents needed to move to North Carolina.
How did you feel being a freshman at college and having your dad struggle with this disease? How did you cope with this while still trying to adjust to college and be a student?
Going into freshman year knowing the extent of my dad’s disease was very difficult for me. I am the type of person who likes to pretend nothing is wrong and hold in my emotions, and in this situation did not help. Initially I did not tell many people because I did not want people constantly asking how I was and feeling sorry for me because my dad was so sick. I tried to do things to keep my mind off the situation, and spent a lot of time with golf and other things. I did not do well academically freshman year because I was depressed and skipped a lot of class to sleep.
Were you able to go home to be with your dad at times?
I was able to go visit my family on breaks and would fly from here at school or from my hometown of Syracuse. I noticed that visiting my mom and dad had a positive impact on the situation because they were all alone in North Carolina and spent most of the time in and out of the hospital.
Did you have a support team of people that helped you through this time?
My golf team was very helpful during this process, and my coach would text and call me frequently to check in on how I was doing. My best friends from home were also a huge support, and the summer after my freshman year I ended up moving in with my best friend because my parents were still living in North Carolina. She was definitely my biggest support system during this time.
How did you and your family feel when your dad was able to get a lung?
My family was relieved when my dad finally got the gift of life. In order to receive a lung, a patient needs to become listed through UNOS. My dad was placed on the list in Dec. 2014 and had eight dry runs up until he did receive the lung on July 9, 2015. A dry run happens when he gets a call that there is a lung, so he would pack his bag and head to the hospital to prep for surgery. Sometimes the lung would arrive and be damaged or not a good fit, so they would send my dad back home. The ninth call was the lucky call, however the lung was not in great shape but the doctor gave it to my dad anyway because he would not have made it to another call.
How long did it take him to recover from the surgery?
My dad experienced complication during the surgery. Because he was so sick, he had to go into surgery again a few days after getting the lung because he needed a tracheotomy to help him breathe. He was in a coma for two weeks, and had to spend many weeks after in the hospital re-learning how to walk and breathe with the new lung. He ended up getting an infection November of my sophomore year and was hospitalized until two days before Christmas.
What have you learned from this experience? Do you think it has made you a stronger person?
The most important thing I have learned is to enjoy every day you have with your loved ones. I went to visit my dad for Father’s Day before he got the transplant and was under the impression that this would be the last time I would be spending time with my dad. Going through this experience has made me a lot stronger. I was able to learn how to deal with tough situations and to pull myself through to stay positive.
How is he now and how are you now?
My dad is doing great now, he is back to living a semi-normal life and adjusting to only having one lung. Every day is a gift for him and my family. We are able to happily spend time together knowing that he was given another chance at life. I am also doing a lot better, this was a tough situation that no one was able to understand, except for me, but I have come out stronger than I did going into it.
Do you have any advice to any other people who might be going through something similar?
My advice to anyone going through something similar would be to enjoy every day. I was able to become so much closer with my dad during this time because I didn’t know which day would be my last. It is also important to utilize those around you. While everyone will not always be nice and understanding, there will be those who want to help you through. My favorite quote that I looked to during this time was, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.”