ATLANTA — First, no one would pay for them, and then no one could find them, but finally Katie Prager got what she needed: a new set of lungs.
“It went very well,” said Dalton Prager, who’s with his wife this week at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “She’s very weak and out of it right now, but it all worked.”
The Pragers, both 24, have been through more than most people suffer in a lifetime. They both have cystic fibrosis, and Katie received her lung transplant at the very last minute. Dalton had a lung transplant in November and then was diagnosed with lymphoma.
And throughout most of this ordeal, they’ve been separated. Since November, Dalton hasn’t been allowed near his wife since she could pass on to him a potentially deadly infection harbored in her lungs. Since Katie has new, uninfected lungs, Dalton finally got to kiss her Thursday.
“I feel like I can be there for her again,” he said. “I felt so powerless to help her, but now that she has her new lungs, it’s like a barrier has fallen down.”
The Pragers became known as the real “Fault in Our Stars” couple after CNN told the story of how Kentucky Medicaid refused to pay for Katie to travel out of state to a medical center that specialized in the complicated care she needed.
“I feel like they’re putting a dollar sign on my life,” Katie said in March. “I don’t want to die because of money. That’s stupid. Nobody should have to do that.”
Within a week of CNN’s report, Kentucky and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center struck a deal so she could get her transplant.
As Katie began her wait for new lungs, her own diseased lungs became weaker and weaker. By early June she could no longer breathe on her own and was put on a ventilator, which breathed for her. Hope started to run out. She couldn’t stay on the ventilator forever. “If it had gone on for much more time, I would have had to make a decision whether or not to keep her on the ventilator,” Dalton said.
On July 3, Katie wrote on her Facebook page, “I’m in desperate need of lungs. Please let them come this weekend.”
She didn’t get them quite that quickly, but on the Thursday morning, while eating breakfast, Dalton got a call from Katie’s mother that they’d found a match. New lungs were on the way.
Dalton already had his bag packed. He’d been living in St. Charles, Missouri, so his father could help him recover from surgery. Still not fully recovered, he flew to Pittsburgh and got to kiss his wife.
The couple still have a long road in front of them. Katie will likely spend weeks, if not months, in the hospital, and Dalton recently underwent a round of chemotherapy. “The cancer hasn’t been very aggressive. We’re waiting to see how that round turns out,” he said.
Throughout it all, he said their love for each other is what keeps them going. “The more you go through, the more you need each other,” he said. “It’s like we’re in a storm, and I reach out for the life raft, and there she is.”