SHOW LOW — Most of us would have to give it a lot of thought if we were asked to describe ourselves in only one word, but not Teri Voth Raymond. Without hesitation she responded, “resilient.” And, that is her word.
Raymond grew up in San Carlos, California, the only child of parents who, she said, “were old enough to be her grandparents” because they had her late in life.
Next month, she will be 60 years old. In today’s world one would probably say that 60 is the new 40, but not necessarily for Raymond who more readily identifies with the numbers 31 and 103 which are not years.
In 2009 she became the 31st and in 2011 the 103rd lung transplant recipient at Dignity Health’s Norton Thoracic Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.
The route she took from her native California to St. Joe’s was circuitous.
Leaving California for an NAU education in Flagstaff, Raymond graduated in 1986 with a Bachelor of Arts in Hotel and Restaurant Management, cum laude. Her next stop was Phoenix where her parents had moved and she had secured a restaurant manager position. Close to burnout, she considered hotel management but she was over qualified for the smaller hotels and the larger ones required training and a likely relocation. Her mother had developed emphysema and she felt she could not leave. That led her to a career in travel consulting which is still her vocation today.
Raymond married and had two boys. It was around that time she started getting sick.
“I never realized I did not breathe as well as I should,” said Raymond, who was short of breath.
“I had smoked a little, but I quit smoking when my mom got sick,” she said.
After her first son was born in 1993 she felt she was asthmatic and the doctors placed her on inhalers, but she got worse. They tested her for the Alpha 1 Deficiency, a hereditary condition that is passed on from parents to their children through their genes, and sent her to a pulmonologist. By that time both of her parents had died of lung diseases.
Her lung function was dropping and they didn’t know why. They did allergy testing and started shots but while doing so, discovered she had Lupus and stopped the shots.
Between her first and second pregnancies, she developed a cough. She felt she needed antibiotics but they would not give them to her. She felt she was not getting any air and was concerned that if she was not getting air that maybe her baby wasn’t either.
She was getting sicker and at 30 weeks went into labor, but she made it to 32 weeks.
“I realized the elephant on my chest was so heavy and I felt I could not breathe if I did not purposely do it,” said Raymond.
After the second son was born her husband wanted out of the city and they went to Snowflake to look at land. With a baby swaddled to her chest she walked the 40-acre parcel and realized that her breathing felt light.
“I felt good here,” she said. “We started coming up and then moved here. I felt stabilized within six weeks.”
Raymond worked in town and managed her health care through her Phoenix physician until he moved. Having also been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and moderate obstructive lung disease she found a doctor locally and learned her lung issue had progressed to emphysema. She also suffered some other major health issues likely due to chemical exposure in the building where she worked. Moving home to work, within six months those issues improved and her lung function test went back to where it was before the exposure.
Her health was so bad and she was given no hope. In desperation she took herself to the National Jewish Hospital in Denver, the only facility in the world dedicated to groundbreaking treatments for respiratory and immune disorders. Though her insurance would not cover it, she went for eight days and it was there the Alpha 1 was diagnosed and she was told they would support her for a transplant list.
“I had hope and something to look forward to,” said Raymond.
She did her evals in Southern California where she had family and coming back to the Mountain she decided she would get yearly check ups and live life in the meantime — watching her boys play ball. As sick as she was, she never missed a game.
When her body started having bronchospasms and she had made several ambulance trips to the hospital, St. Joe’s had opened up and the head of the transplant program told her he was going to put her on the list. That was May 2009.
On July 30 she had her first transplant. Her auto immune issues had gone into remission from the meds she was taking and she did well on her breathing. She was off her immunosuppressants too long and within four months needed another transplant.
“My nurse friends did not think I would make it, but I got another pure lung,” said Raymond.
Though today she has other health issues to deal with, she drinks plenty of water, stays away from processed foods and take her meds. She hikes and experiences cool adventures, and she still works.
“Life is wonderful. It was totally worth it. I can breathe. When I was close to death I could feel the other side. I had an out of body thing. I felt like it was OK. Both times I had help. I was happy and laughing. I said, Universe, here I am. People on the ground were praying for me and people on the other side,” she said.
After the second transplant Raymond said she thanked the doctor for saving her life. She said he told her that it was 20% us and 80% your positive attitude.
Her original goal was to live and see her sons graduate, and now she says, “Maybe I will see my grand kids, that’s my next goal. And, even if I am not here, I’ll be hanging around them.”
Raymond wrote a letter to the Donor Network after the first transplant but she never heard back. It is up to the family whether or not they want to make that connection. And, because of that, she waited two years before writing to the second transplant family whose wife, it turns out, was ecstatic to learn that her husband’s lungs had made a difference for her.
“Organ donation is the most precious gift a person can leave behind when they cannot be here any more,” said Raymond.
Author Mitch Albom said, “... There are no random acts, that we are all connected. That you can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.” That being the case, here in the White Mountains there are people you need to meet, and places you need to know about it. And, on the last Friday of each month, I will connect you with some of those as I go ‘Round the Mountain.