Her lungs transplanted, 'Jolly Holly' regaining pep in her stepThe months since Holly Bergo’s double lung transplant at Mayo Clinic in February would take the pep out of anybody’s step. They were full of what the Moorhead woman's family understatedly calls “bumps in the road” — setbacks that sent the cheerful public health nurse to the hospital each month.
By: Mila Koumpilova, The Forum
At times in recent months, it seemed the public health nurse known among patients as Jolly Holly had disappeared with her old, ravaged lungs.
“There’s no pep in your step,” remarked Holly Bergo’s Mayo Clinic pulmonologist this summer.
The months since Bergo’s double lung transplant in February would take the pep out of anybody’s step. They were full of what her family understatedly calls “bumps in the road” — setbacks that sent her to the hospital each month.
But friends and family caught glimpses of the old feisty Bergo throughout her post-surgery ordeal. These days, she is poised to complete her first hospital-stay-free month and commence her bid to reclaim her old active life.
“I haven’t made my goal of living independently yet, but I hope I will be there soon,” said Bergo. “I’ve come back a little bit.”
The Moorhead woman kept every ounce of her pep in the aftermath of her diagnosis with lymphangioleiomyomatosis, an incurable disease that gradually robbed her of almost 90 percent of lung function. After she waited for new lungs for more than a year, a donor match came in the nick of time: Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., didn’t think she’d make it another day on her own pair.
The eight-hour surgery triggered a heady mix of emotions for Bergo’s parents, Roxie and Bruce — relief mixed with terror. Bergo suffered a series of seizures and remained unconscious as they held her hands and spoke to her. Then, she edged back into consciousness.
From those early days of recovery, Bergo recalls a dreamlike state in which the hospital was a soap opera set, and doctors and nurses were having scandalous affairs.
“Then there was me, trying to get out,” she said.
A week after surgery, her parents got a 2 a.m. call in their hotel room. Bergo had talked a nurse into letting her call them in a teary panic. She didn’t believe she had had the transplant.
“I promise you, you got new lungs,” Roxie reassured her.
By then, Bergo was breathing on her own after months of relying on an oxygen tank. But it soon became clear her recovery would be a faulting slog rather than a sprint.
“I figured you get your new lungs and jump out of bed in a few days and away you go,” said Roxie. “It didn’t work out that way.”
The anti-rejection medication made Bergo curt and irritable, nothing like the upbeat woman they knew. In a few weeks, she left the Rochester hospital for a hotel room, only to return after fluid built up in one lung. But the spirited, funny Bergo lingered. When a couple of Fargo friends visited and took her for a hospital wheelchair ride, she hollered, “Run! We can escape now.”
Karen Irey, a friend and former co-worker, visited Bergo in the hotel. They stayed up talking till midnight, cracking jokes about their favorite reality shows, said Irey: “During this time of struggle, she still found laughter.”
In May, Bergo finally got the all-clear from doctors to return home. After a few weeks with her parents, she moved back to her Moorhead apartment. It was, Roxie said, the best Mother’s Day present.
“It was so good to be home,” said Bergo.
But days later came another “bump.” Bergo was airlifted to Rochester after suffering a hemorrhage. She lost movement, memory and speech. When doctors questioned if she’d make it, Roxie said: “We already had one miracle. There’s no reason why we can’t have another.”
Bergo’s second return to Moorhead brought several trying months of speech, physical and occupational therapy. Dr. Paul Lindquist, her Fargo Sanford physician, said Bergo worked hard at it. She made a solid recovery — in time for yet another setback, a bout with pneumonia that sent her to the hospital for weeks.
Bergo is still fighting off the pneumonia. Some days, she struggles to muster the energy to stick with therapy. But she also revels in the gains she’s made.
“I have to stop myself and realize I am not carrying oxygen anymore,” she said. “I forgot how cumbersome that was.”
Bergo’s family and friends have remained a reliable source of diversion and pep talks. Some of them recently gathered to celebrate her 40th birthday at her parents’ place.
“I was so glad not to be in the hospital,” Bergo said. “I was happy to be alive.”
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.