Lung transplant cost almost ended her life, now she’s home with new lungs

Natalie Jarvis lifts up her grandson, Kolby, and places him on a swing. It’s a simple moment, but one that was impossible a few months ago.

“It’s the small things that I want to enjoy,” said Jarvis. “I just want to know that I can breathe.”

The Nova Scotian woman is celebrating her second chance at life after nearly choosing to die because of how much it would cost to keep her alive.

In December, Jarvis was told she urgently needed a double lung transplant to survive, and in order to get one, she and her mother would have to move to Toronto and wait for a match.

Jarvis, who is now 43-years-old, initially thought her life was over. She couldn’t afford Toronto’s soaring rental prices.

“Dying should not be the first choice that people should have to make.”

Jarvis’s doctor convinced her to give Toronto a try. After she spoke to CBC News about the crippling costs of receiving a transplant, she received donations from across the country.

“It’s amazing how much support I actually got,” she said. “Not only from family and friends, but just from strangers.”

Natalie Jarvis celebrates moving back home after her double lung transplant. She says it feels amazing to breathe in the country air. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Jarvis received her double lung transplant on April 21, but her recovery was a struggle. She was unconscious for three weeks while her body fought a series of complications.

“I’m not going to lie, it was hard after I did wake up. Especially when you’ve been out for so long after surgery your muscles are weakened, you can’t walk.”

It wasn’t until June that she was strong enough to take her first steps outside.

“That first breath outside was amazing. It really was. Nothing could ever replace it,” she said. “They say it’s like being born again and that’s exactly what it is, it’s like being born again.”

Now that she’s home, Jarvis is focusing on spending time with family, and laughs when she explains her bucket list has changed. Instead of going skydiving, she’ll settle for a trip in a hot air balloon. She would like to go on a proper vacation — something she’s never done before.  

Speaking up for those too sick to speak for themselves

Jarvis has to return to Toronto for checkups every three months over the next year. She estimates it will be at least that long before she’s well enough to go back to work.

In the meantime, she plans to advocate for other lung patients who are too sick to speak up for themselves. Jarvis’s story inspired the Nova Scotia government to increase its living allowance for lung patients and others who have to leave the province for treatment. The other Maritime provinces have yet to follow suit.

She says she met other families in Toronto who had to sell their homes to pay their bills. One couple was struggling to make ends meet, so she gave some of her donations them. 

“I wanted to give back. So that was my giving back.”

Jarvis says she thinks of her donor and their family often. She doesn’t know anything about them, but she intends to write a letter, leaving the door open to meeting them one day.

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