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“I was in pain all the time” and nauseated from the pain medicine, Wilson said.

She was too weak to hold a magazine. Hyperbaric treatments to heal her wounds caused blurry vision. She got hooked on watching “American Idol” and looked forward to daily visitors, especially when her mother-in-law, who was caring for Christopher, or her husband brought him in.

The little boy would color pictures on the wipeable patient information board in her room, and nurses made her a mobile of family photos. She said nightly prayers with her parents, but worried sometimes about the looks on their faces and those of the staff.

“You could see they didn’t truly believe I was going to make it. And that was hard. I was always someone who could pick up on people’s thoughts and emotions pretty easily,” she said.

Wilson’s large and bizarre wounds “broke my heart,” her mother said. “There would be nights when we would sit with her and she would have so much pain, she’d say, ‘I don’t know how much longer I can do this.’”

At one point, Wilson asked a nurse friend to bring in a bottle of Tylenol.

“It would be lethal to her,” so the staff put her on a suicide watch, her mother said. “They didn’t leave her alone after that.”

Wilson found comfort from Reiki, acupuncture and guided visual imagery _ alternative therapies that she said gave her a sense of control when she was so helpless.

But her health worsened. By December 2006, only inches remained of her small intestine and she developed liver problems. The only solution was risky: a small bowel transplant.

Of the nearly half a million transplants done since 1990 in the United States, fewer than 2,000 have been small bowels. Five-year survival rates are around 54 percent, and these transplants carry a higher risk of rejection than many other types. They’re done only when people are likely to die without them.

Dr. Cal Matsumoto evaluated Wilson for one at Georgetown University Medical Center, which had just started doing them a few years earlier.

“I remember taking the dressing off. All you see is bowel with holes in it, like a bunch of worms coming out of your abdominal wall,” the surgeon said. “It was pretty bad.”

He first had to remove the rest of Wilson’s diseased bowel and abdominal tissue. It was a radical operation and she spent four weeks on a breathing machine.

“I remember thinking that she may not live through the first operation that we did to get her to the transplant, but she pulled through,” Matsumoto said.

The transplant came on Dec. 16, 2007, and seemed to be a success. Doctors wound up transplanting a large intestine, too, because the damage was so extensive, Wilson said. A month later, she devoured her first meal since May 2005: lasagna, zucchini, salad and cake.

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