- Associated Press - Sunday, July 20, 2014

WESTMINSTER, Md. (AP) - Sweat beaded on Debra Long’s brow and dripped down her face. She clutched her red Gatorade bottle, stepping out of the 90-degree heat and into the air-conditioned lobby of a building on the campus of St. John Catholic Church.

She headed toward the nearest empty chair, pausing to rest before tackling the stairs. Holding the railing tight, she climbed the steps one by one. She smiled as she reached the landing, then walked toward the room and turned the doorknob.

The five ladies in the room gasped when they saw the 55-year-old woman standing before them. They laughed with joy. They clapped.

“You look great!” they exclaimed.

“Oh, we’re so happy to see you!”

“This is our Superwoman.”

Long hugged the women, the first embrace she’d given some since she underwent a multi-organ transplant last July.

“I made it,” Long said, tears welling in her eyes. “I made it.”

Long, a Westminster resident, sat down at the table she used to occupy weekly but hadn’t been at in nearly a year. She gabbed with the ladies as their fingers interlaced with yarn, crocheting and knitting with practiced flicks of the wrist.

She looked wonderful, the women told Long, but how was she really feeling?

It’s the kidneys, Long told them; they’re failing, and she’ll likely need a new one. Another surgery, another transplant, but compared to what she’s been through, “It’ll be a piece of cake,” Long said, a smile still on her face.

Rosanne Kapheim and Eileen Foerster told the group that, months ago, they drove to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital to see Long. When they arrived, they saw their friend hooked up to countless machines. Long was barely conscious, stuck in a painkiller-induced haze for months. But the two swear she acknowledged their presence with a slight reach of the hand or a flutter of the eye.

“I have no modesty left,” Long said.

That happens after fielding years of questions wondering why a tube was discharging excrement into a pouch Long carried in a Gucci purse - the result of a blood clot that developed after a double mastectomy. That clot, after a routine procedure in 2011, sent Long into a three months-long coma. When she woke up, she had to relearn to walk and talk. But her organs never caught up, and her doctors recommended a transplant.

For the time being, she received nutrients through an IV placed in her vein 12 hours every day, pumping total parenteral nutrition, or TPN. This caused multiple infections and liver problems; the outlook for survival on TPN is grim, according to Dr. Cal Matsumoto, the director of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital’s intestinal transplant program.

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