Running races with ease

April Gross running

April Gross has a new goal: Run a 5K race in under 30 minutes.

Prior to her lung transplant, April's lungs were so damaged by cystic fibrosis that crawling into bed left her winded, and her goal was simply to live.

In March 2009 she joined the transplant list at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, the only hospital in the state performing lung transplants, about 15 each year. If she received a transplant, she promised family and friends she would run the 20K Dam-to-Dam race in Des Moines.

On March 19, the transplant unit called April to come to Iowa City immediately.

“I thought, it could be a whole new start for me, or the last day of my life,” April says about her trip from her home in Woodward.

Following the eight-hour double-lung transplant, she remained hospitalized for six weeks while chest tubes kept her lungs inflated until they would fit securely in her chest cavity, which had been enlarged by the cystic fibrosis. In rehab she worked out on a treadmill and with resistance bands. Once back home, she continued walking daily until it got too cold outside, and then began swimming three days a week. She and husband Steve started the New Year with a program combining fitness kickboxing with resistance training.

In June, her new lungs propelled April through the Dam to Dam, running and walking with Steve, and Greg Darling of Humboldt, father of the 14-year-old donor, Lisa. Slowed by rain-soaked shoes and fatigued toward the end, she finished in two hours and 41 minutes, about 20 minutes slower than she hoped.

“I wish my legs had felt as good as my lungs,” she said.

April's ongoing fitness routine—running, using resistance bands, and yoga—brings a smile to Julia Klesney-Tait, MD, PhD, pulmonologist and medical director of the lung transplant program at UI Hospitals & Clinics and UI assistant professor of internal medicine.

“April is an incredibly positive person,” Klesney-Tait said. “She had bumps in the road after the transplant, but she didn’t let that get in the way of her dedication to the healing process. She has inspired others and even started a bit of a competition among our patients. Several have done 5Ks, with one patient participating just eight weeks after surgery.”

April is on anti-rejection medication and continues to manage complications of cystic fibrosis, taking oral pancreatic enzymes for digestive problems and insulin injections for diabetes.

Cystic fibrosis occurs in about one in every 2,000 live births in Iowa. There is no cure, but UI Health Care researchers and clinicians are working to advance treatments to extend patients’ lives. The UI Cystic Fibrosis Center is one of 12 Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Translational Research Centers nationwide that cooperate in early phase trials of treatments to reduce lung infection and inflammation, which is expected to enhance survival.