“When Ally’s up we’re all up, and when she’s down, so are we,” said Vickee Jenkins of her daughter Ally, 15, who is recuperating from double-lung transplant surgery. “We’re literally just taking it hour by hour; it’s our new normal.”
Last weekend the Oakley family’s new normal got a bump up when they brought Ally home following a nearly three-month stay at UCSF Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension in July. The incurable condition, which hinders the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs, required a double lung transplant, which she received from a donor in August.
And when the Freedom High School freshman arrived home, she was greeted not only by friends and family, but by another present – this one straight out of an episode of “Extreme Home Makeover.”
Thanks to the efforts of a generous community, the Jenkins home had been refurbished from top to bottom, including a new roof and landscaped yard, fresh paint inside and out, as well as new appliances, countertops, bathrooms, windows and doors, all donated by volunteers who had given of their time, supplies and labor to create a fresh start for the Jenkins family.
“We’re all completely overwhelmed by all this,” said Vickee. “Not just the house, but the outpouring of love and support we have had. It’s very difficult to put into words. We’re just so grateful.”
And as for Ally, she’s just happy to be home, especially now that her new room has been made over in teal and black zebra décor. “It’s what I’ve always wanted,” she said.
“It feels so good to be home,” she said. “I love being here after living in the city for so long. Going for walks, sleeping in my bed. I like it a lot.”
The plot for the home makeover was hatched months ago, following a conversation between Vickee and a friend regarding Ally’s upcoming surgery.
“It was right after we had finished meeting with the transplant doctors where they were telling us about what to expect, and they were going down a list of things that Ally couldn’t tolerate and one of those things was mold,” said Vickee. “And I started freaking out because I had a guest bathroom with a lot of mold. So later I called a friend of mine whose husband is in the business, and asked if he could give us a quote on what it would take to fix the mold, and it snowballed from there.”
More like an avalanche. Dozens of volunteers with myriad talents and connections came in and out of the house over the course of the next few months, making the improvements and fine-tuning the details right up until the day the family came home.
“Oakley’s a little community but they all came together on this,” said Jim D’Amico, owner of Black Bear Diner and one of the contributors to the Jenkins makeover project. “There were so many people involved I couldn’t possibly name them all, but everyone did their part.”
And for now, the Jenkinses are doing their part, working on relaxing and being together. Vickee said that Ally is sleeping well and adjusting to her regime of medications. She added that Ally would begin catching up on her schoolwork through Independence High later this month, and hopes to be back on campus at Freedom High by the first of the year.
“Ally is a burst of energy,” said Vickee. “She tires easily but when she’s awake, she’s full out. I look at her and I still can’t believe it. I can still see her on life support in the hospital and now she’s home jogging. It’s all so amazing.”
And life changing. With a new awareness, appreciation and gratitude to the 12-year-old girl whose lungs Ally received and the new life she’s been given, Vickee said the family has a new cause: organ donation.
“When Ally was in the hospital she asked her doctor that if something happened to her could she donate her lungs,” said Vickee. “And the doctor looked right at her and said that by the time she died she would be a little old lady and her lungs would be too old.
“But she (Ally) has thought a lot about why this has happened to her, and we all want to encourage and bring awareness to how important it is to be a donor. The ending of our story would not have been so happy without the gift of a donor. It wouldn’t have been the same at all.”
For more information on organ donation, visit www.donatelifecalifornia.org.