EAGAN, Minn. - A Twin Cities college student is described as a "living, breathing miracle" after a rare and mysterious form of pneumonia nearly took her life.
Miata Smith, 20, is a sophomore at St. Paul's Concordia University and last November, had trouble breathing on her way to work. After a trip to the emergency room, it only got worse. Smith was a strong, healthy competitive dancer and soon was given less than a five percent chance of survival.
"Three days later, she was in the ICU," said Munah Wotorson-Smith, her mother. "She went to sleep and three months later, she woke up with new lungs."
Smith quickly deteriorated into acute respiratory failure, and once on a ventilator, doctors at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital sought expertise from the University of Minnesota Medical Center Fairview Hospital.
The University of Minnesota has a heart lung machine, called an ECMO, which stands for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. It essentially acted Smith's lungs and bought her more time as doctors placed her on a waiting list for a double lung transplant.
"She was a recipient of a new style of support that has just come into our medical community," said Dr. Rose Kelly, a cardiothoracic surgeon and co-director of the U of M's lung transplant program. "It saved her. I swear two years ago we wouldn't have had the technology or ability and she wouldn't have made it."
A donor match came just two days after Smith was placed on the list.
"Two days," said her mother. "Now tell me if that's not a miracle. The surgery itself went so smoothly. It was like God orchestrating everything."
Miata has few memories except waking up.
"My hands were tied down and they came and told me I had a double lung transplant, I didn't know I had a transplant and don't remember that whole process," she said.
Dr. Kelly said the donor had lungs the perfect size for Miata and everything aligned to give her a second chance, including the ECMO technology that extended Smith's life long enough to wait for new lungs.
"Her own lungs were really ill and when we did the surgery, they had tears and weren't able to move," said Dr. Kelly. "Five or six years ago she wouldn't have necessarily received the organs so she's really at a crux of well designed situation, and I think that made her particularly lucky."
Miata had to learn to walk and talk all over again at home with her family in Eagan, but is making progress and plans to return to school in the fall to fulfill her dream of becoming an elementary school teacher. Her mother calls her "Miracle Miata."
"I am getting stronger every day," said Miata Smith. "It is a miracle, I am still here."
Doctors still don't know what caused her rare illness.
A benefit for Miata Smith is planned for Saturday, May 3, 2014 at New Hope Baptist Church at 712 Burr Street in St. Paul, with dinner at 5 p.m., entertainment at 6 p.m., along with a silent auction.
Additionally, tax-deductible donations can be made on behalf of Miata's medical expenses at Wells Fargo in the Miata Benefit Trust Account.