The fairy tale ending for Samantha and Ty Jameson was real. Sitting in a garden of Eden, surrounded by flowers, the couple posed for wedding photos.
Samantha wrapped her arms around Ty’s neck who, in turn, placed his arms around her waist. Ty had no intention of letting go of his Cinderella and fortunately for him, Samantha had fought for the right to be at her wedding and she had no plans of leaving early either.
But the struggle wasn’t just about choosing bridesmaids’ dresses or how to fit a guest list of 600 people into a wedding hall with the capacity to hold 300 individuals — the struggle for Samantha was time. Her lungs were failing and after three years, she hadn’t been any closer to receiving a double-lung transplant that she so desperately needed. She was used to dealing with cystic fibrosis, having been diagnosed at the age of 4, but lung failure was another beast entirely.
After giving up his dream of living on an island and playing in a band every night, Ty finally returned to Samantha March 20, 2014. At that point, Samantha was on oxygen constantly and she was no longer capable of taking care of herself.
“God knew what I needed and he sent Ty home at the perfect time because I needed a lot of help,” Samantha said. “There were times where he would have to carry me and my oxygen to the bed from the car. In the hospital, my mom would have to help me take a shower and get dressed. I went from completely independent to completely dependent on everyone.
“That’s the most frustrating thing because I’m a very independent person. I want to do things for myself. I don’t want you to help me do things. It was just hard for me to sit and just wait for people.”
Even with the oxygen mask, it wasn’t enough. Her health was deteriorating. Samantha started spending two weeks in the hospital and one week at home. However, even when she was at home, she started having anxiety attacks because she was afraid of the “unknown” and then being rushed to the hospital.
A feeling of despair had overtaken Samantha; a depression she hadn’t felt since her first fiancé had given her an early Christmas present by walking out the door several years prior.
With no hope to cling to, there were nights when Samantha would lie in her room and plan her funeral. She knew she didn’t want to be buried. She couldn’t fathom the thought of lying in a casket while everyone weeped over her. She wanted a celebration of life with uplifting music.
Despite the premature planning, Ty was always there to encourage Samantha.
“And he would just be like, stop,” Samantha said. “‘What are you talking about? You’re not going anywhere. You’re going to get a transplant. Everything is going to be fantastic.’”
The depression didn’t just end at black dresses and a funeral procession. Samantha wasn’t happy about living life itself. Every time she would dine at a restaurant, she would have to request a table near an outlet because she required a plug for her oxygen concentrator. She always found that exchange with the hostess embarrassing, because they typically had to go searching for outlets to accommodate Samantha’s request.
“They would usually take 10 minutes to find an outlet,” Samantha said. “Sometimes I would want to go eat, but then get in the parking lot and decide I didn’t want to eat out anymore.”
Once again, Ty was always there to push Samantha past herself limitations. He often encouraged her to eat out, citing it didn’t matter what anyone thought of her because she had the right to eat in public and people just didn’t understand what she was going through.
“It was just a completely different lifestyle, and I could not wait for us to just be able to get up and go, and do things, and not have to worry about oxygen and breathing treatments and medications and hospital stays,” Samantha said. “Ty and I spent every birthday and holiday, except for Christmas, in the hospital the first year of our relationship.”
While Samantha’s outlook seemed bleak at times, Ty’s perception was completely different and he was about to show Samantha.
With his performance background, music festivals have always been important to Ty. However, Samantha had never been able to attend them with him due to her illness.
That was about to change.
For Christmas, in 2014, Ty surprised Samantha with tickets to “SamJam” — their music festival, which was a three-day arts and music festival. Half of the proceeds went to the CF foundation, while the other half went toward Samantha’s lung transplant.
If her nerves hadn’t already taken a hit from having to attend an outdoor event with ravaged lungs, her nerves became shot after she accidentally found her engagement ring receipt one day.
“(Ty) ended up staying with me at my parents the sicker I got because he was that comfort,” Samantha said. “He had his own dresser and I was cleaning it off because there wasn’t a lot I could do, so, like, organizing was kind of my thing, and I had found the receipt and I flipped out.”
Stoked about the possibilities of being engaged, Samantha had to sit back and wait for the official proposal — whenever that might occur.
January 2015 was the four-year anniversary of Samantha being on the transplant list. With her condition deteriorating, her benefit concert was scheduled from April 2-5. However, two weeks before the benefit, Samantha’s condition worsened yet again, landing her in ICU.
Her carbon dioxide levels were at a critical junction and they had to be regulated, through a non-evasive ventilator. After several treatments and through the help of home health, Samantha was able to head home the first day of the music festival.
After a day at home, Samantha attended her festival Saturday — the only day she was able to go. While she was there, Ty asked her to go on stage to thank the people who attended the event.
“My heart is, like, bursting because there are 200 people there,” Samantha said. “I already can’t breathe and at this point in time, I’m only using 16 percent of my lungs. I’m just trying not to freak out.”
After she thanked the crowd, Ty asked Samantha to remain on stage, so she grabbed a nearby chair that had already been set up. Ty grabbed his guitar and started playing a song he wrote for Samantha.
At the end of the song, he proposed.
“He asked me to marry him in front of 200 people, which is insane,” Samantha said. “Obviously, I’m trying to breathe, so I’m not passing out on stage and causing everyone to go into a frenzy. I obviously said yes.”
Shortly after the proposal, the couple began discussing wedding options. However, Samantha was adamant she didn’t want to have a wedding until she had received her double-lung transplant. She didn’t want to be miserable on the “happiest” day of her life.
“I didn’t want to have to worry about my oxygen dying and not being able to breathe, or not being able to dance,” Samantha said. “Having to walk down the aisle is repulsive to me. I couldn’t even imagine doing that.”
Eleven days after Samantha and Ty got engaged, Samantha went back into the hospital to continue to monitor her carbon monoxide levels. While the stay was considered to be “routine,” her life would ultimately change forever two days after checking in.
On April 15, two nurse practitioners woke Samantha up at 8 a.m. They told her that the Cleveland Clinic had found her a “potential” match. The hospital had no way of knowing without being in possession of the lungs, but they were en route and a helicopter was on its way to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to pick up Samantha.
Ty, who stayed at the hospital most nights, had already left for work when he got the call from Samantha.
“I told him he needed to come back and he wanted to know why,” Samantha said. “I said, ‘I got the call.’ He said, ‘Are you serious?’ I said, ‘It’s 8:30 in the morning, this is a serious call.’ Then I called my parents.”
After she made her litany of calls, Samantha decided to take a shower because she knew she wouldn’t be able to for a while. Her goal was to stay calm because she knew if she was calm, everyone else would remain calm.
“I’m in the bathroom, getting ready to take a shower and people said Ty was running down the hallway like I was getting ready to go into labor,” Samantha said. “He was beating down the bathroom door and he was crying. He was like, ‘How are you so calm?’ I said, ‘It’s going to be fine, here’s what I need you to do.’”
Once she arrived at the Cleveland Clinic, Samantha was still as calm as the person that had left Cincinnati — even as her family members began arriving, one after another, displaying tears of joy and excitement over a moment they had long envisioned throughout the last four years.
The lungs arrived at the hospital shortly after Samantha and the surgery was officially a go.
“I was super stoked and excited,” Samantha said.
She said her goodbyes and was wheeled to the operating room. Once inside, a lonely feeling came over Samantha.
“Everything was white and everyone had masks, and everything looked robotic,” Samantha said. “I immediately started crying and there was one nurse that stopped what she was doing. I always say she was my angel because out of everyone, she just stopped and held my hand.”
The nurse asked about her fiancé and she immediately began talking about Ty, and before Samantha knew it, her anxiety attack was over. Eight hours later — so was the surgery.
Samantha spent five days in ICU before being transferred to the transplant floor, where she began her road to recovery.
“Recovery was extremely hard where I had lost a lot of muscle mass,” Samantha said.
Samantha recalls the first time she attempted to walk after her surgery and the supportive cheers she heard from her mother. She said it was like learning for the very first time.
“You have to take baby steps,” Samantha said. “You have to retrain your body. You have to learn to walk and breathe at the same time. You have to learn how to eat and breathe. You have to learn to talk and breathe. Even though you have new lungs, your diaphragm is only used to expanding so far and even with new lungs, you can’t take in a huge breath. You have to work out your chest muscles to be able to breathe.”
Samantha was discharged 16 days after her transplant, but she stayed in Cleveland four weeks while she recovered from the surgery. The first night she was discharged from the hospital, Samantha was sorting her pills in the condo — all 180 of them.
“I was balling,” Samantha said. “I was so stressed out. What if I miss this medication? Because on my paper it had what times and what medicines I was supposed to take. I had a pill organizer and I was balling because I was scared to death.”
As the hours turned to days and the days turned to months, Samantha gained a new lease on life. She had been given a second chance that many people diagnosed with cystic fibrosis could only dream about.
And then, on June 4, 2016, Samantha walked down that aisle toward a new life — one without oxygen masks and hospital stays. She walked toward a man who had stood by her through her darkest days and now she was ready to pledge her love as her light was beginning to shine like never before.
Ty and Samantha stood under a glass atrium and shared their vows in front of 300 people — witnesses — who celebrated the couple’s past and present achievements.
“It was the most perfect day,” Samantha said. “We let off butterflies in memory of my donor and Ty’s grandpa who passed away.
“The most exciting moment was seeing Ty’s face when I walked down the aisle. I just couldn’t even imagine what I did to deserve him and the love he has given me. It’s true, on the day of your wedding, nothing else matters than getting to marry your soul mate. Your best friend. The person you want to go on all life’s adventures with. I’m so thankful he chose me.”
Since her wedding, Samantha has continued to volunteer in many ways. She’s called it her life’s “passion.” Through the Life Center in Cincinnati, Samantha has given speeches at schools, among many other community service projects.
On Saturday, Samantha will be the chairman of the Portsmouth Great Strides Walk for Cystic Fibrosis at Tracy Park.
“Everyone has done so much for us. Individuals, businesses and nonprofits, I like to spend most of my days giving back,” Samantha said. “We’re all here to help one another, and if I can spend my time making a difference in the lives of others, then I know I’ve found my purpose for getting a second chance at life.”
Editor’s note — This is part one of a two-part series. The second part ran in the Sunday, May 14, edition of the Community Common.
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1927, or on Twitter @crslone.