They quibble, joke, and share knowing looks, but for months, Irma Myers-Santana, 71, and her sister, Anna Williamson, 69, had been debating who more urgently needed a lung transplant, each wanting the other to go first. Earlier this month, though, the sisters ended up in the same operating room, each getting one lung from the same donor in what doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital say is a first for their facility. "It's a little bit of serendipity," says one doctor. The sisters became ill about 10 years ago with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring of the lungs. Doctors, assisted by a computer program, look at blood type, height, and severity of illness to match a donor and a transplant patient.
The likelihood that Myers-Santana and Williamson would meet all three criteria at the same time was small. The sisters' situation was further complicated because, as Jehovah's Witnesses, they insisted on a "bloodless transplant." (They don't believe in receiving blood transfusions.) Still, both headed to Houston Methodist Hospital, the only facility in the country that does such transplants. It paid off. "The irony of this whole thing is that we're sisters, we're both Jehovah's Witnesses, we have the same blood type and we got (the lungs) from the same donor," Williamson said after the surgery, able for the first time in years to complete a sentence without coughing.