LEWISTON — When it killed her mother and father, Claudette Sweetser Fournier saw what chronic obstructive pulmonary disease looked like up close.
"They lingered a long time," Fournier, 62, said. "I certainly had a preview of what I was facing — it wasn't pretty and it wasn't fun."
Born and raised in Lewiston, Fournier was diagnosed with COPD and emphysema in 2005. A legal research clerk in the back office at TD Bank, she'd started having a hard time on the stairs at work, noticed she had to stop more often to catch her breath.
She's been on the waiting list for a double lung transplant since Nov. 7, 2009. Medicare approved the surgery. It'll cover 80 percent of the $800,000 cost.
Friends are planning a pasta supper Saturday to help with expenses.
Fournier had only been married to her husband, Charles, a few years before she was diagnosed. They had bought a house with a big backyard.
"Gardening was my serenity, that was my refuge, that was my connection with God," she said.
It's too much for Charles to keep up on his own, but he tries, Fournier said. "He knows that I love it, so he does it for me."
On nice days that aren't too hot and not too damp she heads outside to a screen room to sit and admire the view. For several years she's been connected to oxygen 24 hours a day.
Every three months she asks doctors if she's moved up the waiting list. Usually, it's no or not much.
"It's kind of an anomaly: You have to be healthy, but you have to be real sick," Fournier said. "As your numbers get worse, supposedly you move up the list a little higher."
Both of her parents had smoked cigarettes. They lived into their 80s with the disease. Fournier started smoking at age 13, cut back at her diagnosis and quit when doctors told her she was eligible for a transplant.
Between she and Charles, they have seven children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Fournier's immune system is so weak that she limits the visitors to her home to people who haven't been around anyone sick in the last three weeks. With kids and colds, that's hard.
"I miss the grandchildren all winter. I miss half a year of their lives," she said. "At Christmas, I'll see them." But she wears a mask, and they don't quite understand it.
The cutoff for a double lung transplant is age 65. If she's still waiting then but deemed healthy enough to survive surgery, Fournier said she's been told she'll stay on the list.
"It's very unsettling," she said. "It works on you all the time."
Her former boss at TD Bank, Gloria Bartley, is organizing the supper Saturday at the First Assembly of God Church. Fournier said she'll be there, and she's very grateful.
Before working at TD, she had several different office jobs and cut hair in the Twin Cities for 15 years.
Imagining herself post-surgery, "It would be wonderful to know that I can get up and walk out of my home and I'm not connected to a tube," she said. "Just to be able to go outside and get my fingers in the dirt."