Weekly Feature

2017-11-22 / Front Page

Clarence native progresses after live saving transplant


Diana Donnarumma holds up a stuffed pillow which depicts the two organs — a small and large intestine — she recently had transplanted. Diana Donnarumma holds up a stuffed pillow which depicts the two organs — a small and large intestine — she recently had transplanted. Diana Donnarumma, the 25-year-old Clarence native who was waiting for a lifesaving transplant of the small and large intestines, has been granted an opportunity to soon return to a normal life.

On the evening of Oct. 24, Donnarumma received the call she had anxiously been waiting for. Her cellphone buzzed, interrupting the movie she and her boyfriend had been watching. The caller was a representative of Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., who asked her whether she was busy before delivering the news that her new organs were being flown to the hospital.

“I was frantic,” said Donnarumma. “As soon as I put the phone down, I went into autopilot, grabbing all of the bags.”

The chaotic sequence of events climaxed in an 11-hour surgery. Speaking to The Clarence Bee from Georgetown, Donnarumma recounted the experience and her progression, noting that she recently passed a major hurdle when she was able to stand up straight without assistance.

Donnarumma’s life-threatening health issues first manifested when she was a marketing student at the University of Miami. Doctors soon discovered that Donnarumma had contracted Lyme disease from a tick bite more than a decade ago and that it had gone undiagnosed. The disease developed into a condition known as “dysautonomia,” which causes the nervous system to gradually shut down.

Dysautonomia affects heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and temperature control — work that is imperceptible to us but which keeps the human body alive and functioning. Donnarumma’s gastrointestinal muscles nearly shut down entirely as her digestive system had lost its ability to move food along the tract, causing her to experience cyclical bouts of vomiting and intense stomach pain.

Intestinal failure can lead to fatal malnutrition unless the body receives total parenteral nutrition — an intravenous feeding that bypasses the usual process of eating and digestion — or an intestinal transplant. Donnarumma said her body is responding to the transplant and she hopes to soon begin a liquid diet without the need of nutrition through a central line.

“There will be heavy restrictions for a year, basically,” she said. “They don’t want anything fibrous. They want you to eat starches, potatoes, breads and rices.”

Since intestinal transplants are among the most invasive, Donnarumma is required to stay in Washington, D.C., for six months while doctors monitor her progress and ensure that her body doesn’t begin to reject the new organs or suffer further infections.

Donnarumma is focused on removing the need for total parenteral nutrition, and she’s determined to get back the normal life she lived before she became ill.

“The thing that surprised me the most about this journey is the love and support I’ve received,” she said. “The goal now is to get back into a normal life, go out with friends and do things I haven’t been able to do for a really long time. That’s what’s getting me through.”

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