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CHAMBERSBURG – On a Wednesday summer morning, Sarah Keith of Chambersburg arrives to respiratory rehabilitation at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital. Vicki Lemmon of St. Thomas arrives soon after.

“It seems like we follow each other everywhere,” said Lemmon. “We’ve got a good connection – it’s nice to have someone who knows exactly what you’re going through.”

“We almost know what each other’s thinking because we’ve been through so much, I think,” added Keith.

The duo endured similar journeys as lung transplant recipients. Those journeys went from receiving care at WellSpan Pulmonology & Sleep Medicine from Dr. Peter Jablin and Dr. Tarkeshwar Tiwary to respiratory therapy before the transplants to surgeries almost a month apart. Since then, they have shared the bumpy road of recovery, including setbacks and hospitalizations in April.

Now, in part because of their shared experiences, Keith and Lemmon have found an enduring friendship.

When they’re not at rehab together, the two stay in touch with phone calls, through social media and by going to restaurants.

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“Once rehab is done, we’ll definitely be in touch because I’ve found a friend for life,” said Keith.

Sarah Keith, in foreground, and friend Vicki Lemmon talk during a recent respiratory rehabilitation session.
Sarah Keith, in foreground, and friend Vicki Lemmon talk during a recent respiratory rehabilitation session.

“I feel like a twin,” added Lemmon.

Keith received a double-lung transplant in October 2018 after being on the waitlist eight months. Lemmon waited two years before receiving a single-lung transplant in November of that same year. The friends returned to respiratory rehabilitation around the same time.

“We’re definitely getting stronger,” said Lemmon.

“It’s been a journey,” said Keith, who struggled with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) for about a decade and was accustomed to toting oxygen with her wherever she went.

Lemmon had five “dry runs” where she received phone calls that a set of lungs was waiting for her, she’d travel three hours and get prepped for surgery only to find out they wouldn’t work for her – either because they weren’t healthy enough or someone higher on the waitlist was a match.

By the sixth call and prep for surgery, Lemmon figured it would be more of the same.

“They got me prepped and the next thing I knew, I was waking up.”

Since WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital doesn’t perform organ transplants, the two had to travel out of area for that part of their treatment.

Lemmon said after the long journeys faced, the friends are focused on continuing to get stronger.

“Yes,” agreed Keith. “Her and I are going to go jogging someday.”

“I’ll watch!” Lemmon joked, adding, “Hopefully we can.”

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” added Keith.

Both women will likely complete respiratory rehabilitation by the end of August.

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