Brianna Fogelman shows off a gift she gave to lung transplant surgeon Errol Bush, in honor of her becoming his 100th Johns Hopkins patient. [Please note, this photo was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic, hence the absence of masks.]

How a second chance at life is shaping a Johns Hopkins Hospital nurse’s career

When Brianna Fogelman checks on her patients, the Johns Hopkins nurse pays close attention to their emotional state. She knows that’s expected of every nurse, but it feels especially vital to her — not long ago, the 27-year-old registered nurse, who cares for patients about to undergo or recover from surgery, grappled with her own fears as she waited for a new set of lungs at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Throughout her childhood, Fogelman struggled with asthma and other chronic lung problems, which worsened over time. She entered her 20s often gasping for breath, and she eventually required portable oxygen. In 2018, during her third year of nursing school in Delaware, she was referred to Johns Hopkins transplant pulmonologist Pali Shah, who placed her on a national waiting list for a double-lung transplant. During the next few months, Fogelman’s lungs collapsed twice, and then she developed pneumonia.

A Mutual Milestone

Feeling weak and defeated, Fogelman was admitted to The Johns Hopkins Hospital on June 4, 2019. She required round-the-clock care as she waited for the set of healthy donor lungs that would provide the best fit for her 5-foot-3 frame. Errol Bush, surgical director of the Advanced Lung Disease and Lung Transplant Program, rejected two pairs of marginal lungs before determining the third would work well.

Bush performed the transplant on June 24, 2019. The surgery was a milestone for both the patient and the physician: It was Bush’s 100th lung transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins.

Two months after her transplant, Fogelman returned to nursing school in Delaware for her senior year. She also scored an interview for a position as a nurse at Johns Hopkins. The nurse manager, Heather Sauerwald, was so impressed that she hired Fogelman on the spot.

“Brianna was a young, healthy woman with an unexpected lung disease,” says Shah. “She had an incredible amount of courage and maturity, as well as a great husband and family supporting her. She inspired all of us.”

Recouping Strength, ‘Giving Back’

Fogelman began working on a medical and surgical unit at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in early September 2020, while commuting from Delaware.

Fogelman, who recently moved to Harford County, Maryland, says she’s still getting used to her new lungs. She relishes walking her three dogs with her husband, an electrocardiogram technician. “Now, I no longer need to stop and catch my breath,” she says.

“I’m still learning how to breathe,” she adds, noting that her co-workers “have been amazing and supportive.”

“Having been a patient here, Brianna has a strong understanding of what it’s like to be in the hospital and how patients want or expect to be treated,” says nurse manager Carole Blakeley.

Fogelman looks forward to assuming — post-pandemic — a thoracic nursing role, working alongside the caregivers who supported her through her life-threatening ordeal.

As she reflects on her prolonged hospital stay — altogether, 42 days — she recalls the roller coaster of emotions she felt. “We can’t control our negative thoughts, but I had to come to terms with my fears,” she says. “I realized that nothing mattered, except surviving.”

“The experience,” Fogelman says, “makes me more motivated to support others who are sick.”

Read about other inspiring Johns Hopkins nurses and how you can start your career as a nurse at hopkinsmedicine.org/nursing.

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