Berlin recipient of two lungs urges more people to become organ donors

Published on Thursday, 1 February 2018 21:33
Written by Charles Paullin


BERLIN - Thanks to a double lung transplant, Karen Carlson’s life received a breath of fresh air. Now she is trying to help others pay it forward.

Carlson, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in 2011, at the age of 55, after a whole life of breathing complications.

Cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder, causes persistent lung infections and, over time, limits the ability to breathe, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Recalling the moment her doctor first spoke of a transplant, Carlson said, “My doctor said, ‘This is our only hope to extend your life.’”

That’s when she became wait-listed at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. But after four years with no success finding a donor, she decided to relocate to Durham, N.C., near Duke University.

There’s something about the South, Carlson said, adding that about 90 percent of eligible adults there are registered organ donors, a higher percentage than in the Northeast.

Once moving there, after her husband left his job and she was granted a medical leave of absence from hers, it only took 2 1/2 months to find lungs suitable for transplant.

Before her “big decision” to move, she said, she had all her affairs in order and was “prepared to go.”

“It’s an extension of life,” said Carlson. “If I didn’t get my transplant (at the Duke University Medical Center Lung Transplant Center) a year and a half ago, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Needing some time for rehabilitation, she returned to Berlin last April. She still needs to exercise regularly, is at risk of kidney and liver problems and is more susceptible to colds and flu, but she’s not letting that hold her back.

She’s trying to encourage people to register as organ donors by dancing in the Donate Life gala with her husband.

“People need to register,” she said.

The fourth annual Donate Life gala is on Friday, March 2, from 6:30 p.m. to midnight at the Aria Banquet Facility at 45 Murphy Road, Prospect.

Eleven couples, all with connections to transplant donations, are slated to dance and win votes from supporters to raise funds.

Around 600 people usually attend the event, which includes a full meal, Carlson said.

It cost $1 to vote, with proceeds going to the Donate Life organization, which aims to raise awareness of and encourage organ donation.

She also travels around the state to raise awareness of the need and dispel some of the misconceptions around organ donations, such as untrue religious restrictions and rumors of organ black markets.

“There’s no reason to leave your parts behind,” said Carlson.

She said she thanks her donor every day in spirit, as she isn’t allowed to contact the donor’s family directly unless they contact her first.

As of 1:20 p.m. Jan. 29, Carlson was the second highest vote getter and had raised $1,433.

“I told my husband when I got the new lungs that was going to be my goal,” said Carlson. “Spread awareness and get people to register.”

Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or

Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin on Thursday, 1 February 2018 21:33. Updated: Thursday, 1 February 2018 21:36.