Editor’s Note: This article is part of a feature called Follow-up in which BDN staff update past stories to inform readers of any new developments.
PORTLAND, Maine — Saturday marked the 100th day Ashely Drew of Scarborough has been waiting for a double lung transplant. The 24-year-old University of Maine graduate student needs new lungs because her own have been scarred by cystic fibrosis.
“Today was really nice,” she wrote Saturday on her website from her hospital bed at Maine Medical Center. “I had visitors basically nonstop since I woke up. This might win the award for the most visitors in one day. Eight! Some of the days in here seem to drag on forever, but that wasn’t today at all. I felt happy all day long.
“I don’t even think I can describe how nice it was,” she continued. “I mean, I am normally always pretty happy, but the fact that the time spent laughing and smiling easily outnumbered my resting face moments just says a lot!”
Drew spent the evening the same way that many Americans did — watching the NCAA basketball tournament. Like many other fans, she underestimated Indianapolis’ Butler University, which beat the University of Florida, in Gainsville, 74-72 in overtime.
“The Southeast Region for March Madness is the only section so far that I have completely messed up,” she wrote. “I wanted Butler to do really well, I just didn’t expect it.”
Drew graduated in spring 2009 summa cum laude with a 3.7 GPA and a bachelor’s degree in music education. In January 2010, she was forced to take time off from her graduate studies in instrumental conducting after one semester to make her health her top priority while she awaits word on a transplant.
New lungs won’t cure her disease, Drew said last year. But without them, the scarring in her lungs will spread until she can’t breathe. A healthy pair of lungs function at 98 percent capacity; her lung capacity was at 25 percent Friday, up from a low of 18 percent Tuesday when she was forced to enter the hospital for treatment with intravenous antibiotics, Drew said Sunday in an email response to questions.
While Drew has insurance, a number of costs related to her surgery won’t be covered, such as travel to and from the hospital for tests. If a donor is found, she’ll need to be in the hospital within a matter of hours, which will require a helicopter.
After a lung infection in middle school, Drew decided to keep her condition a secret.
“I didn’t want people saying, ‘There’s Ashley Drew,’ and then lowering their voices to say, “she has cystic fibrosis,” she told the Bangor Daily News last year. “I can’t hide this anymore, because I need help. Not just money. I need support.”
She still refuses to be defined by the disease.
“I am Ashley and CF is something I have to deal with,” she said in the email. “But something I am is a musician. Whether I am having a good day or a bad day, my music is always there. When I was healthier than I am now, I would practice two to four hours daily. I am unable to do that now, so instead I spend a lot of time arranging music for various music groups.”
Her classmates in the University of Maine’s Symphonic Band held a series of fundraising concerts last spring.
Choirs from the First Congregational Church of Brewer and the Church of Universal Fellowship in Orono will team up for a concert at 7 p.m., Friday, April 8, at the Orono church, 82 Main St. Other musical talent, including the Maine Steiners, will join them.
Drew is planning to attend, she wrote recently on her website.
Music has been a balm for Drew, and it is something she looks forward to sharing.
“I have spent six years in school learning as much as possible, so that I can instill the love of music in my students that I will teach in the future,” she wrote on her website. “I want to make sure I can have this dream and all this time in school was for a good purpose.”
Donations are being accepted and handled by Tom Drew’s employer at Air for Ashley c/o Allied Home Mortgage, 360 U.S. Route 1, Suite 300, Scarborough, ME 04074. Drew said anyone interested in helping can contact him at 885-5070, ext. 118.
BDN copy editor Eryk Salvaggio contributed to this report.