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Life-saving lung transplant inspires Wisconsin woman

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Kate Erd was in her driveway one day when she coughed and her lung collapsed.

"I really didn't think I was going to make it," she said.

It was the day before her 60th birthday and she had plans to go to a Brewers game with her family.

"My parents are in their eighties and have never been to a Brewers game," she said.

After her lung collapsed in September, she was sent to a local hospital in Milwaukee, then transferred to UW Health in Madison, where she received a life-saving lung transplant.

Erd had had coughs and difficulty breathing for several years but was only recently diagnosed with the lung disease hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

Her transplant coordinator at UW, Mandy Caldwell, says Erd's condition is rare.

"Per 100,000 people, maybe about one or two live with hypersensitivity pneumonitis," Caldwell said.

One of Erd's first calls after being diagnosed was to the American Lung Association. The organization hosted its annual Fight for Air Climb in Milwaukee Saturday, where thousands of people climbed the U.S. Bank Center's 47 flights of stairs to fundraise for lung disease research and treatment.

This was Erd's first time volunteering at the event. Her family was there too, climbing in her honor.

"After you have something life-threatening, you want to give back," she said. "So this is just one of the ways that I'm giving back."

Erd's team, Team Dallas, was named after her lung donor.

"We're really excited to carry his name up those stairs," she said.

The climb in Milwaukee is one of 43 taking place around the country. And for the more than 37 million Americans with lung disease, every step counts.

There were nearly 40,000 organ transplants in the U.S. in 2019 -- 2,000 of them for lungs, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. For someone with hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a successful lung transplant can mean the difference between life and death.

"When you have a rare disease, your family doesn't really understand what you're going through," Erd said. "Until you're on oxygen, you look normal just like everyone else, but you don't feel normal."

Erd says having access to a community of professionals and people impacted by lung disease, either directly or indirectly, is important.

"To be able to talk to an organization like the American Lung Association to find resources in the community … that's instrumental in your recovery," she said. "You need answers, and that's where you get them from."

And while a transplant is no cure, she says it gave her hope.

"There's a lot of support. You just have to look for it."