The Omaha theater community is rejoicing, figuratively shouting from the top of its healthy lungs.
Lara Marsh, 43, a beloved director and stage manager who has lived her life with cystic fibrosis, finally received a double-lung transplant.
“Everything looks good,” husband Craig Marsh said Tuesday. “It went well.”
It's early, but that initial report caused Omaha-area theater folks and other friends to breathe a sigh of relief for a woman who has never found it easy to breathe. She was diagnosed with CF at age 4.
This is her 43rd hospitalization for the disease, cumulatively totaling 3½ years throughout her life.
Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening disease passed down through families that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract and other areas of the body. Lara's sister died from CF at 18.
Lara, artistic director of the Omaha Community Playhouse's professional touring wing, the Nebraska Theatre Caravan, got on the national lung-transplant list in March 2012. Fundraisers for her have been held for the past five years.
“No one loves theater more than Lara, and no one works harder,” said Susan Collins, Playhouse associate director. “This has been a long time coming.”
Lara's breathing had dropped to 25 percent of normal capacity, and she sometimes has used an oxygen device at work.
She had recently worked extensively behind the scenes on the Playhouse's production of “Les Miserables.” On Monday, she was welcoming performers to Omaha in advance of rehearsals for the Playhouse's two 2013 national tours of “A Christmas Carol.”
A call came at 2:30 p.m. Monday that lungs were available for transplant. The Marshes took off from Eppley Airfield in an air ambulance at 3:50 p.m. and arrived in Denver before 6 p.m.
They were “surprisingly relaxed,” Craig said, and went straight to the University of Colorado Medical Center in Aurora. On television, Lara watched her favorite team, the Green Bay Packers.
The couple had received a call in August and traveled to Denver, but the lungs turned out to be damaged and not suitable for transplant. This time, there would be no emotional letdown — the lungs were healthy.
Surgery began around midnight and lasted 10½ hours. The Marshes greatly appreciate that someone had decided to donate organs upon his or her death, and they extend sympathy to that person's family.
“That's the difficult side of this,” Craig said. “As much as we wanted Lara to have new lungs, there's only one way that can happen.”
Lara grew up in Plattsmouth as Lara Scholten and she majored in fine arts at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Craig is a union audio engineer assigned to the Holland Performing Arts Center.
Because they are theater people, it's not surprising that their July 3, 1999, wedding was a production. They wore Elizabethan-era costumes and the judge wore a friar's frock as they married on the set of “Shakespeare on the Green.”
Lara has worked at the Playhouse since 2001. She was an assistant director for “Les Miz,” attending all rehearsals and many shows. She also has been stage manager for Ak-Sar-Ben coronations.
Just before curtain in any production, the stage manager announces to the cast: “Places, please!” That is the name of the fundraising campaign for Lara's lung transplant.
Though she has health insurance, the “Places, Please” campaign has raised $126,000 for expenses not covered by insurance. The money is held by the nonprofit Children's Organ Transplant Association in Bloomington, Ind.
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The Marshes want more people to sign up to donate organs.
Another fundraiser, “Sing Your Lungs Out for Lara,” is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Nov. 16 at the Pizza Shoppe Collective, 6056 Maple St. The annual event is an evening of show tunes and standards by professional entertainers from the Nebraska Theatre Caravan.
It promises to be especially joyful this year.
Said friend Betsy Scott, who coordinates the fundraisers: “Can you imagine waking up and for the first time being able to take a deep breath?”
A double-lung transplant doesn't mean a person's CF goes away.
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation says the transplanted lungs don't have CF, but the person still has CF in the sinuses, pancreas, intestines, sweat glands and reproductive tract. There is a risk of infection, especially soon after a transplant.
About 150 to 200 people with cystic fibrosis have received a lung transplant each year since 2007. The CF Foundation says more than 50 percent of lung-transplant patients are alive after five years.
Craig said Lara is expected to be in the hospital two to three weeks. They hope to return to Omaha in about three months.
Word of the transplant quickly spread Tuesday on social media. There was a buzz of happiness and affection for Lara.
“She can find good in anything and anyone,” Craig said. “And this lady has got fight in her that I don't have. She stares adversity in the face.”