Staff Spotlight: Ta’Mar Ellensworth, BLVS Administrative Assistant
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Staff Spotlight: Ta’Mar Ellensworth, BLVS Administrative Assistant

Ta’Mar Ellensworth was completing some course work in 1998 in Network Engineering and at the end of the semester she started experiencing back pain that led to her having trouble breathing.

That was the start of what would become a challenging medical ordeal for Ellensworth — an administrative assistant in the Blindness and Low Vision Studies (BLVS) department at Salus University — that would disintegrate to the point of her needing a double-lung transplant to save her life.

And, now she’s writing about that experience in her memoir.

Ta'Mar Ellensworth“I was dealing with a series of challenging, life altering events at the time including the sudden death of my mother. I believe managing those events while being a single parent caused me to just push through and not take enough time with my health and manage my stress levels effectively,” she said. “This put me in a position where my immunity was compromised which made me more susceptible to illness. My memoir is a story about hope, health and healing, but it is also a story about faith because my faith and prayer helped me through the whole ordeal.”

Ellensworth eventually found herself in the emergency room with the back pain and low oxygen levels and the doctors were puzzled. Her primary doctor sent her to a pulmonologist, but that didn’t yield any clear answers. In the meantime, Ellensworth had developed a rash on her face that was also a concern.

She soon sought help at Temple Lung Center, known as a national leader in diagnosing and treating lung problems, in Philadelphia. Her lungs were in such bad shape that she was already on oxygen, and doctors at the center were unable to take a biopsy. They were, however, able to biopsy the rash on her face that tested positive for Sarcoidosis.

Sarcoidosis in the lungs is called pulmonary sarcoidosis, which causes small lumps of inflammatory cells called granulomas, which affect how the lungs work.

Once she received this diagnosis, doctors placed her on prednisone and within a few days she came off the oxygen but remained on the the corticosteroid for many years. She would eventually develop pulmonary hypertension, which is abnormally high blood pressure in the lung’s arteries and end stage lung disease.

Ta'Mar Ellensworth“Once diagnosed, doctors said I had only two years before I would need a transplant,” she said. “At the time, I was overweight from all the years on prednisone. I was told that I couldn’t get the transplant unless I lost weight.”

Ellensworth was low on the transplant list but because her condition continued to deteriorate she was bumped up to No. 2 on the nationwide lung transplant wait list.

Her doctor, Abeel Mangi, MD, who at the time was the Cardiothoracic Surgeon and Director of Mechanical Circulatory support at Temple University Hospital, was one of the few doctors in the country — and the only one in Philadelphia at the time — who was offering lung transplant patients the option of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) support. The ECMO machine provides support for both the heart and lungs by pumping and oxygenating a patient’s blood. Those patients in respiratory failure use the machine while they await donor lungs for a transplant.

Doctors were unable to find a match due to Ellensworth’s rare blood type, so she was placed on ECMO. Due to the poor condition of her lungs, they performed the procedure without anesthesia. After a week, a set of lungs were found for Ellensworth. The lungs were bruised — the donor had been in a car accident — but doctors hoped they would heal inside Ellensworth’s body once transplanted.

Her memoir will detail the entire journey.

“Dr. Mangi said that we had only one shot, and we didn’t know whether or not it was going to work,” she said. “He treated me with value and dignity and although I was afraid, he could have talked me into doing just about any treatment. It was his confidence and respect for me that allowed me to trust him enough to do the procedure. Afterwards, when we did a television interview, I thanked him for saving my life and he told me that my resilience offered him more than I could ever imagine.”

Currently, Ellensworth spends her free time as an ambassador and speaker for the Gift of Life donor program and a mentor for the Lung Transplant Foundation where she is mentoring a recent transplant recipient.

Since her transplant, Ellensworth’s favorite hobby has been weight training for which she took several personal training courses and received certificates. She is completing her memoir with NAMW - The National Association of Memoir Writers - and expects to release it by the end of the year.

Ta'Mar Ellensworth

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