Julie D'Agostino and her father were driving home last week from Wisconsin when she got the phone call she long had hoped to receive.
The 21-year-old Elmhurst resident learned she had beaten the odds and was going to receive a second lung transplant in less than three years.
"I just can't believe I'm here," D'Agostino said Thursday, one week after she received a left-lung transplant at Loyola University Medical Center. "The chances of having an available lung for me were very slim. It was a miracle that I even got the lungs."
The procedures for D'Agostino and another DuPage County resident -- Robert Senander, 68, of Winfield -- were part of a monumental two days for Loyola.
The medical center in Maywood became the first facility in Illinois to perform five successful lung transplants in barely more than 24 hours.
Loyola surgeons performed a double-lung transplant and four single-lung transplants between the early hours of May 8 and the early hours of May 9.
Dr. Daniel Dilling, Loyola's medical director of lung transplantation, said it was a "very unusual" feat.
There are only about 3,000 lung transplants performed worldwide each year, Dilling said, and roughly 1,800 of them are in the U.S.
"To put this accomplishment into perspective, that means that there are, on average, only five lung transplants per day in the United States," he said.
All five of the lifesaving procedures happened between May 8 and 9 because that's when lungs from three unidentified donors became available.
"Our goal when we woke up Wednesday morning was not to do five transplants in 24 hours," said Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, Loyola's surgical director of lung transplantation.
However, the five patients -- including Karen Emerich, 56, of New Carlisle, Indiana; Linda Kern, 65, of Princeton; and Roderick Beck, 67, of Springfield -- needed transplants. Senander, diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2009, had been using supplemental oxygen for five years.
"So we owe it to them to be as aggressive as we need to be and to be advocates for them in pursuing any reasonably good offer," Schwartz said. "It just happened that the offers kept coming."
Schwartz said lung transplantation is a complex procedure, with a single-lung transplant taking about six to eight hours to perform. A double transplant can take 10 to 12 hours.
He said the five transplants at Loyola went seamlessly because no more than two of the operations occurred at the same time. Meanwhile, doing all the operations required the combined efforts of more than 30 doctors, nurses and support staffers.
During a Thursday afternoon news conference at Loyola, Dilling said all five patients are having a wonderful recovery.
"It's a testament to the skills of our surgeons," Dilling said. "It's a testament to the wonderful gift given by their donors."
Senander and D'Agostino met for the first time Thursday after finding out they share a special bond. They each got a lung from the same donor.
"Julie and I are now related," said Senander, a Social Security administrative law judge. "We share a set of lungs together."
D'Agostino called Senander her "brother from another mother." She said she's happy doctors made the decision to give the her the left lung and Senander the right lung.
"Because if it would have been a double (lung transplant for one patient), we wouldn't have been able to save both of our lives," D'Agostino said as she and Senander sat next each other.
D'Agostino's mother, Mary, described what happened to her daughter as a miracle.
Julie D'Agostino, who was born with cystic fibrosis, received her first lifesaving lung transplant at Loyola in 2011. After her first transplant, she was healthy for a year.
But then her lungs started failing as she began to experience chronic rejection, Loyola officials said.
Mary D'Agostino said her daughter was facing difficult odds finding a new lung that wouldn't be rejected.
"They were very worried that the right lungs wouldn't come when she needed them," Mary D'Agostino said. "But they came when she was stable. We are just thankful that it happened."
Senander said he's grateful to the donor and that person's family for sharing the gift of life.
"The gift that they gave is extremely valuable," Senander said.
When asked what she's hoping to do in the future, Julie D'Agostino said she would like to dance.
"I'm going to be able to dance to any kind of thing I want," she said. "So I'm excited about that."