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Fargo woman keeps faith after double lung transplant 'dry run'

Holly Bergo once led an active life as a nurse for Cass County Public Health. She had to retire from her job after being diagnosed with a rare, progressive lung disease and now awaits a call for a double lung transplant. (David Samson/The Forum)

FARGO - A recent "dry run" to the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center hasn't diminished Holly Bergo's faith she will get a new pair of lungs.

The former Moorhead public health nurse, whom The Forum profiled in June, has a rare, incurable disease that reduced her lung function to 16 percent. A double lung transplant is her only shot at getting her job and her old high-energy life back.

The July 9 dash to Mayo was an exercise in reining in excitement and stifling disappointment. But after her disease itself failed to vanquish her upbeat spirit, a smooth jet ride on a beautiful summer day certainly wasn't going to do that.

"This carefree attitude is so Holly," friend Kate Frappier says.

"As a friend and classmate, it's been truly amazing to watch her."

Bergo's friends are holding a fundraiser for her at Fargo's Holiday Inn on Friday. She plans to attend - unless, of course, Mayo calls again.

The call from Mayo came at a quarter to 10, just as Bergo was text messaging a friend who'd offered to bring her lunch.

"Holly, we have your lungs," said the Mayo nurse coordinator.

"Are you kidding?" Bergo said.

For months, she had imagined that call rousing her from sleep in the middle of the night.

She stayed calm, even as her father Bruce's Ford Explorer wouldn't start and they had to bum a ride to the Fargo Jet Center from her apartment building's resident manager. There, they boarded a MeritCare LifeFlight to Rochester, Minn.

As the plane climbed over Minnesota lakes country, "I looked out, and it was bright blue skies and white, billowing clouds, and I thought it was just so beautiful," Bergo recalls. "I felt happy."

Then, she asked a nurse if cocktails would be served. Her emotional father, she quipped, could probably use one.

"I've never seen you calmer in your entire life," her father told her.

At Mayo, she had a chest X-ray and blood work done, and took her first dose of anti-rejection medication. At 4 p.m., she was wheeled into the operating room and saw her surgical team.

"I started crying, and then I started laughing," she says. "It all came out."

She settled down to wait for the lungs. Two hours later, her surgeon came in, and she could tell he had bad news before he spoke.

"The lungs won't work, will they?" she said.

The surgeon had just discovered nodules in the donor lungs - small masses of tissue that can sometimes signal early stage lung cancer. He'd decided not to take a chance.

"I was disappointed, but I was happy I was still living," she says.

The experience was unsettling, Bergo says, but it's made waiting for her new lungs easier. Now she knows what to expect from the buildup to the surgery. And the calls and messages since affirmed the support she enjoys.

"Holly told me that as hard as it was, it just wasn't the right time," Frappier says. "She made me feel it would be OK."

If you go

* What: Dinner, dance and silent auction for Holly Bergo

* When: 6 to 11 p.m. Friday

* Where: Holiday Inn, Fargo

* Info: Tickets $25 at the door or by calling Kate at (701) 371-1844