By Reggie Ellis

On Dec. 21, just four days before she would celebrate the birth of Jesus, Gwen Roberts was born again.

It was the first time the 23-year-old had taken a breath on her own in nearly four years following a six-hour surgery to replace both of her failing lungs with transplants.

"The doctors were very happy and said her lungs were a perfect match," said Donna Getman, Gwen's mother, in a phone interview several days later from Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif. "She is up and walking already. The therapist said it is the first time they have seen someone right out of surgery walk around the unit twice."

Roberts, a 2000 graduate of Exeter Union High School, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 2 years old. The disease causes irregular mucus secretion in her lungs which diminishes her lung capacity over time. Four years ago her lung capacity dropped to near 50 percent and has been rapidly declining ever since, dipping as low as 19 percent. In September 2003 Roberts, then attending the Ralston School of Massage in Reno, Nev., went into surgery for kidney stone removal. Following the surgery, Roberts suffered from several infections and her body struggled to heal. The infections weakened Roberts into a stage that required that required 24-hour use of an oxygen tank to assist her breathing. After deciding with her doctor Brian Moressey of the UC Davis Medical Group to go ahead with the duel lung transplant, Roberts waited five months to see the transplant team at Stanford University. In October, Roberts told The Sun that, "Everyone tells me how strong I am. But God gives you what you can deal with. I wouldn't have this if I couldn't handle it." She has been on a waiting list for the lungs since October and weighed heavily the long and painful surgery and recovery.

"They couldn't guarantee anything but she had nothing to lose," Getman said. "If she didn't get it done she was going to die. If the operation didn't work at least she tried."

Gwen's lung capacity is now back to normal. Getman said Gwen has complained about pain from the surgery but could immediately feel the difference when she was breathing. Gwen will now begin therapy and treatment allowing her body to accept the new lungs. For the next two weeks she will be on anti-rejection medication for three hours twice a day. The medication will make sure that her body's immune system does not treat the transplants as foreign cells, such as a virus, and try to attack them. The doctors said the body normal rejects transplants within the first 24 hours. After that, doctors say there is a good chance she will not have any problems with the lungs. But there is always a chance.

"They don't really know what causes rejection and even though it is fine now that could change later," Getman said. "But whatever time she is getting will be of a higher quality of life than before."

Getman, her fiance, Roberts stepfather, Jody Hanggi, sisters Jennifer and Cassandra Hanggi, and three friends were at the hospital during and after the surgery. Thanks to the Exeter community Getman will be staying with Gwen in Palo Alto for the next three months of her therapy.

On Nov. 7, Roberts' close friends and family members held a fund-raiser to cover the cost of hotel, food and phone bills for the family to stay with her following the surgery. A $10 dinner and dance benefit was held at the Eagles Banquet Hal with the goal of raising $5,000. It instead raised $10,000, all of which went to the family.

"The money is greatly appreciated," Getman said. "Anything she needs I can get for her and be here with her. If I need to stay for six months, I can do that too."

Getman said Gwen was a little sad she would be spending another holiday season in the hospital, but was already making plans for her new life. She is talking about going snowboarding, finish message therapy courses, enrolling in dance classes at College of Sequoias and continuing her education.

"It's like her second birth day," Getman said. "She is beginning a whole new life. It will be a new experience to go home without oxygen [tanks], IVs, or wheel chairs. It's been such a long time since we've been able to do that. This is the very best Christmas gift that we could all have asked for."

- Andrea Camarena contributed to this report.

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