Harriet Boger, 64: Double lung transplant patient was a ‘star’

Almost five years ago, Harriet Boger was prepared to take her last breath. She’d hope it wouldn’t get that far, but her lungs were failing. She needed not one, but two lungs, to replace her own, and the waiting was killing her.

But then the call came. In February 2008, Emory’s Andrew J. McKelvey Lung Transplant Center performed a double-lung transplant on Mrs. Boger.

“After the surgery, she was tearful coming out of the anesthetic,” recalled Richard “Dick” Boger, her husband of 38 years. “The nurses asked if she was in pain, and she said, ‘No, I can breathe!’ ”

One of her first big tests was walking down the aisle at her oldest son’s wedding in May of the same year, just three months after her surgery. After months of using a wheelchair to get around and not being able to eat or get dressed without getting winded, this was a major feat. Flanked by the groom and his brother, Mrs. Boger beamed as she walked to her seat.

Not only did Mrs. Boger’s new lungs power her through family milestones, but she also became a peer-counselor for other lung transplant patients. She worked with patients at Emory and Piedmont hospitals, helping them through the pre- and post-operation process.

“She’d tell me, ‘the doctors can tell the patients about the transplant procedure, but the patients want to know from me how it will feel,’ ” said Frank Hull, a friend of 30 years and a federal appeals court judge for the 11th U.S. Circuit. “She was always a giving person, but after the transplant, this is where she focused her energy.”

Even after she developed an infection in her lungs earlier this year, she continued to help other patients through the process as long as she could. Sunday, Harriet Owen Boger, of Atlanta and Highlands, N.C., died from complications of that infection. She was 64.

Memorial services are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Atlanta, and 11 a.m. Friday at Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, Highlands. Her ashes will be buried at Highlands Memorial Park. SouthCare Cremation & Funeral Society, Marietta, was in charge of arrangements.

When Mrs. Boger showed up in patients’ conferences, everybody was happy to have her there. Her energy was inspiring, said Dr. Clint Lawrence, director of the McKelvey Lung Transplant Center at the Emory University School of Medicine.

“For so long she was our star patient,” Dr. Lawrence said. “She was just a whirlwind of activity, socially and personally, and people could look to her and be hopeful that they could have an improved quality of life.”

For more than four years, Mrs. Boger dedicated her time and energy to educating people on organ donation and helping transplant patients. Earlier this summer, in a blog entitled Advancing Your Health, Mrs. Boger wrote about hiking and playing golf and tennis. She talked about her life before and after the transplant, and encouraged readers to consider organ donation.

“How could I not want to give back to the community?” she asked. “I was almost dead and someone gave me my life back, the most precious gift anyone can give.”

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Boger is survived by her sons, Owen Richard Boger of New York, and Burke Lawrence Boger of Atlanta; sister Margaret Owen Kimberly of Hinsdale, Ill.; and one grandson.

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