"Leslie was a role model for the other patients who knew her; the nursing staff and medical staff had a lot of love for Leslie," Dr. Rosenstein says. "She wasn't just waiting for 32 years to die. She was determined to make something of her life and she did it."
"She was intensely proud that she was a physician's personal secretary, proud this was her responsibility," Judy Gresser says. "If I felt the way she felt, I could never have dragged myself in [to work]. It had to be a tremendous effort."
And then, in 1992, there was a ray of hope. There was a doctor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Medical Center who was having success with lung transplants. Leslie talked on the phone to a man in his late 20s who had undergone the procedure; he had just finished playing tennis and was having fun filling the time he used to spend in chest therapy.
I begged her to apply for the surgery right away, but Leslie was leery and afraid of the rehabilitation. "She had more fear of pain and painful procedures than of dying," Dr. Rosenstein says. She also feared dying on the operating table and preferred to live all the days her lungs would allow rather than take a chance on giving up even one.
She took months to gather her courage, but finally she, Mom and Duke headed for North Carolina. There, she was subjected to days of grueling tests to determine if she was a candidate for a transplant. In the worst of these, an incision was made in the femoral artery in her leg, where a catheter was inserted and pushed all the way to her heart. When the catheter was removed, the surgeon stopped the bleeding by applying so much pressure to the wound that it caused severe bruising. Then, a 10-pound bag of sand was placed on her leg and she was told to lie still, on her back, for eight hours. "This made it very difficult for her, because she didn't breathe well lying flat," Duke says. "That was very scary to her when she couldn't get a breath."
This pain paled next to what she felt when the doctors turned her down. She was relieved at not having to go through the surgery, but devastated that there was nothing more that could be done for her.
Surgeons had seen through the catheter a heart damaged by the stress of two lung collapses. Removing lungs attached to her pleura cavity would cause so much bleeding her weakened heart couldn't cope. The surgery she couldn't live without she wouldn't live through.
I had a week off from my job as a sports copy editor at the Buffalo (N.Y.) News at Thanksgiving, a few months after her rejection, and drove with my family from Buffalo to Baltimore. My mother's four children used her home in Stoneleigh as a gathering point. This is where we usually saw Leslie, who because she was dependent on Mom, never lived more than a few miles away.
But on this occasion, I made a point of taking my family for a long visit to her apartment. She showed it off proudly, and we spent hours watching our dogs play and laughing as if nothing was wrong. My wife, Tracy, a physical therapist, performed the therapeutic pounding for Leslie, who was exhausted by the holiday demands and too tired to do it herself.
On the way back to Mom's house, recalling Leslie's tubes, her lack of color and her face made puffy by the drug Prednisone, Tracy and I wondered if this would be the last time we would see my sister.
With the end of hope, Leslie's spirits drooped. She had longer and more frequent periods of depression. To combat this, Duke and their friends hatched a plan. The B-52's, a favorite band of Duke and Leslie's because of its upbeat style, would be in concert at Georgetown University's Smith Center on Jan. 16, 1993.
"As soon as I heard they were on tour I ordered tickets," Duke says. "Then I worried Leslie wouldn't want to go; she didn't want to get too far from the hospital or her mother. She was self-conscious in public carrying the oxygen. It was against her nature to have those feelings because she still loved people and parties, but she felt isolated.
"I wanted to make sure she felt comfortable so I called the Smith Center, got ahold of the production manager there, and made some special arrangements so we could be seated without a lot of walking; she wasn't strong enough to do all that maneuvering. They were very accommodating. He made sure we had a special entrance, he made sure we were escorted by the shortest route possible to our seats. He had reserved a spot for her on the floor, and made sure we didn't have to deal with any steps.
"As Leslie put it, it was just like the old times. We hadn't really been out to any event, out on a date, in a long time. We just really had the best time. I was so happy to see her forget about things for awhile. She forgot about the oxygen, and was dancing."
My mother called, ecstatic, to tell me the news, that Leslie had actually gone dancing, an act for which she had been admonished half a life ago.