Lung recipient gets married

Published 7:33 pm Saturday, December 17, 2016

A familiar face in the local news more than a decade ago recently said “I do,” marking another beautiful step in the journey after having a double lung transplant.

Martina Natoli was featured in all of the local media in the mid-2000s, when she was fighting to stay alive until she could receive a new set of lungs.

Natoli was born with cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease that mostly affects the lungs but also other organs.

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The illness causes a buildup of mucus in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Breathing treatments, a feeding tube, hospital visits and even surgeries were regular parts of childhood for Natoli.

“I was in and out of the hospital, always having to deal with being sick,” she said.

Her mom wanted her to have as normal a life as possible, so she tried to attend school. But once she passed out at school, so she started homeschooling instead.

“I always tried to hide my illness,” she said. “I didn’t want people to know how bad I truly felt.”

When Natoli was 13, doctors said her lungs were not getting any better, and her lung function was getting dangerously low. They needed to raise money to pay for the portion of the surgery their insurance wouldn’t cover.

The Hampton Roads community banded together to hold every imaginable kind of fundraiser to help her family raise the money they needed for the transplant. Bike rides, dinner sales, bracelets sold by former classmates at Forest Glen Middle School and a Langley Speedway night were just some of the fundraisers that occurred.

Her grandmother, Dee Shannon, a Suffolk resident, was the media guru.

“Once we got it on the news, people were calling my grandma left and right,” Natoli said.

The family eventually raised the money, and Natoli received the precious gift of life — a set of donor lungs — in 2009.

Fast-forward to 2014, when Natoli met Iljay Lagman, who is serving in the U.S. Navy. The two met as roommates but quickly fell in love and decided to marry.

That happened this fall at the First Lady of Suffolk, with a guest list that included many of the people who helped the Natoli family raise the money for the transplant.

Lagman adores his new wife and said people still recognize her.

“She’s an inspiration,” he said. “If she did it, you can do it.”

She still struggles with her health, but the new Mrs. Lagman is determined to make the most of life. The couple went zip-lining during their honeymoon in Punta Cana, the Dominican Republic.

She said she is inspired by some of the people she met through the transplant process, who were also having transplants around the same time, that ultimately didn’t make it.

“You don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring,” she said. “I’m just trying to live life.”

These days, she is a spokesperson for LifeNet, the nonprofit organ procurement organization, and is on the committee for the Great Strides Walk for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Next year’s event is coming up on April 22, and Lagman is hoping the event will be bigger than ever.

“Last year, we went, and it was really, really small,” she said, adding that most of the participants were family of people with cystic fibrosis. “It was very heartbreaking.”

She hopes to be able to get more people passionate about finding a cure for cystic fibrosis.

“I want it to be big,” she said.