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Seventeen days after undergoing more than six hours of surgery to have her diseased right lung replaced with a healthy one, Robin Duffy walked out of University of North Carolina Hospitals on Friday and became the state's first successful lung transplant patient.

``This is the best I've ever breathed in my life,' the 26-year-old Duffy said.She was not the first in North Carolina to undergo the procedure. In fact, UNC Hospitals' only other lung transplant recipient died Thursday night, three months after her surgery.

``I actually wasn't the first,' said Duffy of New Bern. ``I am the first to walk out of here, and I am grateful for that. I am sorry for the other family as well. At the same time, she will never be forgotten.'

UNC Hospitals officials would not release the identity of the woman who died Thursday, except to say she was a 32-year-old woman from Cary.

Another North Carolina lung transplant patient continued to fight for her life Thursday at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Winston-Salem, said hospital spokesman Bill Glance. A 49-year-old woman suffering from emphysema is listed in serious condition in the hospital's intensive care unit after her April 16 surgery - an operation performed one day prior to Duffy's.

Baptist Hospital performed the first lung transplant operation in North Carolina last April. The patient, 63-year-old Calvin Wooten of Winston-Salem, died July 1.

Doctors define a successful lung transplant as one in which the patient is dismissed from the hospital.

Without her operation, Duffy would have had only 12 to 18 months to live, said her surgeon Dr. Thomas M. Egan. Now she can expect to return a normal life, but he could not predict her life expectancy.

``It was a chore to breathe before. It was tiring just having to do that, never mind trying to walk. Now, like Dr. Egan says, I can walk and talk, and I haven't shut up and I really enjoy it a lot.'

``I'm going to call my 6-year-old daughter, who has long awaited for the day that her mother would be able to run with her,' she said.

Duffy suffered from a rare disease - called eosinophilic granulomatosis - that causes inflammation and scarring of lung tissue, reducing its performance.

The transplanted lung functions wonderfully, Egan said. She's able to walk around on her own, and the chance is that she'll be able to enjoy a relatively normal, regular life within a few months, he said.

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