WESTWOOD (CBSLA.com) — It seemed the force was with Kathlyn Chassey, who was so sick she almost died.
She was born with cystic fibrosis, which can cause severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs.
When Chassey’s lungs were shutting down, doctors in her home state of Texas put her on an artificial lung. But time was running out.
“We were planning her funeral,” said Chassey’s mother, Julieann.
The 24-year-old’s only hope was a lung transplant. But every hospital she approached in the Southwest turned her down because they said her case was too risky.
“Everybody needs a chance, and I needed a chance,” Chassey said.
Her parents refused to give up and reached out to Peter Mayhew, who plays Chewbacca in the Star Wars movies. He is also a Texas resident.
The Chasseys befriended Mayhew at a Star Wars convention when Kathlyn was a small child. They had a photo taken in which she was standing next to Mayhew smiling.
Mayhew immediately took to social media to plead for any hospital to take a chance on his young friend he called the “littlest wookiee.”
“That night, a website went live. Tweets went out. Facebook messages went out. And it was surreal,” Mrs. Chassey recalled.
Abbas Ardehali, a cardiothoracic surgeon at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, heard Chewbacca’s roar and agreed to do the surgery.
“We felt that it’s our duty and obligation to provide her with that therapy,” Ardehali said.
On Dec. 12, the Air Force’s 59th Medical Wing flew Kathlyn from San Antonio to Southern California on a transport plane. Chassey’s father is in the Air Force.
Once in Westwood, she was listed for transplant and got her new lungs right after Christmas – all because one doctor said yes.
“He’s a hero. He’s my hero,” Chassey called Ardehali. “I can breathe. That first breath I took when I woke up after the transplant. It felt so clear.”
She recently was released from the hospital but must remain in Southern California for a few more months so doctors can monitor her. They expect her to make a full recovery.
The devoted Star Wars fan said she owes her life to Mayhew and his wife, Angie.