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An Uncommon Bond

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They finish each other's sentences, laugh at the same things -- meet two sisters who do everything together. But they never realized they would be diagnosed with the same rare heart condition just days apart. It was the same disease their mother died from 20 years ago.

Ever since Carmen Froseth could walk, she and her big sister, Lana, were joined at the hip.

"She's my rock. We do everything together," Carmen says. "She took me out on dates with her and sports practices."

But what they remember most may be their darkest time when Carmen and Lana lost their mother, Sharon, suddenly to a rare heart condition 20 years ago. She was 33.

"Back then there wasn't a lot of treatments for it. The only thing she could really do was all heart and lung transplant and it was just too late for her to get one," Carmen says.

Little did they know, the two, now adults, and Lana a parent herself, would have to relive that again.

"I was mad that we both had it," says Lana. "Because at least if something happened to me, they'd always have my sister."

"I immediately jumped to that conclusion that I don't have much time left," says Carmen.

Carmen and Lana were diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension -- a heart condition that happens to every 15 out of a million people. It's basically high blood pressure in the lung arteries that restricts the flow of oxygenated blood from the heart, to the lungs, and the rest of the body. There is no cure and early symptoms are often times mis-diagnosed as asthma.

"It was just the occasional shortness of breath, going up the stairs," says Carmen. "At first I thought out of shape, overweight, nothing major. [But once] we were at an antique store and it was a renovated three-story home. Going from the basement to the third floor, I couldn't catch my breath."

Doctors say patients of PAH may only live up to three years, but thanks to modern medicine, they're able to stabilize the disease and prolong Carmen and Lana's lives.

"These conditions are picked up pretty late," says Dr. Heeraimangalore Manjunath, a Sanford Health cardiologist. "Our aim is to delay to 10 years, 14 years and then ultimately think about lung transplant."

Carmen takes her medications by pills or with an inhaler. While Lana, whose condition is more severe, carries an I. V. device that pumps medication into her heart continuously. They are rare toxic drugs with strong side effects -- so strong, Carmen and Lana are told they can never get pregnant.

"It is what it is. You can't change it," Carmen says. "You just have to make the best of it."

But what they've given up, these sisters have traded with hope. With their treatments, Carmen and Lana are able to maintain a semi-normal life and look farther into the future -- one their mother never had.

"If I can make it to 60, I'll be happy right now," says Lana. "I'll see my kids in all the important moments, and I fight for them and everything I do for them is important."

Carmen and Lana make regular hospital checks every three months. It's a little harder for Lana as she has to venture to the Mayo Clinic in the Twin Cities to get the medication she needs.

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