Northfield's Joanne Miele is thankful the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center was willing to take a chance on her.

It was the only hospital that would give her the double lung transplant that saved her life.

Miele has esophageal diseases from scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that attacks the connective tissues of the body, hardening skin and internal organs. It made her too high-risk, said Miele, 53.

"You wouldn't know it to look at me," said the mother of Alexander, 18, and Christopher, 19. "In most patients it makes the skin very tight. I don't have much of that."

Instead, her gastrointestinal tract, esophagus and lungs are affected. Her lungs were so damaged, she was put on a heart-lung machine in a drug-induced sleep for a more than a week before the transplant.

While there is no cure, the transplant has greatly improved her condition.

"I got my life back, literally," she said.

Miele and husband Scott lived in Pittsburgh for months, waiting for the transplant. She said she looked at the disease as a challenge, and went out to dinner, concerts and ballgames in spite of being in a wheelchair and on oxygen. She had the operation in February, was released to her Pittsburgh apartment in April, and came home June 30.

Miele said she couldn't have made it without the help of friends such as Gerri Mazzeo, of Northfield, and family members who stayed with her when Scott couldn't be there. Now supporters are holding a fundraiser to help her pay travel costs.

"I can't say enough about the Northfield community and people I used to work with at Golden Nugget (now the Atlantic Club)," she said.

Little queens

Sea Isle City's 2013 Little Miss Queen is summer resident Madalyn Delaney, 8, of Sewell in Mantua Township, Gloucester County; and the 2013 Junior Miss Queen is Rachel Sofroney, 12, of Sea Isle City. The pageant was held July 10.

Service award

Walter "Ric" Marden, financial counselor at Cape Regional Medical Center, is the Service Excellence of the Month award recipient for June.

The Somers Point resident was nominated for exceptional customer service, noted often in patient satisfaction surveys, a hospital spokesperson said.

If you go

A fundraiser for Joanne Miele is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. July 26 at Greate Bay Country Club, 901 Somers Point-Mays Landing Road, Somers Point. There will be a buffet, Chinese auction, 50/50 raffle and cash bar. Admission is $25 at the door.