I was diagnosed as an infant with cystic fibrosis (CF). CF is a life-threatening genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and pancreas. It causes progressive lung damage and can lead to life-threatening lung infections. Many people with CF have to go into the hospital for several weeks at a time several times a year for intravenous antibiotics. Prior to my transplant, I was admitted to the hospital every couple of months for 2 to 3 weeks at a time to treat lung infections. When I was born, the average life-span was 10 years old.
Prior to transplant, I struggled to breathe. My lung function was at 10 percent. I was conscious of every breath and used supplemental oxygen. I coughed all the time. My friends would know I was in church or at a store because they knew my cough even though they didn't see me. I spent several hours every day doing chest percussion treatments to help clear my lungs of mucus. I also did nebulizer treatments several times every day. In the months leading up to the transplant, I was on a bi-pap ventilator that would push air into my failing lungs. I was needing more and more oxygen to help me breathe.
When I went on the transplant list, I was listed as number one because of the severity of my condition. I still had to wait for 6 1/2 months. I received my transplant exactly 2 weeks after my son started kindergarten. Prior to transplant, he talked about what I would be able to do after transplant. He asked if I would be able to run. His first question to me after transplant was, "Can you run now?"
I had thought about organ donation and transplantation prior to my transplant. I knew for some time that if I wanted a chance to extend my life, a double-lung transplant was the only option. There is currently no cure for cystic fibrosis. A transplant is not a cure as I still have cystic fibrosis, but it has definitely extended my life. CF won't affect my new lungs and my severe lung disease was what was threatening my life.
My health is stable and I can breathe! I love to exercise without coughing and without supplemental oxygen. It's nice to sleep at night without coughing all night long. This is such a huge change for me and my life. I competed in the Transplant Games of America, an olympic-style competition for people who have received a life-saving organ transplant. I played tennis and won the silver medal in Michigan. It was truly amazing to be running around on a tennis court without coughing. I never ever experienced this pre-transplant (playing tennis without coughing!). I also won a gold and a silver medal in the track and field event two years later in Houston!
I have not met my donor family. I did write them a letter to thank them for the gift of life and gift of breath that they have given to me. I want them to know how grateful and blessed I feel to have received new lungs. I'm not sure I could ever express in words how grateful I am to them. I am alive because of the new lungs I received. I am so thankful to be here to watch my son grow up.
Why not donate your organs? It is one of the greatest gifts you can give to someone. And it's somewhat of a legacy to the deceased person that their gift lives on in another's life.
One of my best friends of 25 years told me about a month after my transplant that she just renewed her license and for the first time signed up to be an organ donor. She watched me get close to death and then saw first-hand how the transplant saved my life. Sometimes a person just can't comprehend how being an organ donor can change someone's life until they witness it first-hand.
In 2008, I was fighting so hard to breathe. I was on oxygen and could barely walk. Today I have the joy of being a wife and mom. I'm so thankful I get to be there for my son. I get to walk him to school, participate in his activities, and watch him grow up! This wouldn't have been possible without someone making the decision to be an organ donor. I am reminded of this every single day when I wake up and can simply breathe...