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Recipient Stories

A Battle I Couldn’t Win Alone

Breathing became a battle, one I was determined to win. And I did!

My name is Lisa Savage, and I received a life-saving, double-lung transplant on February 2, 2000. On that cold, winter’s night, a very heroic family saved my life.

I was born with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a hereditary, terminal disease that primarily attacks the respiratory and digestive systems of its victims, killing many before the age of 30. I was fortunate enough to have a somewhat fairly healthy childhood. It wasn’t until my teenage years that CF began to take its toll on my body. Medications, hospitalizations, IV therapy, and oxygen became such a routine part of life that after time I didn’t even consider them an inconvenience anymore.

I vividly remember the day in 1995 when my doctor told me I should begin thinking about transplantation. She said the average wait on the list was approximately two years, so I should start thinking about it now so that I wouldn’t run out of time. In my own mind, the only thing I heard was that I only had two years left to live. Of course, that is not what was actually said, but that is how I interpreted the whole conversation.

So begins my transplant journey. In 1995, mentally and emotionally, I was not ready to face transplantation. Physically, though, I was in that window. Initially, I believe I was in denial, and it took me quite a while to get used to the idea of a transplant, three years to be exact.

When my quality of life started to significantly decline, I knew it was time to consider transplantation. So, I began to research transplantation with a vengeance. I wanted and needed to know everything there was to know about lung transplants. I needed to prepare myself, so when the time came I would be more than ready. Being armed with all this information gave me some peace of mind, but the deciding factor to put myself on that waiting list was that I simply wasn’t ready to die. I wanted to live, more than anything, and I knew in my heart that my only chance was through a transplant.

I was added to the waiting list on September 23, 1998. The next 16 months were the most difficult months of my life. It was frightening to realize that with every passing week, I could feel myself getting sicker. The most basic, daily activities such as brushing my teeth left me completely out of breath. Even being on the maximum amount of oxygen my concentrator would allow gave me little relief. I spent more time in the hospital than I did at home. It seemed that everything I wanted to do was a battle. Looking back, it was no wonder, because I only had about 20% of my lung capacity left.

My family and friends were always with me, which gave me great comfort. I could see the fear in their eyes, although they remained ever cheerful and positive in my presence. I know they feared that I had waited too long to get listed but I felt so strongly in my heart that I would get that call that would give me a second chance. And I did! The call came at 10:15pm on February 1, 2000. I had never felt more alive or more hopeful than I did on that ride to the heliport. I knew my life was about to change, but little did I know the extent to which it was going to change.

I awoke in ICU to the realization that I had just received my new lungs. I remember my first conscious feeling was relief. My biggest fear had been that I would wake up to find that they had been unable to transplant me. Thankfully, this had not been the case. The transplant had been successful.

From that day on, my life has been one blessing after another. My transplant has given me something I had never truly known in my life- health. Today, I am doing things that before I had only dreamed about. There are opportunities open to me that had previously remained closed. I actually look forward to the future now because I have a future. The most amazing part of this journey is that it was the gift of a stranger that has made this life possible for me! My battle to live had been won, but not alone. Today, I am still overwhelmed by my donor family’s generosity. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of them and thank God for them. They probably aren’t even aware of this, but they are such an integral part of my life. A lot of what I do throughout the course of my day, I do for them. Life is a beautiful, precious gift and a little over 2 years ago this family shared their gift with me. They are my heroes, and they will always remain in my heart. Transplantation does save lives- I am proof. Thank you to my donor, their family, and all donor families!

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