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Recipient Stories

Heroes on Foot: My Donor Gave me Butterfly Wings

A butterfly says, “The caterpillar-me is history; my metamorphosis, a mystery; and today…today is a present; my struggle gifted me.” (Manali Oak)

For the last few years, a caterpillar determined to get through the challenges and struggles ahead to change into a beautiful butterfly has been symbolic of my life story.

Kara attends a benefit held in her honor three months before receiving her life-saving transplant.

Kara attends a benefit held in her honor three months before receiving her life-saving transplant.

I was always the picture of health until I began to feel extremely ill in 2009 with no medical explanation. Shortness of breath and exhaustion caught up with me in 2010 and, at age 32, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Bronchiolitis Obliterans.  The doctors at the Cleveland Clinic  explained the arthritis attacked my lungs instead of attacking my joints. They told me I would need a double lung transplant to survive. I looked at the doctors like they had grown three heads. With no previous breathing issues, now I would need a lung transplant to live? I had silent moments of encouragement along the way that were always presented in butterfly imagery. In a book about lung transplants, I read when lungs are transplanted into another human, the first breath they take looks like a butterfly taking flight for the very first time. Months after my dad’s mother died of cancer, my grandfather gave each granddaughter some of her jewelry. He gave me a butterfly necklace. Before I got sick, my mom gave me an old leather coin purse that belonged to her mother because she said I was always lucky, just like my grandma. Inside were coins and, to my surprise, a beautiful butterfly pin! I was unaware at the time how these “gifts” set in my path for a reason to give me peace of mind, knowing strong women were in my corner, watching over me from heaven above.

Kara recovers after her transplant in 2011.

Kara recovers after her transplant in 2012.

Starting as a small, frightened and sick caterpillar, I knew I needed to make my way up that strong, tall oak to make my cocoon so I could become a butterfly.I was listed  for a transplant on June 12, 2012 with a lung function of 16 percent. It was my son, Austin’s, 15th birthday. I was finally at the top of that tree, preparing for the long wait inside my cocoon! On July 17, 2012, at 7:30 a.m., I got “the call” that new lungs were available and headed to the Cleveland Clinic. Once there, Jerry Springer held the elevator door for me and asked what floor I needed! If you are reading this, Jerry, thank you!

As 24 members of my church family held a prayer service for me back home, my miracle transformation was about to become my new reality. I received my life-saving transplant on July 18, and on July 19, my daughter Alexa’s birthday, I broke free of my cocoon and took my first fabulous breath with my beautiful lungs. I was flying. My recovery went very well, thanks to my donor’s gift, and I was home three weeks later and now my lungs function at 108 percent.

Kara and her family will walk on Team Karapillar for the Dash for Donation.

Kara and her family will walk and run on Team Karapillar Transformation at the Dash for Donation on July 13.

Life has been so wonderful following my transplant and, after struggling with simple daily tasks, I feel lucky to live, run and breathe fully with my family. I created “Team Karapillar Transformation” and plan to run the 5K in July’s Dash for Donation to honor my donor and a wonderful friend who is still waiting for her butterfly wings. I pray for her that she will get her second chance at life, just like I have, because someone was generous enough to give the gift of life through  organ donation. Kara the Caterpillar became a beautiful butterfly because of my guardian grandmothers, my support system and my donor hero.When a diagnosis compromises your health, you are left fearing what each day will bring you. Life is precious and you have the power to help. Please consider becoming an organ donor so you can help others like me live a wonderful second life!

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