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Recipient Stories

The Energizer Bunny

ABOVE: Emily and her youngest cousin, Christmas 2010.

When I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of 11, a double-lung transplant wasn’t even on the horizon for me. It was 1993, and transplantation was still something that was rare enough to merit a spot on the nightly news. Besides, my family and I thought that I would never be that sick.

It took 12 years, but eventually, I was that sick. I had gone through middle school and high school fairly healthy, with only a few of the lung-damaging infections that rob CF patients of their lung capacity and vitality. In college, however, I contracted more infections, this time of more deadly bacteria that was hard to eliminate. My lung function kept falling, and soon it was a challenge for me to walk across campus to attend classes, or have enough energy to maintain all my extracurricular activities. However, even with the multiple lung infections and other medical problems, I was able to graduate from Capital University in Columbus with the rest of my class, in the spring of 2004, with a double major in English Literature and Political Science.

The transplant process actually began during my senior year of college. At first, I couldn’t believe that I was actually being considered for one. Transplants happened to “other people,” not twenty-two year old college seniors. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be listed for my transplanthere in Columbus, my home town, at Children’s Hospital, where I had been treated for CF since my diagnosis.

After I was “officially” listed in May of 2005, my condition started to head downhill. I was on nighttime supplemental oxygen, and could only work half-days at my job in the Ohio Senate because of the IV medication regime I was on, designed to keep any of my persistent lung infections at bay. Our refrigerator looked like it belonged in a pharmacy, not a suburban home. Just washing my hair and brushing my teeth was exhausting, enough to warrant another nap as soon as I was out of the shower. I used to spend my weekends with my friends, going out to dinner, seeing movies, and shopping; now I spent my Saturdays and Sundays on the couch asleep, waking up only to eat the tiny amounts of food my stomach could handle. I used to be like the Energizer Bunny—always going. Now I couldn’t get enough sleep and was exhausted by the simplest tasks. I was terrified I wouldn’t receive a transplant.

But I was one of the lucky ones. On Sunday, July 10, 2005, I got the call from Children’s saying they had found a pair of lungs for me. Early Monday morning I went into surgery and became the first bilateral lung transplant recipient at Children’s Hospital. When I was discharged in August, I felt better than I had in years. Weak, yes, but that was because my body was weak, not because my lung function was 28 percent, like it had been before transplant.

Since transplant I have slowly returned to my Energizer Bunny ways! I’ve gained a lot of weight, and had people constantly telling me how healthy I look! I walked my first 5K in July 2006, Lifeline of Ohio’s “Dash for Donation,” to encourage organ donation awareness, and I got my whole family to join in, including my parents, who had never done anything like this before! I’ve moved into my own apartment, something I never could have done before my surgery because I would never have been able to take care of it. I celebrated my twenty-fourth birthday in April 2006 and, that July, celebrated my first transplant anniversary with a party at my apartment and a trip to Chicago with some of my best friends. I was able to walk around the city (in heels, no less!) and not be exhausted after walking only a block. It was an amazing feeling. I’m also able to play with all of my cousins and my nine-year old godson after not being able to participate in their games for a few years. It’s great to be back playing with them full-speed!

I have always loved music and have been a singer since I was in grade school. The transplant has helped this area tremendously! I am a member of my church choir where I am the Alto section leader, and I love every minute of it. I am now able to sing to the best of my ability, and it’s all due to the gift of life I received.

Emily and her best friend from elementary school at her wedding, September 2011.

Without this incredible gift, I would not be here to sing, laugh and enjoy life with my parents, my two younger siblings, my family and all my wonderful friends. I am grateful everyday for the second chance I have been given, and I encourage everyone to “Donate Life!” so that more people like me can return to living life to the fullest.

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