Kristin McGillycuddy and her husband Matt, who currently live in New York, are enthusiastic supporters of the CF Foundation’s mission. “We both see the new and improved medicines and therapies, and more successful lung transplants, and we know there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.
The cool, glistening water of a pool is Kristin McGillycuddy’s sanctuary. “When I am swimming, I don’t have a care in the world,” she says.
The sport also helps the 33-year-old swim coach and instructor manage her cystic fibrosis.
Today, more than three years after her double lung transplant, Kristin is back in the pool and inspiring children and adults with CF to get their feet wet to stay healthy, too.
Becoming a Swimming Star
While growing up in northern New Jersey, Kristin’s parents encouraged her to become involved in sports from an early age. She ran, swam and played softball, and in the fitness challenges at her grammar schools, she usually came out on top. “My goal was to beat all the boys,” she says with a laugh.
She began swimming competitively at age 7 and then became swim team captain at Immaculate Heart Academy in Washington Township, N.J.
“When I started swimming, I wanted to prove to everyone that cystic fibrosis wasn’t going to slow me down,” she says. “It was like therapy for me. All the cardio was great for my lungs, and swimming kept me in tip-top shape.”
While Kristin studied sociology and psychology at Fairfield University in Connecticut, her lung health began to deteriorate and she noticed she wasn’t able to swim as long or as fast as usual.
Wanting to be known for her athletic accomplishments rather than her CF, Kristin often hid the disease from her classmates and close friends, including her husband, Matt, whom she dated for many years before they married. “I wanted people to think I was normal,” she says. “But as my health declined, it was more evident to everyone that something was wrong.”
But Kristin was determined to stay positive and stay active to combat the effects of her illness and regain her health.
Diving Back In
In 2005, Kristin was placed on the transplant waiting list for a double lung transplant. She remembers her husband, Matt, doing everything he could to keep her hopes up and continue enjoying their life together while they waited.
“We went to a Jimmy Buffett concert, and I saw that our seats were kind of high up,” she remembers. “I looked at him and started crying because I knew I couldn’t get there. Matt and one of his friends picked me up and brought me to my seat. That meant the world to me.”
One week later, on Sept. 12, 2007, Kristin underwent surgery for a double lung transplant.
“When I woke up, it was just amazing that I could really breathe,” she says. “I wasn’t trying to catch my breath.”
Within a couple months, she was back in the water. She began with the breaststroke and backstroke and worked her way up to the butterfly, the stroke that takes the most energy, effort and muscles.
“It was like being reborn,” Kristin says of swimming with her new lungs. She began to practice every day, joined a gym and started coaching again. “I wanted to prove to myself that I was healthy again,” she says.
Going for the Gold
All of her hard work paid off when she earned three gold medals and a bronze at the U.S. Transplant Games held in Madison, Wisc., last summer. She also set a new Transplant Games record in the 100-meter individual medley.
As a swim coach and private swimming instructor, Kristin remains committed to inspiring children with CF — and all kids — to get involved with swimming or other sports.
“It’s important for people with CF to get involved with a rigorous activity as young as possible,” she says. “Exercise and CF therapy is a winning combination. Plus, having something really important in life — whether it’s swimming or something else you love — helps take your mind off your illness.”
Recently, Kristin has taken on additional professional responsibilities, including coaching two swim teams and running a local swim camp.
As she continues to excel in the pool, Kristin is extremely grateful for the medical staff of Columbia Presbyterian who have helped her through it all. “Dr. Selim Arcasoy, Nilani Ravichandran, NP, and my surgeon Dr. Joshua Sonett have been by my side since my very first visit to be evaluated for a lung transplant,” Kristin says. “Without my team of dedicated doctors and nurses, I wouldn’t be here today.”
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