Living with cystic fibrosis has presented extreme physical and mental challenges since the time I was born. Extended hospital visits, or tune-ups as we older CF patients called them, exacerbations, pain, exhaustion — all leading to having to make life-changing choices in the name of my health.
Through it all, I have always relied on my athletic ability and competitive nature to propel me to the next step. Whether it was staying sane while alone in a hospital bed or forcing myself to wake up early for a run when I was feeling completely down, I learned that I had to ignite my body, mind, and spirit to achieve the things I wanted in life.
My approach to my double-lung transplant in April 2012 was no different. I was ready physically and mentally. I stayed compliant with my treatments, worked with my medical team, and stayed as active as I could with a lung function of 19%. With my family and support system behind me, recovery was pretty steady — and I’d say quick, considering I ran a 10K only three months post-transplant.
Life was good. I could finally BREATHE!
I was back to coaching pole vault, working as an ambassador for the cystic fibrosis community, and going to the gym as often as I could.
But, as with any challenge we face with CF, transplant saved my life but came with complications. I developed skin cancer because the medications I took to prevent rejection weakened my immune system. I had to be extremely cautious in everything, from my eating habits to where I could go and feel safe — especially during cold and flu season. I saw my doctors constantly so that they could closely monitor my well-being.
And in 2019, I started having liver issues. And then those liver issues led to kidney issues.
My health plummeted.
After completing a Bike 2 Breathe event with my team dubbed “Born 2 Be Alive,” I ended up in the hospital for what I believed would be a routine visit. Little did I know, I wouldn’t be able to leave until I received liver and kidney transplants.
I was placed on 24/7 dialysis while my medical teams determined if I would be listed for both organs — if my body would withstand the difficult surgeries. I was not in the shape I was before my first transplant, so I became a “hall walker” at the hospital whenever I could; anything to keep my body moving.
But to be honest, my mental health was not at its best either. I was older.
I was sicker. I had already been given the gift of life once … how could I be that lucky again? In my darkest moments, I simply didn’t know how I could survive another major surgery. But again, with my family and friends and support team at my back, I pushed through so that I could continue to live the life I wanted.
After six weeks, I got “the call,” and my life was saved by my 29-year-old donor.
Recovery has been slower. I’m older. I’ve already been on medications to suppress my immune system to prevent organ rejection for years. My body is not what it once was, but my determination is.
I look at recovery as an athlete. I’ve gone back to the basics — walking slowly, hiking, some biking. My training plan had to start at the beginning, and thankfully, I have been able to slowly work my way back up by celebrating achieving small goals.
I can honestly say mental fortitude is what has kept me alive. That and the incredible people I have in my life who make me feel like I cannot fail at anything I set my mind to.
When I reflect on the seemingly insurmountable odds I have faced in my life, I feel so blessed ...
For my family and friends, who never gave up on me.
For my medical teams, who feel more like family at this point.
For my donors, people who live with such generosity and love for an unknown stranger.
And for living for possibilities — I am forever grateful.
The choice is who is on your team.
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