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I’m almost eight months out from transplant now, and I still find it hard to explain how things are since having my CF lungs removed (RIP little lungs. You were nasty and full of crap, but you served me well for 28 years). When people ask me how things are since transplant, I usually respond with something along the lines of “amazing,” “I didn’t know breath could go so deep,” “It’s not like things are just back to normal. I’ve NEVER felt like this before. Ever.” To be honest, didn’t think I would ever be able to breathe like this until heaven. So I can only imagine what Heaven will be like! I’m so excited.

Honestly though, all of those explanations don’t come close to describing how things are after undergoing a lifesaving transplant. Not just the physical changes, yes, those are mind-bogglingly amazing. But how can I explain what condition my mind and spirit are in now? I’m at a loss every day. It’s disorienting, and though in a good way, it still has me grappling and trying to find my metaphorical footing. WHAT JUST HAPPENED? WHY AND HOW AM I STILL ALIVE? WHO WAS MY DONOR? 

To most people, life goes on normally. The fact that I’m not sick anymore becomes normal. But to me it’s not. It’s not normal that someone else’s lungs are breathing for me, and I don’t think it ever will be. Life was never normal, and will never be, and that’s ok.

The year before I got my transplant, I would often describe how I felt as living an out of body experience. I felt like I was watching myself dying from afar, with no control over the details. It felt like I was living in a dream (not a good one) where I was in a constant state of trying not to drown, catching my breath just enough to keep surviving. I think because of the lack of oxygen going to my brain, everything felt like a fog. It honestly didn’t feel like real life. Every day, every action was focused on surviving. Breathing treatments four times a day, being pumped with IV antibiotics constantly, forcing myself to eat, going to doctor appointments, and living in the hospital most of the time. Choosing social events to attend was based on my energy, plans for the next day, and whether it would be a healthy thing (mental health-wise) to get out, or if it was worth the toll it might take on my body. 

Going through a transplant is not an accomplishment you add to your resume. I certainly didn’t accomplish anything. I literally just kept breathing, kept surviving. You would have too. 

I didn’t do anything extraordinary; I received something extraordinary.

It’s only by the mercy of God and the selflessness of my donor that I’m still breathing right now. 

In the months preceding my transplant, I would find myself thinking about the miracle that transplant is. Being able to take a broken, dying person, take out the diseased organ(s), and put a new one(s) in, giving new life. But it’s no secret that organ transplantation could not be a reality without the donor. The donor is the hero of the story here. Because of the donor, new life blooms where there would have been death. 

There’s a quote by UNOS (United Network of Organ Sharing) that says, “Without the organ donor, there is no story, no hope, no transplant. But when there is an organ donor, life springs from death, sorrow turns to hope, and a terrible loss becomes a gift.”

I didn’t go through my transplant as a one-woman show. I wasn’t alone. I cannot fully explain it, but I know God carried me through that hellfire. Disoriented and half-conscious, I was carried through it. He commanded my dying lungs to keep breathing long enough for new ones. Transplant showed me a clearer picture of God’s power, persistent presence, and earth-moving love. That floors me every day. That same earth-moving love is there for you too. I’m not special.

Since transplant, everything is different. Let me give you some insight into the excitement here…

For my whole life I have ALWAYS had congestion. Today, I do not have ANY congestion filling up my lungs. I can breathe deeper than I knew was possible for lungs to breathe. I have independence again. I don’t have to ask for help with tasks like grocery shopping, laundry, and taking out the trash. I have energy like I never remember having. I used to sleep 13 hours a night and still felt absolutely exhausted all the time. Now, I wake up with more energy than I know what to do with!

My brain works again. I had no idea how my oxygen affects your level of cognition. Before, I felt like my brain was mush. Reading a book was even a challenge because fatigue made concentrating and remembering so challenging. 

I can laugh again. Before, I would hold back laughing because it made me too short of breath. And I have an appetite again; I don’t lose my breath eating anymore.

I can plan again, dream again. Making plans is something that I taught myself to stop doing because likely my health would cause me to need to cancel or miss out. I can think about my future again!

Since transplant, I have taken up running. I love to be outside, so I try to run on a beautiful trail near my house a few times a week. Before, walking for a couple of minutes was enough to exhaust me. Now, running feels as if I traded in a broken-down car for a sportscar. It’s so fun and exhilarating! By the fourth month, I ran a 5k with my friends and family at a Donate Life event. Month six, I traveled for the first time in a couple of years. I took a road trip to see my family and even got to witness the birth of my nephew. I also went to the Grand Canyon. Breathing at 7,000 ft elevation was something I could NEVER do before. 

I would not be alive today and be able to experience all these things without the selfless gift that my donor gave. There isn’t one day that goes by that I am not in awe that this happened. I intend to honor my donor every day. Every time I run, I think to myself “I’m doing this for you, angel donor.” Every time I am afraid to try something new, I think, “I will do it for you. You can’t, so I will.” I intend to protect my lungs and take care of myself the best I can, for them. I plan on laughing a lot and enjoying life more, for them.

This verse has been my go-to in this new season of breath and life. It’s the Message version of Romans 8:15-17:

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are. Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us – an unbelievable inheritance!”