Mountain Weekend 2017

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The McDonough’s mountain house.

A few weekends ago some friends & I spent a weekend in Old Fields, West Virginia. It was a weekend of completely disconnecting and having some good old fashioned F-U-N. There was no internet and absolutely no cell service. It is important to have weekends like this where we don’t bother with our phones and we connect with those around us in a different way. We arrived at the mountain house around 11:30am on Saturday morning after a beautiful drive through small towns and a lot of windy mountain roads. Some people had already arrived Friday night, so we were greeted by friends.

The goal of the weekend was also to raise money for charity. We auctioned off the beds on the property. If you didn’t win a bed, you had to camp out in a tent. We had “beer bitches”…Shawn’s younger sister and her friend would get beers (or anything you wanted), at a price. We played drinking games & for each person who participated, the McDonough’s would donate $5.  I’m thankful to them for hosting the weekend!

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Emily aiming for the target.

We started the day shooting bow & arrows and an assortment of guns. One of the rules of the mountain house is that you cannot shoot anything after any drinking which is why this took place first. Let me tell you, shooting a bow & arrow is a lot harder than it looks. I couldn’t get the arrow anywhere close to the target! There was a bb gun, shotgun and handgun. The shotgun & handgun were so loud, ear protection was extra necessary! I was surprisingly good at shooting the handgun and hit the target both times I fired, pow pow.

The day continued as the ladies hung around the picnic area, chatting and listening to music. We gossiped about the ins & outs of our lives and caught up with each other. It is not every weekend that we are all together so we really cherish these times. The guys played games in the yard and goofed around, what guys do. We had hot dogs and chips with helluva good dip for lunch, food I have craved a lot after my transplant.

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Most of the girls.

We played dizzy bat…you chug a beer and then spin around for ten seconds with your head on the top of bat, while the other end of the bat is on the ground. You’re extremely dizzy after and try to find enough coordination to hit a ball. Most people fall straight to the ground! With my hip problems, I had an excuse to watch and laugh at everyone’s tries.

We brought out the bier stick…It is filled with beer and while you press the end of the stick against the wall, beer is shot into your mouth. A friend, Kevin, challenged people to use the bier stick and he would specify a donation amount for each time. We sang karaoke, ate hamburgers for dinner, danced and laughed some more. We ended the evening with a bon fire. Because of my transplant I cannot be near burning wood but I wanted to be able to enjoy the bonfire & guitar sing-a-longs. So I sat up wind and wore a mask. I didn’t spend too much time by the fire.

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The bonfire, blazing!

The sky was so clear, it felt like you could see every star in the galaxy. I laid with my back on a bail of hay and looked up. The weekend was coming to an end but it had been such a fun time. My mind immediately went to my donor, Samantha. How grateful I was to her for giving me a second chance and for my ability to spend this weekend in the mountains with great friends. I thought how amazing and how precious life truly is. At that moment, I knew she was looking down on me, smiling. And I was looking to her, smiling back.

 

 

We ended up raising $1,066! Here is a video I made from the weekend, enjoy!

The Letter to My Donor’s Family

Angela & I
My donor, Samantha’s, mom & I
On Monday I shared with you the letter I received from my donor, Samantha’s, mom. Today, I share the letter I wrote to her. I had wanted to hand write my letter (I had already typed it up) and was planning to snail mail it after the 4th of July holiday when I received Angela’s. I decided to reply that same day via e-mail because I was so anxious to get the letter to her. Next week I will share with you my personal experience meeting Samantha’s family for the first time. My letter to Angela:

“Angela –

I’ve imagined writing this letter to you ever since I woke up and found out I had been transplanted. I’ve been curious about who my donor was, the type of person they were and their interests. I’ve thought of what I would say and the words I would use to thank them and their family because a simple “Thank You” is not enough. I’ve had my letter drafted, prepared to send after the 4th of July holiday, when I received yours. I had always wondered if I would hear back from my donors family. One of my biggest fears about writing is that I wouldn’t receive a reply but decided I had to write because they needed to know how their loved one saved me and how grateful I am.

Thank you for telling me about Samantha, I can only imagine how lovely of a girl she was.

Samantha saved my life on June 21, 2016. I received both of her lungs.

I’m 25 years old and was born with a genetic disease called Cystic Fibrosis that causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, causing frequent lung infections. These infections scar the lungs and cause a decline in lung function. I have lived my life as normal as possible despite my disease…attending college, having fun with friends and starting a career. There have been plenty of large speed bumps along the way but I just moved over them and kept going. I knew transplant was going to be in my future but was not expecting it for a few more years.

My lungs took a rapid and unexpected turn for the worse in June 2016. I was placed in a medically induced coma on June 13, 2016 with the hope my lungs could rest and work again on their own. I made the doctor promise me that I would wake up again. My lungs completely failed me days later and I was placed on an external heart and lung machine (ECMO), doing all the work for my lungs. My doctors decided the only hope that I would ever wake up again was a transplant. And so, with the help of my parents and older brother, they listed me for a double lung transplant. Without Samantha’s lungs, multiple nurses told me, I would not have made it another night. I was very very sick.

I won’t say this last year has been perfect, I was in the hospital for 4.5 months after my transplant and I had to build the strength to do everyday life things again like walk and hold a fork to eat. But I have made such great strides and am going to the gym regularly, something I despised before transplant because I would become out of breath. I am back at work part time after 11 months off – it is such a great feeling to be contributing to something. I am hanging out with my family & friends who mean so much to me. I have travel plans for this year to visit my brother, Byron, in Boston and my aunt in Colorado. I enjoy doing art and have a new found interest in taking pictures/videos on my GoPro and creating movies. I have Samantha to thank for this. I want you to know that my body is accepting Samantha’s lungs and I have not had any signs of rejection. Her lungs continue to breathe for me.

A day hasn’t gone by where I haven’t thought about my donor and their family. Now, I finally have a name. I know every day I have here is because of Samantha. I will know that for the rest of my days. I call her my angel looking over me everyday.

I want you to know the type of person I am. I could sit here and write what I think of myself but I wanted you to know from an outside perspective. So I’ve asked a couple of my closest friends to write honestly about me. Here is what they said:

“Jackie makes LOVING life look effortless – because for her it really is. She’s a person who has a true lust for life and all the adventures it brings. She’s the person who won’t give up when there are obstacles in her way or the odds are against her. She’s the person who will, despite everything, find something, some-reason to love life and honestly, she’s contagious in that way.”

“Jackie’s thirst for life is far greater than anyone I’ve ever known. In the midst of her constant hardships with CF, her optimism shines through as she continues to feel immensely grateful for all of life’s gifts. Having had the experience to attend a best friend reunion vacation with Jackie recently brought an insane surprise amount of joy to all of us. The miracle that she is with us today is one we are forever thankful for. I can’t wait to see what life accomplishments are in store for Jackie. She is an absolute warrior, and her strength is inspiring to all. The quote ‘keep on keeping on’ is one she lives by. And she does so with a huge heart, and a smile on her face.”

“I met Jackie when I was 12 years old when she was randomly assigned to my soccer team. At first I thought who is this wild child. She had so much energy it was almost annoying. I remember the day we became friends. We were hosting a soccer party at my house and all he girls on the team were downstairs while the parents were upstairs, with the exception of Jackie. It felt wrong so I went upstairs to talk to her and started a friendship that grew into family. Jackie is my only friend brave enough to tell me like it is and kind enough to want the best for me the same way my parents do. She will tell me if a boyfriend is no good, demand I ask for a raise at work because she knows my worth and refuses to ever let me settle. People like Jackie help the ordinary see all the extra out there in the world. She has taught me to value myself and live everyday to the fullest. She may be a control freak, but its only because she knows exactly what she wants out of life and isn’t afraid to go after it.”

I am happy that you wrote you would like to meet, because I also would like to meet you and your family. I want to hear more stories about Samantha and what she liked to do. More about her big heart and what seemed like amazingly kind soul. I am going to ask that they release my personal email address to you so we can continue to communicate that way. Thank you so much for writing Angela.

Sincerely,

Jackie”

The Letter From My Donor’s Mom

I want to share with you my experience meeting my donor, Samantha’s, family. But first I want to share with you the letter I received from Samantha’s mom & later in the week I will share with you the letter I wrote back to Angela. With Angela’s permission, below is the letter I received on June 30, 2017, 1 year and 9 days after my double lung transplant.

“Dear Recipient:

It is with both sadness and joy that I write you this letter. My daughter, my heart passed away 12 months ago, on June 19, 2016. She was pronounced and went home to be with God. 12 months ago you were given the chance to live again, and for that I am so very proud of my daughter Samantha.

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A picture of my donor, Samantha, given to me by her mother, Angela.

Samantha grew up in Wilmington, NC. She was 20 years old when she died. She was a bright girl, and loved everyone. She met no stranger, even though I always taught her “stranger danger” LOL, she didn’t listen. She didn’t care if you were rich or poor, in her eyes everyone was the same. In those short 20 years of Samantha’s life she grew up surrounded by friends, family and her beautiful and sweet dog Benelli Rose (now my Grand Dog). Samantha loved the beach and that is where she spent a lot of her free time.

Samantha was a daughter, Granddaughter, sister, friend, and soon to be Aunt to my beautiful Grandson Brayden. She couldn’t wait for him to be born. Samantha was not a shy girl. She knew her faults and she accepted her imperfections. She laughed at herself and took advantage of opportunities to grow every day. She was not perfect and she was the first to admit it.

The day my daughter died a piece of me went with her. I have spent every second, minute and hour thinking of her. I think about how she will never have the chance to marry, or be a mother herself. I wonder how her life would have turned out, would she have been a doctor, veterinarian, teacher, or a stay at home mom. As parents we expect to die before our children, so when you have to bury one of them it’s like your burying yourself. I have somewhat come to grips that it’s time for me to move on, although it will be easier said than done, but I have two other girls, my Grandson and my husband to live for.

Since Samantha’s passing you have crossed my mind a lot. Samantha was always such a giving person, and her desire to be an organ donor was but one example of her selflessness attitude towards life. I guess I have some peace knowing a piece of her still lives on in five people that I hope she was able to save. The thought of my daughter’s heart continuing to pump and her lungs continuing to breathe is so heartwarming to me.

I guess I am going to end with the hope that you will allow me and my family to meet with you. I would like to tell you more about her and how big her heart was. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but I hope you will allow me this last chance to hear her breathe for someone else, for you.

Sincerely yours,

Angela”

Falling Behind: How Organ Donation Allowed me to Catch Up

Looking back now, I realize how much I pushed myself. “I am doing well!” was always the answer I gave people when they asked how I was, as if to convince myself. My lung function was 28% and in reality, every day was a struggle.

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Thomas Rhett & Jason Aldean – May 2016

I had breathing techniques just to help me get through putting away my laundry. Making my bed was a chore that took well over the normal time that should be taken to make a bed because of the breaks I took at each corner. I was the person everyone hated in the elevator because I took it up only one level…I became very accustomed to the dirty looks after pressing 2 from level 1. I would call an Uber to take me two blocks to the next restaurant after my friends & I had brunched in Washington, D.C. “I have a lung disease,” I would tell drivers so they didn’t think I was just lazy. My friends would give me piggy back rides up the stairs to a D.C. rooftop. Walking anywhere was not an option. I would see my friends briskly walk in front of me and wonder how nice it must be to walk so fast, so easily. I tried to keep up but I was falling further and further behind. I never wanted to miss a wedding, country concert, or brunch. So I went and I had an amazing time. I wanted to work, so I pushed myself. I loved my job (still at the same job working part time!). To me, living life was the only option and I would give everything I had to do just that.

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Wedding – Smith Mountain Lake, VA – May 2016

As June approached, my mom was coming over at least twice a week to bring groceries and help clean up. I didn’t have the energy to go to work every day, hang out with my friends, and do adult things like cook and clean. So I chose work and my friends to focus my energy on…those were the fun things, right? And all of my energy, it took.

My transplant journey may have been unplanned at the time and may not have been like others with cystic fibrosis. I wasn’t ever on oxygen and I never wondered each day if I’d get a call for lungs, I wasn’t awake to do that. But I know what it’s like not to be able to breathe. To have to spend hours a day doing treatments just to function. What it’s like to watch friends participate in kickball or pick up soccer leagues and wish to do the same. I know what it’s like to experience that cough attack in a public place while people watch & wonder what is wrong. To miss birthdays and get togethers from being in the hospital with a lung infection. I’ve experienced that person who says, “I’ve got that too,” after a cough spell and the only thing to do is smile and awkwardly laugh. I know what it’s like to try to catch your breath, I tried for 24 years.

New York City - August 2017
New York City, Central Park – August 2017

Today I can breathe because of organ donation. Because of my donor, Samantha. My lungs no longer have cystic fibrosis (the rest of my body still does…I will do another post to explain this). I can do things without worrying if I’ll be able to catch my breath. Avoiding walking a block is in my rear view and I’m not looking back. I no longer constantly cough (while I do miss my 6 pack!) and taking the stairs is possible. I can exercise for more than mere minutes without feeling completely out of breath. I’ve walked the streets of new cities, visiting family and friends. I enjoy the outdoors now and plan to more spend more time there, biking & walking & exploring. There is so much I can do and so much I have done and so much that I plan to do. The possibilities are endless. My life has changed because of organ donation. Living is still the only option I give myself today. But living is a lot easier when breathing is easy too.

 

Why not me?

I learned a valuable lesson from my dad. Dad & IHe is 59 years old and has had muscular dystrophy for the past thirty years of his life. We understand each other & I think it’s because, although very different, we both have medical conditions.

People often post about loved ones never asking why, seeming to make them appear stronger. But the fact is, they probably internalized the question “Why me?” at some point after a difficult diagnosis. They just chose to move forward, accept the life they were given and make the best of it.

It’s human nature for the thought to come across our minds and we shouldn’t feel bad about it. We also should never sulk on it, either. Because the answer to “Why me?”, it will most likely never be found.

When I was laying in the hospital bed last year, only able to move my fingers, unable to breathe on my own, the thought “Why me?” ran through my mind. I cried. At first, I cried every single day. I stared into space, a lot. I felt emotions I still can’t even comprehend or express. I was so thankful to be alive and to see my mom’s face when she walked into my hospital room every day. I was also in a lot of pain, physically and emotionally.

So when “Why me?” crossed my mind, I remembered what my dad had said. “Why not me?” I wasn’t exempt from bad things happening. I am no more or less special than the person who was sitting next to me on the train on Sunday. No more or less special than anyone. This is what I think people forget. Sure, not everyone ends up in a medically induced coma for a month and even fewer people have to experience daily life with Cystic Fibrosis. But we are all equal. And no one is exempt from life. If you’re fortunate enough never to have to deal with something bad happening, then I am jealous. But I don’t thing that person exists and if they do, let me know.

So next time you ask “Why me?” in a bad situation, don’t feel ashamed about it. But always follow it with “Why not me?”. You at least will have an answer.

I Forgot to Introduce Myself

Hi everyone! I just realized I’ve never introduced myself. So here it goes…

My name is Jackie Price and I’m a born & raised Virginian.beach It’s the greatest state (in my [non] humble opinion) because it’s a short drive to the mountains and the beach (which I love)…the best of both worlds. On the weekends I’m usually hanging out with my family or friends. I’d say (I think my friends would too) that I’m the quirky one of the group and maybe a little weird. Or a lot weird, it just depends on who you’re asking. I ask a LOT of questions. But hey, I’m a curious person & if you haven’t given me enough information what else am I supposed to do? I put A1 Steak Sauce on my rice…and on my steak, of course. My favorite food? Yupp, you guessed it, rice. Or sushi. I can’t eat raw fish anymore so I stick with the cooked stuff now. People usually think I’m about 8 years younger than I actually am. (I’m 26.) But in 10 years I’ll appreciate that, right?! I own a [semi] hairless dog named Fae.

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Fab Fae.

She’s so ugly she’s cute. My favorite store is Target, basic right? Wegman’s might tie though. How does one love a grocery store so much!? I actually work in the corporate headquarters of another grocery store (that I also love…I can’t tell you which one, you might show up at my office one day…), so maybe that’s how. And if you’ve never had Popeyes onion rings, go. right now. and try them. Oh yea, and I have cystic fibrosis & had a double lung transplant last year.

So here I am telling my story to the world (or whoever decides to read my blog).

I decided to start blogging because I have not been dealt a royal flush or even a pair in the game of life. I’ve been through a lot of $%*# in my 26 years on earth, more (a lot more) than some people ever will in their entire lives. And you know what, that’s ok. Because life isn’t fair. But I’m still here today, remaining positive and living my life. I’ve learned a lot over the years, about myself and life. I know that I can help others who weren’t dealt that royal flush make it through anything. Or someone who’s just having a bad day. We can make it over any speed bump, or even mountain, together.

One day I’d love to do inspirational/motivational speaking. (If you’re interested in hiring a speaker for an event or assembly, contact me. I’ve been told I’m pretty good (I’d have to agree) & I’ll do it for free…for now.) So that’s the goal I’m working to…& I’m a hard worker so I know I’ll get there.

So, come follow along! No but really, enter your email address in that little box under Follow My Blog and click Follow. You won’t regret it!

Have any more questions for me? Post a comment and I’ll answer it!

 

Wow, Communication!

It was Sunday June 12th, 2016 and I sat enjoying a Wendy’s chicken sandwich, fries & a fountain coke. My friend Gabby had brought it, at my request, when she came to Inova Fairfax Hospital to hang out with me for the evening. This was my last memory.  A rare and unexpected fungus ignited my cystic fibrosis lungs. After an all night effort to keep my lungs breathing, I was intubated and placed in a medically induced coma. My life was saved that night by an ICU pulmonologist.

My next memory, sometime in mid July (I am not sure the exact date). I lay in a bed in the Cardiovascular ICU, turning my head to the left and seeing my mom in the hallway. My mind was blurry, I couldn’t move my limbs, my body was still. Tubes were coming out of my chest, my neck, my arms, and a tube was coming from my mouth, breathing for me. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t move even if I wanted to. I learned that movement would come back in time but not right then. What happened? Where was I? Why couldn’t I move? My eyes looked left, looked right, up and down and back again.

My mom hurried in telling me she loved me, telling me I had a double lung transplant. “The doctors saved you. You had a lung transplant. Do you understand?” Apparently this was the 5th day she’d come in to tell me this. The medication they use in a medically induced coma has an amnesia effect. I understood what she was saying but still had so many questions running through my mind that I wanted to ask, but couldn’t. The only way to communicate was raising my eyebrows, they told me, to only “yes” or “no” questions. So I raised my eyebrows, signaling that I understood.

The following weeks, patience was tested.

Is the pain below your waist? Is it this foot? Is it that leg? Communicating only with yes and no questions is frustrating. Like a puzzle that sometimes goes unfinished. I just wanted to be able to tell them what was hurting or which way I wanted to be situated. My family adapted and quickly learned my facial expressions when I was annoyed, unhappy, or in pain. We are meant to communicate with our mouths, being specific. I couldn’t do that.

I became the best listener. I would overhear my doctors in the hallways talking about my medical care or my mom talking with visitors. When my friends came to visit they would sit there and tell me what was happening outside the hospital walls. Sometimes I would try to mouth words. Some were understandable while others not. I would feel frustrated they didn’t understand and would mouth more drastically thinking that would help. It only made it harder. Finally I would give up.

Communication tests people’s patience. Communication prevents confusion and let’s people relay their thoughts. Communication saves lives and ends wars. Communication is key to, well, everything. I was so happy when I was able to write, even though chicken scratch, with hands just beginning to reconnect with my brain, just beginning to move again.

The feeling at the time was helpless but I knew that I was going to make it through. I knew it would take a long time but one day I would be able to enjoy my new lungs. That’s what happened but those memories of last year remain clear in my mind.

Have you ever been in a situation where you had a hard time communicating?

Compensation

Today is the first day of fall 2017 and the first day of my blog.  I found this post my Dad wrote last year while I was still hospitalized from a double lung transplant I had on June 21, 2016 with complications.

September 1, 2016:

“Wow, what a summer. Thankfully, it is almost over and fall will soon begin. My father died in mid-September when I was a young child. I have always loved the spring for the obvious reasons of better weather and the proverbial rebirth of life but my dislike for fall had to do with the negative emotions connected to my father’s death. But now there will be joy in the fall when my bonnie lass returns to the warm embrace of her home. The falling leaves and the cool air will no longer be companions of death but of life. Mr. Emerson has an essay on compensation, which seems to be appropriate. We may not always be given what we want or need at a specific point in our lives but life, at least it seems so to me, has a way of compensating us in other ways. I have been compensated twice now in the fall, the first time when Jackie survived her birth trauma and now having survived her lung transplant. Isn’t life amazing? I look forward to the crisp air and the falling leaves, they will be auguries of life, of the new life my daughter will be embarking upon with renewed energy and vigor. What a testament to her spirit. Twice now, I have been witness to her indomitable will to live. I am so proud of this amazing human being for her zest for life, for the many friends she has, and for her desire to be a productive member of our society in spite of the hand life dealt. What a gift I was given to be her father, I truly have been compensated.”

After the initial shock of finding out I had a double lung transplant, I was excited. I made plans to run for miles and go on long hikes in the mountains. These are things I had so badly wanted to be able to do but couldn’t due to coughing spells and feeling out of breath due to cystic fibrosis. With new lungs and the ability to breathe again, I have gratefully made plans and accomplished some of them. But due to an array of complications, I physically can’t accomplish running miles or hiking mountains right now.  Namely, the medications that saved my life have harmed my hip-joint. It acts up badly these days and eventually will need to be replaced.  Yes, a hip replacement and I’m only 26 years old, but I am going to look at that as small stuff after all of the big stuff I’ve been through.  As human beings we have a tendency to initially focus on the negatives, what we don’t have but want or think we need but can’t get. We all have to bring our minds around to think that in time, things fall into place, think about all that we CAN do and all of the ways life has compensated us.

With my favorite season, fall, rolling around I am focusing on compensation, on how I truly have been compensated. Here are some of the ways:

  1. Being alive
  2. Supportive friends
  3. Having a great job
  4. Great food in awesome restaurants
  5. An amazing Mom & Dad

 

How have you been compensated in life?