DC’s Finest Campaign

As many of you know, I was born with a genetic disease cystic fibrosis (CF). If you are new here, CF causes extra thick and sticky mucus throughout my body. You wouldn’t know that mucus can cause so many problems but it’s actually found in every major organ of our bodies. Particularly in the lungs, making it harder to breathe, sinuses, causing chronic sinus issues, & digestive systems, making it hard to digest and absorb nutrients.

Because of cystic fibrosis, I have fought for every breath I have ever taken and every pound I have ever gained. While CF can be an awful disease, I have chosen to choose joy through it all and remain positive. CF has tried to take my life many times in my short 26 years. And one time, especially, it almost succeeded. On June 21, 2016 I received an emergency, life-saving double lung transplant. My life was hanging by a single thread but I’m a fighter and I fought with everything I had (and a lot of help from my amazing doctors) to stay alive.

I was invited by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to participate in a program called “DC’s Finest.” DC’s Finest honors the area’s best and brightest young professionals. I was selected because I am not only making a positive local impact but because I am committed to supporting the CF Foundation’s mission, a cure for cystic fibrosis. Through this 17-week leadership program I will have the opportunity to attend professional development classes and meet other like-minded individuals.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is part of the reason I am still alive today. As the world’s leader in the search for a cure for CF, virtually every approved cystic fibrosis drug therapy available now was made possible because of the Foundation and its supporters, people like you! The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will not stop until a cure for ALL with cystic fibrosis is found. And that cure will come sooner rather than later because we are CLOSER THAN EVER.

It has become one of my personal missions to raise awareness about cystic fibrosis and support the CF Foundation in any way possible. I want SO BADLY for CF to stand for Cure Found. I am honored to be selected as a Finest this year. Here are a few ways you can join me in my fight against cystic fibrosis, to be part of finding a cure.

  1. Purchase a ticket to the Breathe Easy Bash, our final DC’s Finest event. A night full of food, drinks, silent auctions and FUN! It will be held on August 22, 2018 at District Winery in Washington, DC. Tickets may be purchased HERE.
  2. Donate to the Cystic Fibrosis foundation through my Finest campaign HERE.
  3. Ask your company to become a corporate sponsor for our Breathe Easy Bash. (Please contact me if your company would like to become a corporate sponsor.)

Thank YOU for your support!!

Thank You CF

An open thank you letter to cystic fibrosis (CF)…

Thank you, CF, for showing me the real strength of a human being and thank you for giving me the strength to fight you. Without you, I would not believe how strong our minds are and how strong our bodies can be. I would not know that a positive mind can influence our body’s health so much. I wouldn’t believe that us humans can go through a lot of sh%# without giving up.

Thank you for allowing me to realize the difference between a small and a big problem, allowing me to know that I shouldn’t fret over the small stuff. I need to focus on what’s important. You’ve helped me realize that I can think independently and that I don’t need to rely on someone else for my own happiness.

Thank you for sending me to an amazing team of doctors who know how to help me. You’ve showed me how to trust these doctors and realize that they know how to go up against you, that their care plans work.

Thank you for the understanding of all the medical terminology that is constantly thrown around me. This has helped me become more knowledgeable about my medications and the care plans, about the treatments I need to fight back against you.

Thank you for making me realize who in my life are my true friends, those friends who put up with the inconveniences you try to create, who put up will all the gross things that come with having CF. You’ve also helped me to cherish those friends who stick around.

Thank you for introducing me to some amazing people. I have met many people through the CF community and social media, people who understand and can directly relate to a lot of the struggles I go through. I understand the good in people and communities of people who come together for causes greater than themselves.

Thank you for showing me that I need to work for the things I want. Having CF makes me work for my health and understand if I don’t, I will get sick. That hard work has spilled over into career and has made me a hard worker in all that I do in life.

CF, thank you for allowing me to realize that there is always joy to be found, despite suffering, and that without that joy, my life would be so different. You’ve given me a story to share, allowing me to spread this joy to others through my story. Because of the joy and my ability to focus on the good, I have fun and I don’t think about you as much as I otherwise would. I’ve learned to take care of you first and second, to push you away, to move on past you, CF.

Thanks for my parent’s strength to have a child with CF, for giving them the energy to walk along me in my fight against you. My parents have been my biggest supporters in conquering you, CF, and not letting you take me out of this world.

And finally, CF, thank you for allowing me not to be afraid of death, realizing that it happens to everyone, and no one knows when it will come. For showing me how precious life truly is, that tomorrow is never promised so I must live in this day, this hour and even in this moment and never take one person or one second for granted.

Cystic fibrosis is hard, is complicated, is painful, is discouraging, and is time-consuming. But CF is life changing. CF is a part of who I am. Would I still be Jackie without it? The answer to that question is “no.” My life would be completely different. I am who I am because of CF and despite CF.  Thank you for helping to bring out my best self, to make me who I am today.

Love,

Jackie

New Hip, Who Dis?!

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New hip as seen via x-ray

A week ago yesterday I had my total hip replacement. And everything has gone so well. *knock on wood* I’m used to some complication happening so it is definitely a breath of fresh air for everything to go as planned. And this hip is WAY better than the temporary hip (called a spacer) that I had for 6 weeks before my surgery. The spacer was very uncomfortable and often painful. I basically laid around for 6 weeks, relaxed and did a little PT. I’m a little sore from my hip replacement but overall, I don’t have pain. I’ve been working hard on physical therapy exercises & walking. Starting yesterday my dad & I will be walking up and down the driveway everyday. Walking is the best exercise because it strengthens my muscles and increases my endurance. I’m using a walker because it allows me not to walk with a limp and I don’t want to get into a bad habit of walking with a limp. I’ve been having issues with my hip since last March. And they got really bad in October, which is when we decided I, for sure, needed a hip replacement. I was introduced to Dr. Hawken and immediately felt like he was the right guy for the job. He has done an incredible job and is an amazing doctor. So THANK YOU Dr. Hawken!!

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Practicing stairs at the hospital

I recently officially resigned from Lidl. In the last 2 years I only worked for 5 months, 8-10 hours a week. Then I had the issues with my hip and decided I needed more time off. So, I technically haven’t really worked in 2 years but was technically employed and on payroll. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about what I want to do with my life and I’m not sure if finance is what I want to do anymore. So, I didn’t want to string Lidl along if I wasn’t sure that I wanted to come back and they also wanted a definitive answer of when I would come back, which I did not have. We ended on VERY good terms and I definitely plan to keep in touch with my team. That company is AMAZING and has been so good to me. So if there is a Lidl store near you, SHOP THERE. They deserve to succeed here in the United States. [I recommend their wine, chocolate & cheese.] I also know for sure I want to live a little with my new lungs. I really haven’t been able to because of all the complications I have had. My summer is full of a lot of travel & I am so excited!

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Walking the driveway with my dad

If I could do anything with my life it would be motivational speaking and starting a non-profit (if you have any experience in this, I’d love some help). I also plan to volunteer more with the CF Foundation and Donate Life/United Network for Organ Sharing.

Speaking of the CF Foundation, I was selected as an honoree for “DC’s Finest.” “The Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Foundation honors a select group of men and women from cities or regions across the country that are committed to professional growth through a guided fundraising and awareness campaign. These honorees exemplify strong leadership qualities, are active in their community and have excelled in their chosen professions. The honorees will enjoy many benefits throughout the campaign, primarily the knowledge that they are helping to better the lives of children and adults living with cystic fibrosis.” I have pledged to raise at least $2,500 dollars by August 22. If you’d like to contribute to my Finest Campaign please visit: https://metrodc.finestcff.org/jackieprice.

 It is also CF Awareness month. So if you head on over to my Instagram page, I am sharing facts about CF every day. 🙂

The End of the Tunnel

In 22 months I have had over 7 surgeries, have spent over 200 days in the hospital and have been to over 100 doctors appointments. And hopefully on April 23 I will have my last surgery for a long while. I feel like I am just feet away from the end of a very long tunnel I have been in. I know there will be other challenges ahead, but nothing can compare to the last 22 months.

I went in for a hip aspiration today. Basically, the doctor sticks a very long needle (after numbing of course) into the joint of your hip and pulls out fluid. The fluid is then sent to the lab and tested for infection. The hip on your “average joe” should not have fluid. Because of this fungal infection in my hip, there has been fluid. But today? Today he could barely even get one drop. Even when he injected fluid into my hip to then remove it right away, my hip sucked up all the fluid and he could not get any back. He said this was a really good sign…hips shouldn’t have fluid and mine no longer seems to. Which means the spacer has worked. I have put all of my trust in my doctors and they have continually come up with plans that work.

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A quote I found on @shinetext Instagram…thought it was perfect!

Not seeing any fluid come from my joint gave me SO much joy today and A LOT of hope. Hope that after my replacement in 9 days (Monday, April 23) I will be able to get to the top of the mountain that I have dreamed of since my transplant.

There are three things that have gotten me to where I am today…my donor, choosing joy, and dreaming.

I want to honor my donor, Samantha, and the gift she left behind for me. I know that these are my lungs now, but I will never forget who they came from. I feel like it is my duty to LIVE to honor her.

I also try to keep a positive mind and choose joy. Of course, there have been many times since my transplant where I’ve felt sad. But I pick myself back up and I just keep swimming. I find things that bring me joy and I do a lot of it…art, hanging out with my friends, shoes, shopping, food.

And lastly I have dreamed a lot…And I’m not talking the dreams you have in your sleep. Day dreams where you picture yourself places, picture yourself accomplishing things. I had a lot of times of uncertainty, but at the end of the day…I never stopped dreaming of what I could accomplish with my new lungs, my new hip and my second lease on life.

Today my doctor said, “I am in awe of you, Jackie.” And I couldn’t help but think, “I am in awe of myself for getting to this point.” This summer I am traveling to Colorado, Alaska & California. This summer I am going to do a lot of living and some of those dreams I’ve had, they are going to come true.

Until next time,

Jackie

The Truth About Scars

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You can’t see my scars

The truth about scars is that we all have them, emotional scars or physical scars. And many times, we won’t see other people’s scars. My scars will be with me forever, but so will all of the doctors who saved my life by giving me each scar. All of my scars tell the story of a procedure that saved my life, a story from a doctor who spent many years learning how to save lives.

Sitting up and looking down for the first time after waking from my medically induced coma was horrifying. My stomach was covered in scabs and scars and wound vacuums. After I became so sick, I swelled. It wasn’t just, “I’m feeling bloated today” swelling. It was, “You looked like the Michelin man swelling.” I more than doubled in size. The skin on my stomach couldn’t handle how fast my body expanded, so it blistered to keep up. And these blisters turned into scabs that have now faded into scars.

There is a new scar on my stomach, a vertical line leading from the middle of my previous scar down my abdomen, about 6 inches long. Together, they form a “T” shape. Dr. Teicher gave me that scar. He emergently came into my transplant operation to open me up because my stomach area was swelling.  He saved my life.

There is the small horizontal line, where a feeding tube used to be, from Dr. Kodama. I gained enough weight to have the feeding tube removed. And a small circular scar in my left groin from ECMO, where a large catheter previously was. Dr. King, Dr. Dalton and Dr. Ryan gave me these scars, working together to get me on ECMO as soon as possible because my lungs had failed. Add in a scar on my right groin from surgery to remove a large hematoma, an internal bruise they had to take out. That surgery took place in my hospital room.

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My body tells my story of overcoming all the odds

I have some scars on my neck, the most visible, from the first time I was on ECMO and from dialysis catheters. There’s a scar from a tracheostomy in the middle of my neck. I was kept alive from these machines that caused these scars. Dr. Howard decided to put me on continuous dialysis and I still believe today he, with his team, is the reason my kidneys gained back just enough function for me to eventually stop dialysis. Dr. Bobby gave me the scar from the trach. Each day I would ask for the trach because I hated being intubated by mouth and finally he said it was time. Dr. Bobby also took my trach out and was the first person to see me without the trach and breathing on my own with my new lungs. Dr. Swamy closed the trach hole, leaving a small line that hides between the wrinkles of my neck.

There is a foot long scar atop my pelvis area from surgery on my hip. Dr. Schulman & Dr. Hymes each operated to clean out the fungal infection and remove a hematoma from my hip area. The tiny circular scars that reside on my arms and chest are from many picc lines and central lines placed by many talented interventional radiologists. I have spent many hours in “IR.”

And I can’t forget about the most important scar of them all, my transplant scar forming a wide “w” from armpit to armpit, the clamshell incision, they call it, which allowed for the transplant surgery without breaking any bones. Dr. Brown decided it was time to put me on the list for a transplant, thus the life-saving transplant, thus the clamshell scar. And Dr. Ryan, my cardiothorasic surgeon, created that scar by lifting my rib cage, scraping out my old, infected, lungs, and gently placing in new lungs. That surgery was 11 hours.

Those are the many scars that fall across my body and those are just some of the doctors who gave me those scars while saving my life. Those scars tell my story of overcoming all the odds stacked against me. Without talking, my scars tell my story. I’ll take all of these scars if it means I have my life.

1/25/2018 – 1/31/2018 on Instagram

As promised, I am going to post my weekly Instagram posts to my blog for those of you who do not follow me on Instagram [@pricelessbreaths] or my Priceless Breaths Facebook group.

1/31/2018

screen-shot-2018-02-01-at-10-50-00-am-e1517501117831.png“Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are” 📚🤓

Labs this morning. 💉 Lunch with @katiepaxton for her birthday! [[Happy birthday @katiepaxton!!]] 🎈🎉 Refilled medicine container. 💊 Now relaxing with my pup while reading The Encore. [[@charitytd]] 📚

Happy hump day! How do you wind down after work or a busy day? #reading #birthdays #fabfae #pricelessbreaths

1/30/2018

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 10.50.10 AMThis is me a little over a year and a half ago. The weekend before I got so sick…heading to my best friend’s birthday dinner. Honestly, I barely recognize the person in this photo. My face is much rounder now, my hair shorter & I don’t wear near as much makeup (except special occasions). But more than that, I’ve grown up a lot. Things that used to bother me don’t anymore. My interests have changed. And while my view on life has always been a little different than my friends, that’s changed too. I’m proud of the person I’ve become. I’ve become a better person. A less judgmental person. More loving and accepting. But I’m also still me. Goofy and weird. Some of the worst parts of me changed for the best. 💜 #thisisme #throwbacktuesday #lifechanges

1/28/2018

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 10.50.18 AMLaugh every day! 😂

@katiepaxton & I are the best looking laughers, we know. Her mom was just sitting down & the bench broke. We’re talking wood snapping and down they went. So funny & caught on camera!! It’s always the best when a truly happy or funny moment is caught on camera.

I hope everyone has a relaxing sunday! It’s a rainy day here in northern virginia so I am cuddling up & watching movies. What’s your sunday plan?? #sundayfunday #laughter

1/27/2018

screen-shot-2018-02-01-at-10-50-26-am.pngDo you see the glass a quarter full or three quarters empty?? …all i see is wine. 🍷

But really, life is about perspective. Getting through the hard times comes from your mind actively reminding yourself that you can make it through. 💪🏼 Are you going to look at what you don’t have and can’t do? Or are you going to look at all you do have, what you can enjoy and what you’ll be able to do when the hardships end? It’s all up to you. You’re the only one that can control your mind & your attitude. 🧠👊🏼

Spent the afternoon at a local winery celebrating @katiepaxton’s birthday! The weather was beautiful ☀️ & today was so fun! 🎉🎊🎈 (disclaimer: not my wine) Oh & the little man hanging on the glass, his name is Chad.  #winery #paradisespringswinery #glasshalffull #birthday

1/26/2018

Screen Shot 2018-02-01 at 10.50.35 AMSTAYING HEALTHY IS MY FULL TIME JOB • [Because of cf, how complicated my case is & hurdles i still have to jump] I have had an average of 1-2 doctor appointments a week since my transplant discharge in Oct 2016. Over 60 appointments in less than 1 1/2 years. That doesn’t include the weekly lab draws, hospitalizations & surgeries I’ve had. It’s been tough, but I’m tougher!! 💪🏼

My white blood cell count has been low & last night I started to run a slight fever. [[low white count + fever = bad]] The fever is gone & I’m feeling good but today I had to go in to get a neupogen shot. It promotes the growth of white blood cells. With transplant your white blood cell count can’t be too high or your body will start to attack your new organ but it also can’t be too low or you will have no immune system to fight off anything. So hopefully next week, when they draw my blood, my white blood cell count will be up! 🤞🏼

Have you ever taken a neupogen shot? If so, what side effects have you noticed?

I hope everyone has a happy friday and a wonderful weekend!! 💜💜 #whitebloodcellcount #shot #medicine #friday

1/25/2018

screen-shot-2018-02-01-at-10-50-45-am.pngI truly believe ANYONE can learn to draw. It takes time & practice. don’t sell yourself short, you’re an artist!! 👩🏻‍🎨👨🏽‍🎨🖊✒️🖍

After my transplant, I started to draw..horribly, might I add! Then @auntbeanartworks came into my life & taught me the simplest of things. We meet up at various places around town and we have a great time. [[great conversation + art = great time.]] She reminds me that I am my biggest critic and to step back & take a look at the work from afar. That has given me more confidence in my drawings. I still have a ways to go but I’m learning and having fun!

Today we met up at a pizza place and I finished up drawing my mandala. I love it & really, that’s all that matters! 💜💜 #iamanartist #mandala #artwork #micron #penandinkdrawing

Much Love,

Jackie

Peace Out 2017!

2017 has been a roller coaster ride. I have climbed, & stood tall, at the top of many mountains and I’ve fallen into valleys. I’ve experienced suffering, sadness, hope and happiness. Sometimes all in the same day. I was stranded in one place & I have traveled to different places. I thought I was horrible at art & I felt like an artist. We lost a dog (Scrappy) & we gained a dog (Fae). I learned I will eventually need a kidney transplant & we learned that my mom and brother are both matches. I found out I need a hip replacement & I found an amazing surgeon. I lost friends & gained new friends.

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Boston, MA – July 2017

What I am getting at here is that with every “bad” thing that has happened to me, something good has also happened. Sometimes not right away, but good things have always come. So we can’t sit on the negatives when surely something good is soon to come. While I know challenges are ahead in 2018, I made it through 2016 and through 2017…I can make it through anything. One year is only 1/26 of my life…that is only 3.8%. And as each year comes that percentage will become less and less. So in time, these challenging years will be a tiny percentage of my life as whole.

I have 8 goals for the new year and I want to be held accountable to reach my goals. So I am making all of them known.

1. Every week, write down at least 1 positive thing that has happened to me. Save them and read them to myself on 12/31/2018.

2. Partake in at least 5 fundraising/volunteer events throughout the year. Whether it is at an event or raising awareness for a cause.

3. Keep a positive mind.

4. Get a new hip and use my new hip to exercise more.

5. Travel to 3 places I have never been before.

6. Go on my first hike since transplant.

7. Make it to Wilmington, NC to learn more about where my donor, Samantha, is from.

8. Take a cooking class & cook more often.

I hope each of you have learned and grown during 2017. And I wish you the most health and happiness during 2018. Stay positive, stay happy and stay strong!! And remember that good things are always to come!

And with that I will say, Happy New Year!!

Some photos from 2017:

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First Lungaversary celebrated with friends
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Getting asked to be in my donor’s sister’s (Sara) wedding
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Fab Fae
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Stone Tower Winery fun with friends
Peace 2017
Peace out 2017!

The Lung Transplant Process

Have you ever wondered how a lung transplant happens? My transplant surgeon answered some questions about the transplant process from beginning to end.  This is a general overview & is not the exact process taken for all transplants. This process may also vary depending on the hospital where the transplant is taking place.  He explained this process in an understandable way. Whether you have had a lung transplant or not, I think you will find it interesting.

The transplant pulmonologist and transplant coordinator (who is usually a nurse practitioner or physician assistant) receive a call from the organ procurement organization (an organization that evaluates and procures deceased-donor organs for transplantation) regarding an offer for an organ. They then determine whether or not the donor organs are sufficient for donation. Some organs may be viable, while others may not be. The transplant surgeon then receives a call from the pulmonologist and coordinator with basic information regarding the donor. The surgeon will accept, decline, or ask for additional testing to be done. If they accept, they proceed with the transplant. The procurement surgeon (a transplant surgeon can do procurement and the actual procedure but they never do both for the same patient) drives or flies with two operating room nurses to the other hospital to bring the organ back to the hospital where the surgery will take place. There are four operating room nurses for the recipient and two operating room nurses for the donor. Cardiac perfusion runs the heart/lung machine if it is used during the operation and they help initiate ECMO support post-operatively, if necessary.

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My old, CF, lungs and my new lungs

The process of taking out old lungs is relatively straight-forward but depends on the recipient’s underlying condition. Cystic fibrosis lungs and sarcoidosis lungs are generally very difficult to remove due to chronic infection and inflammation. The lungs are quite literally fused to the walls of the chest cavity and have to be peeled away. (This was the cause for excess bleeding post transplant in my case.) Conversely, COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and PPH, primary pulmonary hypertension, are generally quite easy. They dissect out the pulmonary artery (the artery carrying blood from the right ventricle of the heart to the lungs for oxygenation), the pulmonary veins (the veins that transfer oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart; there are two or three per side) and the bronchus (any of the major air passages of the lungs that diverge from the windpipe). If they are doing a double lung transplant, this process is done for both sides through a clamshell incision (shaped like a curved ‘W”, and is typically cut just below the breasts). If a single lung transplant is being done then it is through a thoracotomy (incision on the side of the chest towards the back).

My surgeon does most of his single lung transplants and all of his double lung transplants on bypass support. There are many reasons for this – his feeling is that it minimizes blood loss, keeps the heart stable while they’re working, and lets him take both lungs out at the same time during a double lung transplant. The alternative is bilateral sequential lung transplant off of bypass but this means that at some point, the new lung and one of the old lungs is in the body at the same time. This leads to potential contamination of the new lung. Not many people do double lung transplants this way in the modern era.

Time is of the essence, in two senses. One, they try to time their explant procedure to coincide with the arrival of the donor lungs. They don’t want a patient sitting on bypass for hours waiting for an organ. Conversely, they also don’t want the donor lungs to arrive before they are ready to put them in…which leads to the second component. In general, the lungs need to be put in the recipient within 6 hours from the time they were removed from the donor. This is why donor organs are allocated on a regional basis. It would not be possible for a recipient in California to receive donor lungs from Virginia. There are centers that push this number up to 7 or 8 hours but the majority of centers look at 6 hours as the maximal tolerable ischemic time (a restriction in blood supply to tissues, causing a shortage of oxygen and glucose needed to keep tissue alive).

The most critical point in the surgery is the airway anastomosis (connection between the recipients airways and the donor lung airways). Blood vessels bleed so if there is a problem its pretty obvious. The bronchial anastomoses do not – if there is a technical error, they don’t know until sometimes weeks later.New lungs are put in by matching the bronchus to bronchus, pulmonary vein to pulmonary vein and pulmonary artery to pulmonary artery. They are all matched up and sewn end-to-end.

A dry run is when it is decided that the donated organ is not viable. This happens 25-30% of the time in lung transplants and less than 10% of the time in heart transplants.

My surgeon’s longest double lung transplant was 8 hours and shortest single lung transplant was less than 2 hours.  This is the amount of time he performs the actual transplant with other medical professionals assuming roles in the operating room before and after.

The advances of modern medicine are quite remarkable. To think that one person can donate an organ to another person is just incredible. Seventy-five years ago, no one would believe heart & lung transplants would be happening.  So far in 2017, my hospital has performed twenty-some lung transplants.

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”

Anya

I lay in my hospital bed in room 224 in the CVICU at Fairfax Hospital. I turn my head to the left and see a young blonde woman pass my room. “She must have cystic fibrosis,” I think. There are not many people under 50 in the cardiovascular ICU, or any pulmonary floor for that matter. And when there are, my first thought is always CF. She has a trac in her neck with a tube tracing back to a ventilator pushed by a respiratory therapist. My next thought, “She must also have had a lung transplant.”  Then she walks around again, and again, and again. Each time she passes, before I knew it, she is back again. I look to my mom & tears start to run down the side of my face. “I want to be her. I want to be able to walk the halls with my ventilator,” I mouth, unable to speak because of intubation. I want to be walking so badly. I want to be able to move so badly. At that moment, I want to be anywhere except where I am. “You will be, Jackie. I promise, you will be,” my mom responds, holding back tears herself. Anya passes my room day after day, multiple times a day. Dr. Brown comes in during her usual rounds and I write to her in a notebook, “I want to be her. The blonde woman who walks past my room.” Unable to say much, Dr. Brown simply replies, “She is on a different journey than you.” But she takes note.

Anya
Anya Crum Huie
Later that afternoon, a woman from the hallway hands my mom a note. The corner has been ripped from a sheet of paper, on it said www.anyasstory.com. Curious, I immediately ask my mom to get my phone. With hands barely strong enough to hold it, I go to the web address. I read Anya’s story. I find out that she had a transplant in 2008. That she had won 2nd place at the transplant olympic games in the 100m dash. She had an amazing husband and an extremely supportive family. All of this she shares with us, people she doesn’t even know. I also find out that her body rejected the first set of lungs she received and she went through a second transplant in 2014. So I am right, she did have a transplant, but that’s not why she is in the hospital this time. Her body is also rejecting the 2nd set of lungs and she has developed an infection. Some people would feel defeated. But from what I witness, not Anya. I’d never met her and I could tell she was more determined than ever just by the way she passes my hospital room every day. One day, on the ventilator, she walks a mile around the CVICU. That is over 15 laps. Amazing.

Anya’s mom comes by my room just to check in and see how I am doing. This becomes a regular occurrence along with Anya’s walks around the CVICU & past my room. Except now Anya smiles & waves. We are friends. We could never actually meet in person because of cystic fibrosis and because of the bugs we each might cary. But we are friends. People with CF, they just get each other. It’s almost like an immediate bond is made when you find out someone has CF.

That summer I learned a lot watching Anya walk past my room. I learned that everyone is on their own journey. No two people are the same. I learned that it wouldn’t be easy, but I could be walking the halls on my ventilator. And I would be soon. I learned that someone could have the worst possible thing happen to them post transplant, but still have sheer determination. She inspired me before I ever even said “Hi” to her. I wanted to work hard and get through my tough time because I saw Anya walk past my hospital room, fighting CF and fighting rejection. In my mind that’s what inspiration is, someone making you want to be better or do something more. Anya did just that.

Anya lost her battle with CF on September 7, 2017. Anya reminded me of something important. You don’t know what someone is experiencing just from watching them walk the halls past your room. They may appear the strongest of person, but are fighting a battle of their own.  Anya also gave me hope. Hope that I would make it through and hope that I would be walking the halls, just like her. Anya and I may not have been close friends, but one thing I know is that I will never forget watching her walk past my room every day.

People with CF, they should never be forgotten for they are some of the strongest and hardest fighters. We know how precious every breath truly is. The ones who lost their lives fighting to breathe should be a reminder that a cure needs to be found. That people with CF & lung transplant shouldn’t be fearful of the word “rejection” because that word shouldn’t even exist in our world. The CF Foundation is leading the fight against CF and recently, CF transplants and rejection. To find out more and donate in honor of Anya Crum Huie please visit http://www.cff.org.