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Heather: Fighting for life

Heather, with hands on hips, smiling in her university graduation gown with gold sash

This is what a fighter looks like.

Meet Heather. Born with cystic fibrosis, she had to fight every day to stay healthy, fight every day to breathe. “My whole life, I had to do chest physical therapy and a nebulizer at least two times a day, and if I was sick, three or four times, and that took 90 minutes every time. I had to wake up at 6:30 in the morning so I could be ready to leave for school by 8:00 am.”

But at 19, her health was rapidly declining. By the fall of that year, “My lung functions were getting to about fifteen percent,” says Heather. “I had been declining so long, and my body was getting really tired. The transplant team didn’t think I was going to make it to the New Year if I didn’t get the transplant.”

In November, however, Heather got the call. In a nearly 15-hour surgery involving more than 50 healthcare professionals, Heather received new lungs and a liver.

Her recovery wasn’t easy. She spent another 147 days in the hospital battling complications. Her kidneys shut down. Three years on dialysis followed, until, with her mother as her donor, Heather received a kidney transplant.

Yet during those difficult years, she also returned to school. “Going back to school gave me something that I had control over,” Heather says. “School has always been such an important thing to me and I have always taken it very seriously.” Following her second transplant she completed her associate’s degree, then continued on to earn her bachelor’s, graduating with the highest GPA in her major concentration.

She reached out as well to the family of the donor who had given her not only the gift of life, but of every breath, and she has since become close with her donor’s daughters, attending both their weddings. “My donor family has become our family too,” Heather says.

Heather holding her graduation cap that includes a photo of her lung donor

Heather honored her lung donor on her graduation cap

“Transplant allows us to do the things we love and want to do in life,” says Heather. “You never know if you or your loved one is going to need an organ, and you are going to hope that someone out there has made the choice to be a donor.”

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Kidney, Liver, Living it forward, Lung, Stories, UNOS Ambassador

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