Julie's Story

Before April 2019, I was living a healthy, busy everyday life. I was a working wife, mother, daughter, and friend to many. I was a teacher and instructional coach at a local elementary school. It was not until November 2018 that I realized something was just not right.
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My journey began with me getting short of breath while doing daily activities around the house.  I kept telling my family that I was out of shape and needed to exercise.  After much persistence from my family that something was wrong, and many doctors, tests, surgeries, biopsies, and hospitalizations, I was diagnosed with end-stage lung disease. Without a double lung transplant, I had less than three months to live.  What shocking news to my family.  So in February 2019, I was referred to Duke for a transplant evaluation.  After being accepted with Duke Hospital,  I was to relocate to Durham immediately.  I was listed on the transplant list by the end of March.  Two dry runs (false alarms) and 19 days later, my day had come to receive lungs.  The wait was tough, with lots of thoughts and prayers for my donor’s family.  April 17, 2019, is a day that changed my life forever.  I went from struggling to breathe, attached to oxygen, and at the end of my life, to feeling and living like a new person.

My donor, Samantha, is my hero that I never got to meet.  I am so thankful for her decision to be an organ donor and her family supporting that decision.  Just like my transplant experience was short, hearing from my donor’s Mom was the same.  In 3 months, I received a letter and picture from my donor’s Mom.  I know this had to be a tough letter for her to write while just losing her daughter.  We continued to write back and forth until we completed the process of releasing our information to each other.  So in November, we had our first of many phones calls.  We talk a couple of times a month to catch up or just cry.  I get to learn about Samantha more and more each time and form a relationship with her family.  One day when Covid is over, we plan to meet in person.

Before the transplant, I loved to travel. With the pandemic happening after my transplant, I have not been able to get out. One day, I will travel and explore the world again with new appreciation, thanks to Samantha.  In May, both of my daughters will graduate.  My oldest will graduate from nursing school, and my youngest graduates from high school.  I am so thankful I can be here for this celebration, and I owe this precious time with my family to Samantha.

Organ donation was not something neither my family nor I had discussed before this journey.  I never thought about its impact on an individual or their family.  Yes, I placed the red heart to be an organ donor on my license, but that was all it was.  Now, I truly know what that one red heart could do for someone.  During my transplant surgery, my entire family and friends sat at a computer and made sure they were registered donors.  They felt that was just a tiny token they could do to honor my donor.  Every breath I take, every step I make, I owe to Samantha.  Without organ donation, I would not be here to tell my story.  Please sign up to be a lifesaver for someone else.