Jess’s Story: Breathe In Love, Breathe Out Gratitude

Organ recipient Jess poses in wedding dress with her husband

Growing up, even with a terminal illness, I always expected I’d get to experience the ‘normal’ life: college, career, marriage, and all that’s in-between. But in the summer of 2009, I was put on oxygen full-time and had to stop my studies at the University of South Florida. I was being put on the lung transplant waiting list at the age of 22. Cystic fibrosis, the genetic disease that had destroyed my lungs, had finally stopped my forward momentum in life. Even though all my dreams for a ‘normal’ life were put on hold, there was still a significant part of me that knew that I was going to get these lungs and pick up where I left off. But without those lungs, I was facing the last months of my life tethered to an oxygen concentrator, over 600 miles from home. The best day of my life, my family and I realized, would be the worst for another family. On April 18, 2010, that day came.

Just over four years and two college degrees later, I met the man who made me feel I was the only person in the universe. Although we were very different on paper, we connected in the way that was most essential; we had love. I’d never desired an exceptional life. I just wanted to love and be loved in return; maybe that is something my donor would approve of. Three years and a border collie/lab mutt later, Jeremy and I exchanged vows on a white-sand beach just north of Kona, Hawaii. My life is only exceptional in that I have had the last nine years because of my organ donor. My donor’s decision to give the ultimate gift has given me almost nine years of a gloriously normal life in which I can breathe in love and breathe out gratitude.