Cassandra P., PA | American Lung Association

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Cassandra P., PA

My new lungs are doing just fine, but I’ll never truly be out of the woods. I’m on immune-suppressants every day. Clean air is vital to my health. It was just as crucial to breathe it before my surgery, as it is for me today. We should never take for granted the significance of clean air.

I see young kids smoking and want to say to them, "Please stop smoking. You have no idea how terrifying it is not to breathe."

On my 25th wedding anniversary (November 20, 2001), I underwent a double lung transplant at the University of Pittsburgh. I was 54, and a nonsmoker. I often joke that on that day, I got a new diamond ring and two new lungs. But in reality, my lung health story was never a laughing matter.

When I was 18, I should have known something was wrong. I started to sleep with multiple pillows because I couldn't lay flat. It was too hard to breathe. After each of my sons was born, I went into ventricular tachycardia. Turns out, I have a genetic condition called pulmonary hypertension. It ran in my family – my grandmother, aunt and cousin had all died from it, in their 20s and 30s.

For years, I would cough all of the time and then go through a spasm of dry heaves. I used to tell my doctor, "I feel like I'm living on Mount Everest. My resting pulse is 120 and I'm out of breath just getting into my car."

I carried inhalers and struggled to walk up steps. Sitting in smoggy traffic or being around cigarette smoke or herbicides – all of these things affected my breathing. It didn't just make it hard to breathe. It made my airwaves hurt.

When my surgeon asked me before my lung transplant if I really wanted to go through with it, I said, "Yes! Why?"

It wasn't just the coughing and the gasping for air, it was also the fact that I couldn't do everyday normal tasks any longer.

I told him, "I have danced all of my life and I can't dance anymore."

When my cardiologist diagnosed me in 1997, he said I should get my life in order because I wouldn't live two years in the condition I was in. That was 17 years ago. I can now do aerobics, and I walk 2 to 5 miles a day. I also returned to work as a biochemist for Penn State.

Prior to my surgery, I was having so much trouble breathing, I was disabled and couldn't function at work. My new lungs are doing just fine, but I'll never truly be out of the woods. I'm on immune-suppressants every day.

Clean air is vital to my health. It was just as crucial to breathe it before my surgery, as it is for me today. We should never take for granted the significance of clean air. I see young kids smoking and want to say to them, "Please stop smoking. You have no idea how terrifying it is not to breathe."

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