“Their son left a legacy in my and the others he was able to donate to.”
Tonya, tissue recipient
At the age of six months, Tonya was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a disease that affected her lungs and digestive system. Growing up, Tonya was shy and attempted to hide her disease from friends. As she became older, treatments for CF evolved and improved Tonya’s quality of life, and she became more comfortable speaking about her disease to others. While at The Ohio State University, she was involved in a study for Pulmozyme, a drug that would turn out to be a life-changing drug for CF patients.
After becoming a registered dietician, Tonya met her husband and was surprised at how understanding he was of her disease. They were elated when they discovered she was pregnant – something she had accepted might never happen for her. Tonya and her husband named their baby boy, Eric, after her brother who passed away from CF. While enjoying motherhood, Tonya’s lung function began to decline. In 2003, her biggest fear became a reality when doctors told her she would need a double lung transplant and that her wait could be up to two years. Because Tonya was a petite woman, she would need a child’s lungs.
While making her son breakfast in 2004, Tonya received a call from the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland telling her lungs had become available. Tonya was overwrought with emotions and questions, but in the end, she knew she needed the transplant so she could live to see her son grow up. Her lung capacity had dropped to only 19 percent. The lungs Tonya received were a perfect fit, and she recovered well physically from the transplant, but emotionally it took longer. Tonya discovered her lungs came from a ten-year-old boy, something both she and her husband struggled with.
“What I never wanted to experience, what my mother experienced so many years ago, now another family was experiencing that same grief,” said Tonya. “And I am alive because of it.” Since her surgery, Tonya has learned to cope with her grief and appreciate the energy her donor’s lungs have given her. She has even participated and medaled in the Transplant Games. Today, Tonya helps raise funds for CF charities and takes every opportunity to promote the importance of donation.
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“I have met my donor family. They are truly wonderful and have suffered a great loss,” said Tonya. “I believe it gives them comfort in knowing that I can now raise my son and that their son left a legacy in me and the others he was able to donate to.” >Tonya says she is living proof that miracles do happen. Each day, she strives to give hope to those awaiting transplants, and to CF patients who fear their life may be short-lived.