The donor's mother can literally put her hands here,” says Lyndsey, touching her chest, “and she can feel that it's her son breathing. It’s him breathing and I’m breathing with him.
Lyndsey McLaughlin is alive today thanks to Diana Rodriguez, a woman she had never met. Diana had the courage and the compassion to donate the organs of her son, Adrian, 18, who died in a subway accident. Lyndsey received Adrian’s lungs. Two years later, she had the opportunity to thank Diana in person.
It was an extraordinary meeting, recalls Lyndsey. “She can literally put her hands here,” says Lyndsey, touching her chest, “and she can feel that it's her son breathing. It’s him breathing and I’m breathing with him.”
Lyndsey’s journey to a new life began at the age of 2½ when she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that causes mucus to collect in the lungs. “Growing up, I did chest physical therapy with my parents clapping on my back every day,” notes Lyndsey, now 31. “It wasn’t until I was 16 that my lung function started to drop. That’s when I went to the hospital for the first time. Every day I would receive IV antibiotics, as well as have chest physical therapy. Then at 18, when I was a freshman in college, I was told that I would probably need a double lung transplant within the next few years.”
Lyndsey decided to postpone adding her name to the transplant list until she finished college. By the time she was 25, the need for the transplant became more urgent. “I was getting oxygen 24 hours a day and my pulmonary function had fallen to 17 percent,” recalls Lyndsey. “When I got the call, I had been on the list for seven months and four days.”
Joshua R. Sonett, MD, Chief of General Thoracic Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/ Columbia University Medical Center, performed Lyndsey’s double lung transplant, an eight-and-a-half-hour surgery that required her going on heart bypass. Her right lung was hugely inflated and she had lost function in part of her left lung. “When Dr. Sonett came out to speak to my family, he told them he was surprised that I had still been able to breathe given the severity of the condition of my lungs,” says Lyndsey.
When Lyndsey returned home from the hospital, she began an exercise program to continue to strengthen her new lungs. But she also focused on strengthening awareness of cystic fibrosis and the need to increase organ donor registration. Her efforts inspired her creation of Lyndsey's TLC Foundation (www.lyndseystlc.org).
Every day Lyndsey thinks about the young man whose donated lungs gave her a second chance at life. And hers was not the only life Adrian saved that day. “An organ donor can save up to eight people’s lives and help so many more. It’s that important.”