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Double lung transplant recipient honoring donor with each new breath

"I'm just a girl that almost died two and a half months ago and I'm just excited to be alive"

When you wake up in the morning, you're breathing. When you go to bed, you're breathing. It's something we don't think about. But, 33-year-old Maria Sanchez has struggled with Cystic Fibrosis her whole life and the task of breathing was not easy for her. 

Now, she's joined the rest of us in not worrying about her next breath. 

"You become desperate," Sanchez said. "And you know that the time is coming. Where the inevitable, death, is knocking at your door."  

She was diagnosed with CF when she was just a baby. Unfortunately, the disease progressed. It got to the point where her tuneups took longer and she wasn't able to bounce back as quick.

"I had a conversation with my husband and I told him, 'How long do you think it'll be before I get these lungs?' and he said, 'Well, statistically it's three to six months.' And I said, 'I don't have three to six months.' I said, 'I don't think I have a week'," Sanchez said.

She thought her life would be cut short. 

"I got down to 16 percent lung function," she said. "I was on eight liters of oxygen. And I kept calling the company and telling them the machine wasn't working because I couldn't breathe. The last couple of days before the call, my husband had to give me rescue breaths because I couldn't feel the air in my lungs."

Then the call came. It was a call that she and her husband didn't know would come. The call meant she had a second chance. There was a pair of lungs that were going to be hers.

"There were specific things that happened during her case that you really...you don't forget," Dr. Wesley Allen, her anesthesiologist said. 

She didn't forget Wes either.  As she was laying there waiting in the operating room, she was listening to for King and Country.

"The last song that played was 'It's Not Over Yet'," Sanchez said. "And as the chorus was playing, the anesthesiologist got the call. And so he picked up the phone and said, 'Uh huh, okay.' And I could hear him but I wasn't sure uh huh, okay, what it meant. And so as soon as he hung up the phone, the chorus had just finished and it was 'Just when you think you're finished, it's not over yet' and he looks up and says, 'It's a go'." 

Maria had an infection in her lungs which made her surgery more difficult. They had to make sure the infection was cleared of her body before putting the new lungs in. 

"You go in and you're just hoping," Dr. Allen said. "Because you look at her and you can tell visibly that she's sick and that she needs these lungs. So, you walk in with this big hope that you hope everything goes right." 

Then, she was breathing on her own. And she's continued to do well in her recovery since then. 

"When that tube finally comes out and you see her sitting in the bed it's hard to describe... It's like a new shot at life," Dr. Allen said.  "And I don't know how to put that into words." 

"I can breathe," Sanchez said. "I can dance around. I can hold my breath. I didn't know I could hold my breath. I enjoy cooking, I enjoy eating. I enjoy the things that people take for granted." 

She says she's using this new lease on life to honor her donor.

"I don't have to think about breathing," Sanchez said. "When you don't have to think about breathing, you can think about a whole lot else. I'm just a girl that almost died two and a half months ago and I'm just excited to be alive."

Maria would not be alive right now if it weren't for her amazing doctors and her donor. 

By signing up to be an organ donor, you can help save someone's life after your death. 

You never know who you could help and it's easy to sign up to donate. Go to Donate Life Florida's website for more information on how to become a donor.

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