Prior to contracting a rare lung disease, Carmel was a strong, healthy, and active young woman. In December 2013, and without warning, everything changed for Carmel. After experiencing concurrent cases of the flu and pneumonia, Carmel had to be hospitalized for several days, at which point her health started to rapidly decline. Over the next year, Carmel noticed how easily she would get out of breath and how difficult it was to return to the physical condition she was in prior to hospitalization. Soon after, Carmel was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Hypertension – a rare, but deadly disease that affects breathing and can eventually cause fatal heart failure.

Life had become extremely difficult for Carmel. In less than two years she was requiring fifteen liters of continuous supplemental oxygen every day. She could not work, could rarely go outside, and often needed help moving around her studio apartment. Plans with friends and family were nearly impossible as daily activity had to be strictly calculated and planned for, and her condition varied from day to day. At this point, Carmel’s only hope at survival was a lung transplant.

Carmel and her wife at their acupuncture clinic. Photo Courtesy: Teanna Gentry, The Highline Times

Despite the severity of her health, and the toll it had taken on her life, Carmel found beauty in the difficult time. She met and married her soul mate, which impacted her life in the most positive way possible. “Living fully present in the given moment, I was simultaneously dying and the most alive I had ever been,” she says.

In November 2015, Carmel got “the call.” Since her transplant, Carmel has found a new lease on life and is thriving with her new lungs. “Life is different than I ever could have imagined. I do not feel that I have ‘transitioned back’ to my life before transplant, rather that I have ‘transitioned forward’ towards a new version of myself and a new life” said Carmel.

On the one year anniversary of her marriage and the eight-month anniversary of her transplant, Carmel and her spouse opened a community acupuncture clinic. She described the clinic as “a culmination of all our hopes and dreams from the past year; that I would survive; that I could reenter the world without fear of running out of oxygen; and that I would have enough time on this earth to positively give back in some meaningful way my intense gratitude for this awesome gift that I have been trusted with.” Carmel hopes to use the clinic as a platform to discuss organ donation and help promote and encourage others to register as donors.

Carmel sharing her story at the 2019 Donation Celebration in Bellevue

The generosity of one donor has given Carmel a second chance at life. For that she couldn’t be more grateful.

“We simply do not, and cannot, know what life has in store for us. If it weren’t for the forethought and generosity of a total stranger, I would not be here today. At age 34 and seven months post-transplant, I have already lived far beyond what would have been possible had this surgery not been available to me,” said Carmel. “Each of us has an essential role to play in ensuring that donated organs are available for those who need them. You just don’t know, the next person needing help could be you.”