Blessed With A Future: Lung Transplant brings Renewed hope
Updated: Feb 28, 2022
By: Jennfier Cuello
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My name is Jennifer Cuello, and I live with cystic fibrosis. It’s hard for me to believe that three months have passed since I received the call that saved my life. My hands shook and my words broke up as tears filled my eyes. Shock and disbelief consumed me, followed by both sadness for the life of the woman who passed away and the greatest sense of relief and joy. I’ll never forget that Tuesday night on August 3, 2021. The suitcase wasn’t even unpacked from the previous discharge only 24 hours prior. My time was running out, according to my lung allocation score of 89. I was praying for this chance for months and it happened. I walked out my front door equipped with my fiancé (Troy), family, and of course oxygen tanks.
The next six hours passed slowly at Penn Medicine. We couldn’t sleep or eat. Instead, we spoke of good times together over the years and hopeful plans for the future. Deep down I also reflected on memories with my sister, Jessica, who had passed from CF a couple years prior. I wished she could have been here physically to share this special day with me. Instead, I felt her smiling down at me with her wings holding me tightly. As I was being wheeled back to the OR, Troy’s hand slipped away from mine. The tears he’d been holding on to so tightly started flowing. I tried to reassure him. I felt the sedation coursing through my IV as they placed a mask over my face. “Take deep breaths”, I was instructed as everything went dark.
I have memories of the ICU but not too many. The pain medications tend to make you loopy, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing after such a surgery. I only spent six days in the ICU before moving to a regular floor. I made so much progress the following days. I was well on my way to one of the fastest recoveries from a double lung transplant in years. The support from my fiancé, parents, friends, family, strangers, and staff were exceptional. From bed pans to therapies, it was busy, and each action required extra effort. Day by day, I persevered with a smile and a couple chuckles. My first walk and even sprint were recorded so I could reflect years later.
Upon discharge I spent the next six weeks at the Gift of Life Family House. Troy and my mom (Rose) took turns being my full-time caregivers. I was doing very well and even managed to walk/jog nearly three miles most days of physical therapy plus do an additional hour of strength training. My lab work, chest x-rays, and pulmonary function tests continued to shine brighter with each passing week. Going from 19% to 90% felt absolutely amazing. I could bathe myself again, talk to family and friends without tapping out, and laugh without an ensuing coughing fit. Breathing felt so effortless for the first time in years. I could live!
During my off therapy/testing days, my mind was free to wander. There were a couple dreams that I hoped would happen post transplant if the opportunity presented itself. I couldn’t wait to work again. Yeah, I’m probably too excited, but I look forward to working again and/or resuming my Certified Medical Assistant career. I can no longer work hands-on with cancer patients, but there still are so many opportunities at my fingertips.
Troy and I can now start looking for our nest. We cohabitated with my parents for months before transplant because I was too weak to move forward with our lives together. But now, we can! My mind keeps envisioning a three bedroom/one bathroom ranch-style house with a half acre of land—perfect to enjoy for years. Maybe we can even adopt later!
But there was one plan that made me smile the most. We could now plan our wedding. Yes, we could have married before my transplant, but I didn’t want to be sick, frail, and dying on our wedding day. I never lost faith that I would be given a second chance and why settle? Our lives had already been connected and entwined on a deeper level than most would ever experience. Now, I was given the chance to celebrate our special day the way I wanted to remember it—healthy, beautiful, happy, and free. After everything that Troy and I went through together, we could finally celebrate hand-in-hand.
So, October 1, 2022, we will celebrate before all our family and friends with a head count of around 200. Our bridal party has been chosen and the save -he-date cards have been designed. The venue, caterer, photographer, and DJ have also been selected. On my three-month transplant anniversary, I bought my wedding dress! I couldn’t be any more overjoyed to be standing in this position right now. I’ve been blessed.
It will be a wonderful, busy 2022, but I’m lovin’ this new journey in my life. Some may wonder why I’ve decided to make so many life-altering decisions so quickly. It’s a fair question. But if you spent the last 39 years hoping to be blessed with the ultimate gift, you too would be more than ready to turn the page and start the next chapter.
My donor saved my life and others on August 4, 2021. I will forever be grateful to her and her family. She had a love for others which was greater than herself and expressed it through her selfless actions. Someday, I hope to hear from her family as I have already hand-written them a letter. In the meantime, I know with 100% certainty that I have at least two guardian angels watching over me—my donor and my sister. As long as I have them both beside me, I’ll be just fine.
Jennifer has Cystic Fibrosis and since receiving the ultimate gift of a new life at age 40 she is excited to embark on her post-transplant journey, including: obtaining gainful employment, owning a home, exchanging marriage vows, and possibly adopting are just a few of blessings she hopes to enjoy in her new life with her fiancé Troy. Life has thrown her a couple of curve balls, but she has always managed to come swinging back.