Chronic Illness Makes My World Smaller

Chronic Illness Makes My World Smaller

Christie and I were walking through the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco when I heard someone call my name. Dhaya Lakshminarayanan waved me over. 

I first met Dhaya at a Moth StorySLAM where I told the story of getting the call for transplant. Per The Moth rules, I told my true story live, with no notes, in front of a crowd of strangers. Dhaya, a comedian and storyteller herself, was hosting the show. When I left the stage, she spoke about her friend Andrew, whose wife, Isabel, received a double-lung transplant in 2005. At intermission, I went up to tell Dhaya that I also know Isabel (I call her Isa).

Isa works as a grief counselor for Mission Hospice, and my dad is a registered nurse and clinical manager at St. Joseph Health’s hospice services. Their mutual co-worker put me in touch with Isa while I was still hospitalized after my surgery. Since then, we’ve competed together on Team NorCal in the Transplant Games of America

Group of organ transplant recipients ready to compete in the Transplant Games of America
Team NorCal competes in the Transplant Games of America to raise awareness for organ donation. (Photo by Celia Membreno)

Dhaya explained to her friend Jamie how we met, and I explained how I met Christie.

Christie had messaged me on Instagram in January seeking guidance. She told me she didn’t know anyone who had gone through an organ transplant, but now she was at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center with her mom, who rather suddenly needed a double-lung transplant. Months before this, Christie had started following me on Instagram when I shared a link to my website with a group for creative entrepreneurs. I gave her my cellphone number and we arranged to meet at a café near the hospital. We were fast friends. 

On March 15, Christie’s mom, Holly, received her life-saving double-lung transplant. Christie left her husband and beloved pets at their home in Olympia, Washington, the same day. She moved to San Francisco to help take care of her mom through the first months of transplant recovery.

While in San Francisco, Christie assisted me during a couple of photo shoots to help build her portfolio (check out her Instagram page). Not only is she a photographer like me, she’s also a brilliant writer. I referred her to the head of columns at BioNews Services (who happens to be my friend, Brad Dell). Now, Christie writes her own column for Pulmonary Fibrosis News, in which she shares her experiences with lung transplant from a caregiver’s perspective. I highly recommend you read “Courage to Care and leave some comments for Christie. 

Photo of Christie sitting on a bench in front of a colorful wall at the de Young Museum in San Francisco
Christie Patient at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. (Photo by Kathleen Sheffer Photography).

Christie and I forged a friendship that both of us desperately needed. She gave me an opportunity to pay forward a little of the generosity others have shown me. She reminded me of all the challenges I’d overcome through the transplant process and how insignificant my current worries are in the scheme of things.

Dhaya ran to catch a cab, leaving Jamie on the corner with Christie and me. Then Jamie told us that her best friend also had a double-lung transplant. I was stunned.

My habit of oversharing consistently leads to deeper connections with people. I became friends with Dhaya because I shared my story onstage. Christie connected with me when she saw photos I took while in the hospital recovering from my transplant. And here was another woman connected by the same miracle.

My organ donor gifted me their heart and lungs, saving my life and unwittingly connecting me to Dhaya, Christie, and Jamie. Three organ donors gifted lungs to important people in each of their lives. And we all wound up on the corner of Haight Street and Masonic Avenue chatting about it. However painful the initiation, I’m truly grateful to be a part of this club.

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Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.

After fighting Idiopathic Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension with combined intravenous and oral therapies for 17 years, Kathleen Sheffer received a heart-lung transplant on July 1, 2016. Now 24, she works as a photographer in San Francisco, California, and writes about the transition from life with PH to life with chronic immunosuppression. See her photography at kathleensheffer.com.
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After fighting Idiopathic Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension with combined intravenous and oral therapies for 17 years, Kathleen Sheffer received a heart-lung transplant on July 1, 2016. Now 24, she works as a photographer in San Francisco, California, and writes about the transition from life with PH to life with chronic immunosuppression. See her photography at kathleensheffer.com.
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