“I'm so grateful to be alive. I have a renewed sense of life.”
At 51 years old, Tammy Cook considered herself a strong and energetic person. But one day, she noticed herself struggling to breathe just walking to the bathroom.
Tammy sought medical help and learned she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from years of smoking. Within a year, she needed oxygen support.
“At work, when everyone took lunch breaks, I took oxygen breaks,” Tammy says. “You don't realize how important it is to take care of your body until you've ruined it and ruined your life.”
Doctors encouraged her to get evaluated for a lung transplant. She resisted at first because she thought her condition would improve, but her symptoms got worse instead.
Her pulmonologist referred her to the UPMC Comprehensive Lung Center for a transplant evaluation. She went on the transplant list in October 2017. At the age of 55, she was in a wheelchair.
“It was awful,” Tammy says. “Everything was hard. I was out of breath with the slightest exertion. I felt like something was laying on my chest and I was breathing through a cocktail straw.”
Worried she would die, Tammy made more than two dozen goodbye videos for family and friends. She felt afraid of the lung transplant process until talking to an older man who had undergone the procedure. That conversation gave her confidence.
In May 2019, she received a double-lung transplant and felt exhilarated to breathe again without oxygen support.
“It was amazing,” Tammy says. “I couldn't believe someone else's lungs were in my body doing the work. I was very emotional.”
Since her transplant, Tammy is making sure to take care of her body. She lives an active life: biking, hiking, running, and exercising regularly. She's thankful for her lungs and thinks often of the donor — a 30-year-old Purple Heart recipient and father of two.
She also works with the Transplant Support Group at UPMC, helping others who are going through the transplant process.
“I'm so grateful to be alive,” she says. “I have a renewed sense of life. This was my second chance, and I'm doing everything possible to take care of myself. I owe him the honor of caring for his lungs.”
At UPMC, Life Changing Medicine means giving people a second chance at living.
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