It’s not often that you think about breathing unless you have trouble doing it, which was the reality for most of Katie Pilston’s life. “I was born with cystic fibrosis (CF), so at a pretty early age I started having lung issues,” she said. “I was told that probably by the time I turned 18, I would need a transplant.”
Pilston was put on the transplant list around 19 or 20 and got the call when she was 26. During the wait, Pilston ended up going to college, graduating college and then attending graduate school. “I was pretty darn used to having lung issues and learning how to live with it and make adjustments,” she said. “It didn’t stop me from doing the things I wanted to do.”
On July 5, three days after her 26th birthday, Pilston got the gift she’d been waiting for. “It was quite the birthday gift,” she added.
And now over 12 years later, Pilston is doing great. No more breathing treatments. No more airway clearance vests. Pilston was able to claim two to three hours back in her days by not having to treat the symptoms from CF. Plus, she is able to enjoy the things she never got the chance to before.
“Summertime has always been my favorite,” she said. “Two or three years before my transplant, I would have to stay inside during the summer because the air quality in Birmingham would be hot and humid. I couldn’t go outside for even five minutes because I couldn’t breathe. Since my transplant, I moved to the beach and I spend hours outside every day that I can.”
Not only is Pilston living her life without the limitations she used to have, she’s now at a stage of her career where she’s giving back to the organ donation mission working for Advancing Sight Network. “A family finding out about a death is probably one of the worst days of their lives but I’m able to offer them potentially a new ending,” she said. “It’s not going to be a great day no matter what. But it does change their loved one’s story from a tragedy to something much more hopeful.”
And to see all aspects of the organ donation process from being a recipient to working on the donor side, it makes Pilston grateful for all of the people involved. “Organ donation is so much bigger than people imagine. It takes a whole community of people to make it happen.”
Don’t take your lungs for granted, Healthy Lung Month is an opportunity to prioritize your lung health and things you can start doing to take care of them now and for decades to come.