Byron woman reflects on double-lung transplant for Donate Life month

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(ABC 6 News) –Seventeen people die every single day waiting for an organ transplant. For one Byron woman, she was within days of joining that list.

Many of us take breathing for granted but Jennifer Ronnenberg knows that every breath is a gift.

“There were moments where I could not walk down the stairs, I could not take my own shower. I could not get dressed.”

She has cystic fibrosis which damages the lungs because of mucus blocking airflow.

“I didn’t have enough breath to eat.”

Put on oxygen in 2016, that June, Jennifer joined a long list that some people never come off of – the lung transplant list.

“Things were bad. Things were really bad,” said her husband Rob.

Bad was an understatement. That fall her days were coming to an end unless she got new lungs. A time when Rob was thinking ahead to darker days.

“I was going to make a decision. Are we going to fly in all her family and have our wedding at the hospital before it’s too late?”

The life-saving phone call finally came in. Doctors told the Ronnenbergs if the call didn’t come, Jennifer had two days left before her body was going to shut down.

A call that became a wake-up call for Jennifer.

“It was not until that moment that I really realized how bad things were for me. I was like ‘absolutely.’ I’ll accept them.’ And it was amazing.”

Rob posted the life-changing moment online. The moment she was finally able to breathe without any help. The video went viral.

A special moment for Jennifer. “That emotion that I felt of finally being able to breathe was just so pure. You know, fully, I hadn’t done it for so long. That is something I will never forget,” added Jennifer.

Doctors gave her a 3D model of her old lungs showing her, and her family just how bad things really were.

“It’s kind of like a good riddance, you know? It was like a very amazing moment. I just felt like, here, I can show myself. Again, having a disease like that, you don’t really know what it’s doing to your body. You don’t know the damage it’s causing.”

A journey difficult for the whole family.

“We really have to emphasize that the patient’s whole family plays a huge role in that. So having a really good support system is crucial to success in lung transplant,” said Dr. Sahar Saddoughi, a thoracic surgeon at Mayo Clinic. She works with patients like Jennifer every day and said it can’t happen without the help of donors.

“It’s giving someone an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Giving someone a new life while keeping the memory of one lost, alive. For Jennifer, it’s a way of coming full circle.

“If I was a parent, were to lose one of my children, I would definitely donate the organs because they live on. They can be somebody else’s hero. They can save a life but part of them still lives on.”

The Ronnenbergs have met their donor family.

If you would like to save someone’s life, you can register by signing up to be a donor, here.