Everybody has a Story.......Meet Tammy!

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

This is the first article in a weekly series of 'real life' stories from members of our community, which carry with them messages of hope, encouragement, success and overcoming life's challenges.

We hope that YOU will enjoy reading them and that they will touch YOUr heart as deeply as they have touched ours.

Hi there! I am Tammy and this is my Story………

I am from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and on May 25th 2019 I had a double lung transplant. I am 58 years young!

For five very long years I was on oxygen daily and it pretty much debilitated me. I used to clean houses. I cleaned houses for 17 years. Two houses a day. Five days a week, and it was very good, it served me well. But when I got sick I got really sick.

I had been struggling to breath properly for a while.

After a visit to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the summer of 2015 - I took myself to Med Express, because I couldn’t catch my breath walking from my bed to my bathroom.

I used to get Bronchitis every year but I knew that this felt different. I went to a walk in clinic, and God Bless this woman at the Med Express place because she took a lung x-ray. She told me, “Tammy, you have a mass on your right lung. You need to see a pulmonologist, like yesterday.” So I did.



Of course I am freaking out. I was very scared. I was in major denial for quite some time.

Once I had found a great pulmonologist, and after they determined that it actually wasn’t cancer. I just started trying to live my life as regularly as possible. I would go to my doctor every other month and he would test my breathing. I carried on each day as normally as I could.

Until I just couldn’t breathe without oxygen anymore.

Then my life changed. Then it sucked. It all went to shit. I was not a happy Tammy.

I didn’t want to get a transplant at all, so I fought it at every turn. I just kept going to the pulmonologist. I was so scared, I didn’t want to get a transplant. My pulmonologist kept saying ‘Tammy you’re a great candidate.’ Because I didn’t have any weight issues, I didn’t have blood pressure issues. I didn’t have a lot of the pre-existing health issues that a lot of other people have, going into it. He kept encouraging me, over and over, and I would never do it. I wouldn’t even try.





I didn’t want to get a transplant at all, so I fought it at every turn. I just kept going to the pulmonologist. I was so scared, I didn’t want to get a transplant. My pulmonologist kept saying ‘Tammy you’re a great candidate.’ Because I didn’t have any weight issues, I didn’t have blood pressure issues. I didn’t have a lot of the pre-existing health issues that a lot of other people have, going into it. He kept encouraging me, over and over, and I would never do it. I wouldn’t even try.

I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia and I was really freaked out. It was really scary. I could barely breathe at all. You get so sick. And when you realise that you really can’t breathe. Then you are willing to do anything to be able to breathe again.

And that is pretty much what happened. It was when I couldn’t breathe at all any more and I thought to myself ‘oh my God, I’m never going to get off of this oxygen. This really is it’.

That was the wake up call for me. That was when I knew I was just going to have to bite the bullet and do it. I knew I might as well try. The worst that could happen was that I could die.

I was going to die anyway but not this way of dyeing! Suffocating to death was not my idea of how I wanted to go. I did not want to suffocate. That was not in my plan. Not in my plan at all. I wasn’t going to let that happen. There was no way.

So I said ok, I applied and they accepted me. My lung capacity was 17%

Listen, I wasn’t going to give in. I was waitressing at a little diner, because I am a people person, I like being around people. I had quit cleaning because the chemicals were bothering me so much. So I was working at this little diner. And whilst the other girls were taking cigarette breaks, I went to my car to have puffs of my oxygen so that I could go back and finish my whole shift. I was so embarrassed to use oxygen in front of anybody.

I mean how dumb is that right? In retrospect I think you dumbass. Worrying about something like that. But I did. People do.





It was very isolating. That was one of the things that affected me the most. I don’t do well alone. I’m much better in a crowd. I like people and people like me generally. I get along with just about anybody. I’m definitely not introverted. I did the job because I wanted to work. I wanted to be around people again.

I was listed for a donor in October 2017 and I had my transplant in May 2019. So I really didn’t have to wait that long. I mean it was a long time to not be able to breathe. But I continued. I went to pulmonary rehab often and I did everything I could to stay active and stay alive.

Earlier in the year 2019, I had made 26 videos for different friends and family. I had also given my daughter the code to my IPad so that she could share these videos with everyone, after she had told them that I was dead.

Isn’t that horrible, so horrible. But I didn’t see me being able to live through the summer, I just didn’t. I was getting worse. I couldn’t even walk from my front door to my car. I would take in big gulps of air and have panic attacks. These are things that I had never experienced in my life. I am a get up and go person, not a nervous person. But when you can’t breathe you lose that.



Next I had what they call a dry run. There was a young person that was a nominated donor, but the patient didn’t pass away in the hour that they needed to harvest the organs, so they sent me home.

It’s hard to explain how I felt after that. More than anything I was scared, so scared. I had so many conflicting emotions. I was extremely sad that that poor person was probably not ready to die. That kind of stuff messes with your head a little bit. It really did with mine.

So I found a good therapist and she helped a lot. I still see her and she’s wonderful. Breathing helped me too. It sounds dumb but diaphragm breathing was the one thing that could calm me down. And get me out of my head. Another tool that someone told me to try, when I was having a panic attack, was just to look around and name seven things. Name seven things that you see i.e. the baseboard, the window, the doorknob, the dog, the cat, the coffee table, and the window. Sometimes I could find seven things really quick and sometimes I couldn’t think of seven things because I was in such panic mode. But it really helped.

I had never understood anxiety or panic attacks before. My son suffers from panic attacks and I always thought ‘oh come on, shake it off.’

These life experiences teach you empathy, you realise that you have no idea what other people are going through. I understand now and I feel compelled to help all of these pre-transplant people who are scared. I’ve met five of them already. I feel like that’s my job now, to be their cheerleader, to encourage them and tell them that they can do it. If I can do it, YOU can do it.

Not long after the dry run I got another call, it was 4.25 am. This was it. And honestly I was so calm. I just said, “Yes, I’ll be there”.

When I look back now I think ‘you dumbass Tammy’, you should have gotten on that list sooner. If I could turn back time I would say to myself - Go for it, just do it.

I wish I would of done it sooner, because this is the truth. If I die on May 25th on my 1-year anniversary, I can honestly tell you that this has been the best year of my life. And I haven’t met anyone or done anything spectacular, I’ve just lived.

I’ve just gone out there and done all the physical activity that I can. I’ve done so many hikes; I’ve done 6 hikes through LLbean and through my State Park. It’s ridiculous. I’m amazed at myself. My lung capacity today is 133%. How amazing is that?



My advice, through any life-changing event - that sounds so simple and I know is hard to do - is that you have to stay positive. Always! Even though tomorrow you might not get a transplant, or whatever it is YOU are waiting for, or trying to forget.

YOU have to think that it might just be a better day.

I know it sounds trite, and I don’t mean it to be, it’s just that I believe that this is the most important thing, to try to find the good, to find it somewhere, somehow. Because there is good everywhere when YOU look for it, and I am constantly surprised by the good of people these days.

I think you have to live right now. Right here in the moment. Every morning that you wake up you are alive it’s another day. You have to do whatever it takes to make it a better day, no matter what.

That is what makes the difference. When you are willing to do anything to make today a better day. And when you are grateful for whatever small blessings you have in your life.

There is always hope. I have to believe that.

Tammy x

I would like to thank my surgeon Pablo Sanchez who came from California to Pittsburgh, and every single person that had contact with me at UPMC Pittsburgh.

Above all I would like to thank my donor because if it weren’t for him checking that little box, I would not be here today. He is the greatest gift of all. Thank YOU!

Thank YOU to all organ donors. YOU make a difference!


This story is written in Tammy's words as transcribed from an interview between herself and The Editor, March 2020. This story has been reformatted and abbreviated from the original interview transcription.

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