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Living Life to the Fullest: Terri Pilawa Shares Her Double Lung Transplant Story

Terri Pilawa shared her story as a lung transplant recipient. Her story is not only one of ups and downs but also a deep sense of gratitude and an incredible will to thrive.

Despite several set backs in her recovery, Terri was happy to be alive.

In August 2010, Terri was a healthy and active forty-year-old with a good career and a happy family when, after experiencing a sudden onset of shortness of breath, she was diagnosed with NSIP Pulmonary Fibrosis. Her prognosis was bleak: because there is no cure for this disease, her only hope for survival was a double lung transplant.

Soon after her diagnosis, Terri’s health began to deteriorate. She began to use an oxygen tank to breath and, too weak to walk, became wheelchair bound. She was placed on the organ transplant waiting list on October 19, 2014.

Less than a year later, she was in hospice and was later sent to the ICU to be put on high-flow oxygen. Her future was uncertain, but she desperately wanted to live to see her teenage son graduate high school and college. Four days after entering the ICU, Terri received the call—it was time for her transplant.

"Recovery, it was a rough one for me. It wasn't easy. I was sick. I had infections. I had a fever. I was in so much pain––so much––so much pain... But, I was so happy that I could breathe and I wasn't on oxygen anymore. That, I can take a deep breath with these new lungs and not have coughing fit, and I wasn't suffocating anymore, or drowning any more."


Terri Pilawa | Double Lung Transplant Patient

Terri received her gift (as she calls her transplanted lungs) on June 24, 2015. Recovery was painful and her path to healing was unpredictable given that she had received high-risk lungs. There were several serious setbacks; she underwent a second surgery to place stints in her lungs and later contracted pneumonia. But ultimately, she was grateful to be able to breath without an oxygen tank.

Four years later, Terri’s journey to recovery is still ongoing. Though she has undergone fourteen surgeries since her transplant, she has a renewed appreciation for every part of her experience. “Even though I’m sick, I’m feeling it. Even when I’m in pain, I’m feeling pain,” she said. “I’m not six feet under—I’m feeling it. I’m alive.” Best of all, she looks forward to seeing her son graduate from college soon: “I’m so happy and proud to be there, to witness that.”

Recently, Terri had the opportunity to meet the family of her donor, Maria, who was only twenty-two years old when she passed from an accidental drug overdose. “I was so honored to meet her mom. So honored that she said yes to donation,” Terri said.

As Terri continues to heal, she moves forward in life with gratitude, always keeping in mind the gift she received from Maria and her family. “I’m so, so, so very grateful,” she said. “For giving me that second chance of life, that I’m going to be living to the fullest.”

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Teri Pilawa
Double Lung Transplant Patient

JUL 8, 2019

Series: Patient Voice