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One Heck of a Ride

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“Hope is everything. That’s what I tell everybody, ‘Don’t ever give up hope. Always have something to look forward to. Always, always have hope,’” Cathy Jo (CJ) Tuomala says. “I am so grateful for what I have, and for the days I have with my family. Life is amazing.” This mantra is something CJ has developed over the years, through which she’s been diagnosed with COPD, and received both a double and then later a single lung transplant.

Diagnosed in 1993 with Stage-4 COPD, CJ (who was 35 at the time) was told there was nothing doctors could do for her. She was a smoker at that point, and it took her several years to quit. Her doctor said her lungs were in the condition of a 75-year old person. Also around that time, CJ had three young girls, now all in their 20s.

“I was a single parent at the time and my goal was that I wanted to see them finish high school. I would think to myself, ‘God, please let me live to see them through high school.’”

family CJ says she wasn’t evaluated until 2003, and received a double lung transplant through the UCLA Health System in November 2004. Sixteen months later, CJ began rejecting her lungs, and was admitted back into UCLA. She was seriously ill and was told she was too stick to receive another transplant. Hearing this, CJ says her stubbornness took over, and she worked and fought to get healthier to receive another lung transplant. In 2008 her hard work paid off, and she received a single lung transplant, not a double because doctors said her heart wasn’t strong enough to do the bypass.

“Going through those transplant are challenging and it’s a hard ordeal. But you have to focus and sit down,” CJ says. “When you’re going through episodes, you use pursed lips breathing and that’s really all you can do at times until your next breath. And you have the anxiety to deal with as well.”

For CJ, the number one priority when it comes to her COPD is to educate yourself.

“When an emergency situation comes down to it, you really need to know how to do that stuff, and it can really save your life. You have to focus and get everything out of your mind, and once you’re past the episode, just calm yourself down,” she says. “Information and education and knowing what to do are very key for me. I’m telling you, it was just knowing and having somebody, my children, were very supportive of me.”

“Things are much better now. I have grown kids who are doing well, and I’m a grandmother now. So it’s been on heck of a ride,” CJ, who has been on oxygen since 2000, says. “I was a single parent up until I met David who has been my rock as well as my children through everything.”

“Doctors told me I’d be dead in 10 years, and I thought, ‘yea, right.’ But if you take 1993 and add 10 years plus one, that’s when my first transplant was. They almost hit it right on. I feel blessed so I’ve become very involved. I’m an ambassador for OneLegacy, I work on a Rose Parade float, and I just do a lot,” CJ says. “I give back because I wouldn’t be here [if it not for the lung transplants]. I’ve been given the gift of life twice. I have two donor families that I think about every day, and I have a beautiful grandbaby that I never thought I’d see.”

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  • Great Story,,,,,you ROCK, CJ!! Thanks for sharing your journey.
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  • Thank you for sharing your story with us, CJ, and for your work with OneLegacy. Our great-nephew received a heart transplant at the age of 12, and if not for his donor, would not have lived much longer, either.
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  • Join the Discussion...Wonderful and inspirational story. I wholeheartedly agree that education is key. No one will care more about your health than you and it all starts with self-learning and advocating for your own health.
    Reply

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