Frankie Avila celebrated another year of breathing, moving and cycling.
The double-lung transplantee was fortunate to celebrate his 46th birthday on Sept. 29, as well as, the 24th year of his donated organs.
Frankie was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was three years old. The disease is life-threatening, and causes persistent lung infections which limits a patient’s ability to breathe.
“I was doing pretty well throughout my life, I was able to go to school, but as I got older I started getting sicker. At 17, when I was in college, I was really sick and that’s when the doctors started talking to me about a lung transplant,” Avila said.
He joined a growing list of patients across the United States waiting for life-saving transplants. The American Transplant Association says someone is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes. Currently, the list has around 115,000 people in the U.S. waiting for a life-saving organ, and 2,000 in Louisiana, according to Lana Stevens, Community Educator at Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency.
Avila was on the waiting list for two years for his new pair of lungs. He endured the long processes that many other Americans have to go through.
“Just because someone is registered as an organ donor doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to become an organ donor,” Stevens said.
As little as two to three percent of deaths meet the criteria necessary to donate life-saving organs, and that’s because a patient must die through brain death, Stevens said.
Of those deaths that qualify, the patient must have first consented to being an organ donor and then doctors must test the organ to see if it is functional. Avila got his first long-awaited call, only to find out it was a no-go, as the pair of lungs started to take on fluid at the donor center.
It wasn’t until a few months later that Aliva’s phone would ring with good news.
“I was really sick, I was on six liters of oxygen, 24/7. I was doing my exercises at physical therapy and the coordinator came down and said we have a possible donor. It was pretty intense,” said Avila.
The lung donation was a miracle for Avila, but his blessings did not stop there.
Transplanted organs have a certain amount of time before they start to fail. Doctors told Aliva his lungs would only be good for five years. However, his donated lungs have lasted for nearly a quarter century.
This led him to take up hobbies he previously never had the chance to enjoy.
“Cycling just makes me feel free, like I was bird flying- I could never run, even sometimes just walking down the hall, I was exhausted,” he said.
Through Avila‘s gift of new life, he’s also inspired others around him to lead a better life.
“People that I know who have gotten transplanted, especially Frank, are changing so many lives because I think the gratitude and just the magnitude of that whole process really transforms them into someone with wisdom, who wants to give back in a way a lot of people don’t understand,” said Marissa Barker.
Though he was never able to connect with the family of the donor, Avila is eternally grateful everyday.
“You’re changing someone else’s life for the better. You’re giving someone else a second chance at life,” Avila said.
Avila also gave credit to other types of donors, like the ones that are still living. In addition to his double-lung transplant, he also received two kidneys which were donated by his father and sister.
“Every breath that I can take is a blessing,” Avila said. He continues to bike everyday, while maintaining caution and gratitude for his health.