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Watch Nicole tell her story (1:58). Watch video in new window) »
Eleven-year-old Nicole Tipton knows what it’s like to struggle for breath.
Born with cystic fibrosis, Nicole’s body made extremely thick secretions that affected how her entire body functioned, including blocking the transfer of oxygen from her lungs to her body. Subjected to a lifetime of hospital stays, medications, oxygen and therapies, Nicole’s every breath was a task, and her mother Teresa watched her days pass by.
“She couldn’t do anything the other kids did,” Teresa said. “She stayed in the house most of the time and had to wear her oxygen constantly. She felt frustrated because she couldn’t run and keep up with her friends.”
Children with cystic fibrosis experience progression of the disease at very different rates. For Nicole, her scarred lungs were wearing out and oxygen wasn’t enough to keep her body functioning efficiently. After a year of testing and screenings, Nicole was placed on the double lung transplant list on Aug. 13, 2013 — the same day she was discharged from yet another hospital stay. But Nicole wouldn’t have to wait long for good news. The phone call came just a few weeks later on Aug. 30 as the transplant team notified Nicole and her mother that a set of lungs was available.
Mixed with happiness and fear, Teresa watched as her daughter was prepped for her life-saving surgery. The lungs Nicole received came from another 11-year-old girl who died in a house fire.
“The new lungs weren’t damaged in the fire,” Teresa said. “I know that may not make sense, but they were perfectly healthy.”
In the hours after surgery, Nicole’s appearance improved rapidly.
“As soon as I saw her after surgery, I noticed that Nicole wasn’t purple any more, and she wasn’t struggling to breathe,” her mom said. “Then after just a couple of hours they took the oxygen off, too. It was amazing.”
After just two weeks in the hospital, Nicole was able to go home with just her anti-rejection medications – no more oxygen tubes and no more breathing treatments.
Today, Nicole is preparing to return to school and is enjoying the life every child deserves – running, playing and eating more than she was ever able to before.
“Before her surgery, Nicole hardly ate anything. Now she eats everything in sight, and she is starting to reach a more healthy weight,” Teresa said. “She’s running and playing, and riding her bike that Dr. Hoopes gave her after her surgery. She can’t wait to go swimming next summer – until now she could only wade because of her oxygen. It’s wonderful to see her being a kid.”
Nicole is the youngest double lung recipient in Kentucky, and her mother gives credit to the doctors, nurses and transplant team who helped her daughter.
“I don’t know what I would have done without them.” she said. “They were there for us any time we needed anything.”
She also encouraged parents and children with cystic fibrosis.
“Just hold on,” she said. “I know it may feel like you are the only one out there. I used to feel that way too, but I can promise you that you aren’t alone and there is hope.”
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an inherited disease characterized by an abnormality in the glands that produce sweat and mucus. Learn more »
Nicole's team of providers at UK HealthCare included:
• UK Transplant Center • Frequently asked questions about Transplant • Transplant glossary • Artificial Lung Device Pioneered at UK is New Breath of Life for Pike County Patient • Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates