One Life Lost, Another Saved: In Rare Moment, Lung Transplant Recipient Meets Donor's Mother

PHOTO: After Diana Rodriguezs son Adrian was killed, Lyndsey McLaughlin, right, who was suffering from cystic fibrosis, received his lungs.

Lyndsey McLaughlin and Diana Rodriguez, two New York women from different worlds, never imagined their paths would cross, let alone that a life-changing event would connect them for the rest of their lives.

But two years ago, Lyndsey, then 26, struggled for every breath she took, and it's thanks to Diana that she is alive today.

In 2011, Lyndsey was working at a hedge fund in New York and had everything she ever wanted, except for one thing: A future.

Lyndsey was dying.

"I'm 26 years old," she said at the time. "I should be out every Friday and Saturday night. I should be at the bars having a couple of drinks, not worrying about how many medicines I'm going to have to take the next day."

At age 2, Lyndsey was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease which causes mucus to build up in the lungs.

"Growing up, I just did chest physical therapy every day, which started out with my parents clapping on [my back] every day," she said. "My lung capacity by the time I was 18, 19 years old was to the point where they were telling me I was going to need a lung transplant."

Lyndsey joined the New York organ donor list -- and waited. All the while, her condition worsened.

"I couldn't really do much of anything," she said. "I could really finally tell I was sick. I still wouldn't admit it. I still wouldn't say I wouldn't feel well. I just couldn't do things."

She spent more than seven months on the organ donor waiting list for new lungs, and was deteriorating fast

Dr. Joshua Sonett, the chief of thoracic surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, treated Lyndsey. In 2011, when he looked at her x-rays, Dr. Sonett said he could see that Lyndsey's right lung was hugely inflated and that over time, she had lost function in part of her left lung, which contained scar tissue.

"Just imagine is I took 80 percent of your lung away, how you would function," Dr. Sonett said. "Lyndsey is going to die is she doesn't get her lung soon."

Lyndsey's mother Donna McLaughlin knew her daughter might not see another birthday.

"I used to go to her apartment every day when she really got sick… and I would walk to work crying," she said. "Knowing that my daughter was dying before my eyes and there wasn't a thing I could do about it."

But then, on the morning of April 3, 2011, Lyndsey got the call that a pair of lungs was available and she needed to come to the hospital immediately to see if she would be a match. She checked into the New York Presbyterian.

"I was never scared," she said. "I know that sounds unlikely and weird but I was never scared because I knew I needed it."

Finally, after seven months on the donor list, Lyndsey will have her new lungs. After a complicated, intense surgery, Lyndsey began her recovery. Within a few months, she was embracing her new life -- even took up surfing.

But a question continued to haunt her -- who was the person who's death gave her life? By law, organ donors must remain anonymous, so all Lyndsey knew of her donor was an 18-year-old man from New York.

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