by Frank Avila
With a double lung transplant 21 years ago, Frank's grit and faith continue to push him beyond any adversity.
My name is Frank and I was born with Cystic Fibrosis. CF has made me the fighter I am today and I strive to succeed with everything I do – never quitting, and putting all my trust in God. I am 43 years old and had a double lung transplant 21 years ago. This September, I will turn another year older, and 10 days later, reach 22 years post-transplant.
I assume like most people with disabilities, we tend to fight a little harder and not take the simple things for granted. I lived a “normal” life before the transplant, well, it was as normal as it could get. As a kid, I played basketball and soccer and cruised the neighborhood on my Schwinn 10 speed. That bike gave me freedom. It was just me and the road. The harder I pushed, the farther I went. I had amazing friends that helped me with my chest compressions so I wasn’t left behind, and could join them on adventures like weekend camping trips or Cancun for spring break. I knew my limits but they never stopped me. I pushed myself just so I could feel like everyone else. My lungs never quit on me despite knowing that eventually over time, they would take their course.
Eventually I was told that a double lung transplant was needed to continue pursuing my goals and dreams, and just like with everything else, my family and I attacked it with full force. We began investigating hospitals for transplants according to their stats and success rates. I eventually landed at UNC Hospital Chapel Hill. It was a journey that had its share of hardships. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I always kept my faith in God. My lungs eventually declined to the point where I was using 6 liters of Oxygen 24/7. The simplest task became difficult if I wasn’t attached to that life line of oxygen. The struggle was real, but like before, I just kept fighting.
Infections and hospital visits came and went. While I was in the hospital fighting another infection on September 18, 1995, I received a most precious gift – a loving and selfless donor offered me another chance at life. I received my life saving double lung transplant at UNC Hospital. It’s a memory full of joy and thankfulness to God, the donor, and the donor’s family. I do not know anything about my donor except that the lungs were a perfect fit for me.
The road post-transplant has had its trials, but one thing hasn’t changed – the fight for each day. I did my tour of check-ups for three months post-transplant at Chapel Hill. I was able to return home in November to see my first niece born and then finally return home to enjoy life once again, adjusting to all the new opportunities. I went back to school and graduated with a B.S. in Biological Sciences. Life continued and I was slowly accomplishing the dreams I had set out for myself. I later went back for my second B.S. degree in Clinical Lab Sciences as a Medical Technologist, and I love what I do today. I wanted to help others and give back anyway I could because of all the people in my life that helped me get here. The strong bonds and love helped me get through both the good and the bad.
I recently got back into cycling and it’s been amazing. Just like when I was a kid cruising the neighborhood, I feel free. I started slow with just 5 miles and then 10 and I’ve finally reached 30 miles in one trip. The feeling after the rides are exhausting but rejuvenating. I enjoy every chance I get on my bike, it’s a new adventure whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a ride along the lake. I love it and look forward to reaching 2000 miles this year.
I’ve realized that it’s okay to be “different.” Strength for me comes from trusting in God, going through the struggles, and fighting through. Giving up isn’t an option. There’s still plenty to accomplish, and with God’s love and direction, those dreams will become a reality. Thank you for this opportunity to share a little piece of my life. It’s been an amazing journey and seeing all that is happening in the CF community just continues to encourage me to keep moving – to never stop pedaling.