CLEVELAND - According to Lifebanc, the federally designated, nonprofit organ procurement organization for northeastern Ohio, nearly 115,000 people in the United States are waiting for organ transplants.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Nancy McDonnell has been there.
While doctors looked into why McDonnell developed a persistent cough after the birth of her third child in 1994, test results revealed primary pulmonary hypertension, a rare, deadly lung disease that requires an eventual lung transplant for survival.
While McDonnell put off the double-lung transplant for as long as she could, a life event forced her to take the next step.
"In May 2009, I had an incident driving the car where I stopped breathing," said McDonnell.
McDonnell was resuscitated and then put on the organ transplant list. After two unsuccessful matches, on Sept. 20, 2009, the third time was the charm. She received an organ donation from the family of a 13-year-old girl not far from the Cleveland area.
In September 2009, McDonnell had double-lung transplant surgery at Cleveland Clinic. Due to complications, she ended up spending 251 days in the hospital. She is now back to work and feeling better.
In June, she will meet the organ donor family for the first time.
"I just can't even express the gratitude I have to that family," said McDonnell. "I think it's such a courageous decision and it has allowed me to raise my three children, be a wife to my husband."
McDonnell shared her story Monday at a packed Cleveland Clinic ballroom during the 3rd Annual Patient Experience Summit. She also spends time reaching out to area high schools and civic groups about the importance of becoming an organ donor.
She is also grateful for the care she received.
"It's the reason that I am here today and healthy and able to work and be with my family," said McDonnell.