Double lung recipient skydives to celebrate her donor
Nikki can live life to the fullest because a hero said yes to donation.
“I’m happy to have a story to tell.”
That’s the first thing Nikki Malnar says when she talks about her transplant journey.
In April 2013, Nikki shared her story with LifeSource as she waited for a double lung transplant. At that time, she’d been on the wait list for two years after a lifetime of struggling with cystic fibrosis.
Life on the Waiting List
Nikki was born with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that affects all the mucous secreting organs. Her family did not find out until she was officially diagnosed when she was 5 years old. At that time, the physicians told her parents that she would only live until age 8. From that day, her parents encouraged Nikki to make the most of what life could offer – and not let a disease or disability define her.
When she was a very young, she was healthier and was encouraged to be active. She skied, tumbled, ran around, and began figure skating for fun. She ended up excelling in skating; at the age of fifteen, she started to train on the East Coast all while living with cystic fibrosis and CF-related diabetes. She would fly home to see her health care team – sometimes with a quick hospital stay – and then head back to practice.
She ended up being on the United States National, International, and Junior World Figure Skating Teams as an Ice Dancer. She was hoping to be on the Olympic team, but unfortunately, she was in a car accident and suffered injuries to her back and hip. Although she was devastated her skating career was finished, CF was not the reason for the cause.
Since CF is a progressive disease, each year became more and more difficult. After Nikki turned thirty, her health started to decline. Breathing became so challenging. She was wearing her oxygen 24/7 and her lung capacity was about 30% – even washing her own hair or walking up more than two stairs at time was a struggle.
For seven years, she wore oxygen 24 hours a day – and spent nearly forty hours a week attached to machines for treatment. Talks with her care team started to become very serious regarding lung transplant. Luckily, she was deemed a good candidate and made the decision to be placed on the lung transplant list. Her only hope for the life she wanted – one to freely breathe again – was to receive a double-lung transplant.
“My most difficult challenge was staying alive long enough to receive my new lungs. There were some days I wondered if I would survive.” – Nikki
What once was only a dream, finally became a reality. After more than two years on the waiting list, Nikki finally received the call she’s been waiting for. She was fortunate to receive a life-saving double-lung transplant at the University of Minnesota Transplant Center in August 2013.
Nikki Now: Life After Transplant
Since receiving her transplant, she can now run up flights of stairs and hike mountains, and she’s even back on the ice as a figure skating coach! These are only a few of the things she has accomplished due to the wonderful gift she received.
Nikki wrote to her donor’s family a few times. Two years after her transplant, she received a letter from her donor’s mother and received a picture of the nice, young man who selflessly checked the box on his driver’s license to become her donor.
“I am forever grateful for the gift I have received. I look at my donor’s photo, and I honor him every day by putting my hand on my chest and taking a deep breath, because I can.”
In August 2018, Nikki celebrated the 5th anniversary of her double lung transplant in style by going sky-diving! Jumping out of an airplane was something Nikki always wanted to do but never thought she would be able to.
Nikki lives life to the fullest and that is only possible because a hero said yes to donation.