Heart and Lung Recipient Honors Donors at NJ Sharing Network 5K

Joanna Gagis goes on-location to the NJ Sharing Network’s 5K event to talk with Allison Ognibeni, who received a heart and double lung transplant nearly 30 years ago and is honoring her donor’s gift by participating in her first NJ Sharing Network 5K.

10/1/16 #518






"Welcome back to Life and Living. I'm joined right now by Allison Ognibene which means? What does your last name mean? Ognibene means It's all good. In Italian of course because she did this. We're here at the New Jersey Sharing Networks 5K walk. This is a huge event for you in particular. You are a heart and double lung recipient? Yes, I received my heart and double lung at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center on March 30th, 1988. So that's 28 years ago and I am one of the longest living heart and double lung transplants in the world. That's incredible. What's even more incredible is that you received them at the same time? Yes. Talk about that process, that surgery, and what that was like especially at that time. When I was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension I was 14 years old so when I received my transplant, I was one month shy of my 16th birthday. And at that time, it was very new. Transplantation for lungs started in 1985 so this was still relatively new so we didn't know what to expect. The life expectancy was five years and I proved everybody wrong. I'm still living and running. We're going to get to that. What was your quality of life like. You're a young teenager. What were you experiencing? What was it like? Well thank goodness I was a dancer. I was a competition dancer because if I wasn't dancing the disease wouldn't have progressed as fast. So the disease progressed faster because you were dancing. Because you were exercising and you needed the lung capacity. Yes, I needed that lung capacity, so I wasn't able to breathe. So it first started out where I couldn't breathe. So basically, when I danced, I would almost pass out on stage. Right off the stage actually. Then it progressed to a point where I was turning blue. I was very thin. They thought I was anorexic, which I wasn't. I was eating all the time, but it was tough because the progression. It was lack of breathing to being on oxygen, to being in a wheelchair. It was tough being a teenager in that environment because you want to be normal. You want to fit in with everyone else. How much did you understand about the risks associated with the surgery, what life would be like after the surgery? Was it explained to you? It was definitely thoroughly explained, but when you're a teenager, you think your invincible, so when they told me I had a year to live... Okay, that's no problem. I always envisioned that I was going to live past that year and when I was in high school..."