POST FALLS, ID - A Post Falls woman says she's getting a second chance at life thanks to overwhelming community support and a stranger's gift.
Alex Heisel, 26, was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that caused a thick buildup of mucus and fluids in her lungs and wreaked havoc on her body. She's spent her life in and out of hospitals.
Last October, she got the news she'd been waiting for. Doctors had a match for the double lung transplant she needed to survive. The Heisel's packed their bags and took off for Stanford University's hospital in California, on a flight provided by non-profit Angel Flight.
Heisel didn't know if she'd ever come home after she stepped on that plane. In the moments before her transplant, she said she prayed for protection and reminded her parents of one thing.
"I called them and I said I love you and that's all I remember," Heisel said.
When she woke up from surgery, she just remembers the pain, but she was alive. For the first time, she could take a deep breath in and out.
"I took a big breath and it felt like I sneezed. You know, when you sneeze and you get that feeling? That's what it felt like," Heisel said.
Heisel and her parents spent 80 days in California as she recovered. She was able to come home in mid January, two months ahead of schedule. Her parents said doctors called it one of the best recoveries they've seen in years.
Now, Alex has new lungs and a new outlook on life. She already has plans for this summer.
"I'm gonna walk Bloomsday for sure," Heisel said.
That's something she wouldn't have dreamed of doing a year ago. She said she'll forever be grateful to her donor and the person's family.
"I can't wait to be able to write them and tell them everything, that these lungs are happy and they'll continue to be happy," Heisel said.
Heisel still has a lot of recovery left. She wears a surgical mask with a filter almost everywhere. She said she has to go to Stanford once a month for a year for checkups.
Her medical bills continue to rise, totaling near $2 million, according to Heisel. That's why family friend Patti O'Reilly has organized Alex Heisel's Breathe Freely Dinner/Silent Auction. The event is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16 in the Coeur d'Alene Eagles Ballroom, 209 Sherman Ave. Tickets are sold out, but there is a wait list. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 208-755-6638.
Already, people have donated thousands of dollars worth of items for the event, which the Heisel's say they are extremely grateful for.
"It's just surreal. We live in a great community," Heisel said. "I'm getting a second chance and I'm going to make it worth it."
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