Dottie Lessard

“That’s the message for the kids and their parents: You can do anything.”

I’ll never forget the moment. I was in my early 20s, and my best friend since age 14 had died from CF a short while ago. She had a lung transplant lined up, but she was too sick to fly to Los Angeles for the operation. I was visiting with another friend who was in the hospital recovering from her lung transplant. One of us said something funny, and my friend laughed — without having a coughing fit. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been able to do that.

Right then, I decided to have a lung transplant. One of my lungs at the time was at about 15 percent capacity, and the other was at 20 percent, but my doctor said that I wasn’t sick enough. This was in the early 1990s, and lung transplants were still very risky; they were a last resort for only the sickest of the sick.

But I fought and fought, and by 1992, I was put on a transplant recipient list. The doctors told me I was “trading one disease for another” and that I’d have only a 50-50 chance of making it off the operating table. But what I heard was that I had a 50 percent chance of living; at the time, I felt that I was just existing.

While waiting, I strengthened myself as much as possible.  I built a strong foundation despite everything that was trying to take me away.

I was always a tomboy. My dad was a hockey coach and girls couldn’t play on the boys’ team at the time, but I would play street hockey every weekend. In neighborhood football games, I’d always be at the bottom of the pile. When I played basketball, I’d get out of breath easily and cough a lot. So I practiced my shooting, and I became really good at it. I would be one of the first kids on the playground to be picked because I could score points. I maximized what I could do well.

I was on the transplant list for two years and seven months. During my 12-hour, double-lung transplant, the doctors said I “died” on the table two times, but my conditioning helped to save me.

My transplant was in 1994, and I’ve had amazing opportunities since then. I have won several gold medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash at the U.S. Transplant Games for the last 14 years. I have run half-marathons, and I do fitness competitions with obstacle courses inspired by military training exercises. Since I was a girl, I have loved the feeling of moving fast.

I work hard, and I train at least 30 to 60 minutes every day. I believe in quality nutrition, though when I want a treat, I take it.

In 2004, I became a mother.  I adopted my son, Liam, and I was in the delivery room when he was born. He is my reason for breathing and my inspiration. Every year on the anniversary of my double-lung transplant, October 27, I climb a mountain and place a yellow rose to honor the donor who gave me life. This year, for the first time, Liam joined me on the journey.

I’m a motivational speaker and a life coach. I have written a book about my experience as an ATHLETE, titled, Seven Letters That Saved My Life.

But my biggest inspiration is kids with CF. When I see them, I try to light a spark. I find out what they want to do. Maybe it’s athletics, and maybe it’s something else. With little kids, I get right down to their level, and I look them in the eye: “What do you want to do? What do you want to become?” That’s the message for the kids and their parents: You can do anything.

Favorite Holiday: February 11, my son’s birthday
Favorite Foods: Steak, pizza and Empower Pro Protein
Favorite Pastime: Spending time with my family, being active, giving back to others, reading motivational books
Favorite Movies: GI Jane and Rudy
Favorite Music: Top 40, Contemporary Christian, Andrea Bocelli
Favorite Color: Blue
Nicknames: Scrappy, Squirt, Run28
One Word That Describes You: Resilient
Role Models: My parents, Dave and Beverly; all children growing up with an illness who continue to smile and push ahead
Words of Wisdom: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Special Quote: “To truly live life fully, we must do the things we believe we cannot.” (Dottie)
Dream Vacation: As a family – Hawaii with Ben and Liam swimming with dolphins, playing on the beach, enjoying our life and health. For myself – Africa, to be able to be with amazing animals up close and living free.
You can find Dottie on … Cysticfibrosis.com; Facebook; Myspace; CFsocial.net; Transplantbuddies.com

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