Stories of Hope: Tisa Walker-Alderete

photo 3.1When you meet Tisa Walker-Alderete, it’s difficult to believe there was ever a time when she wasn’t able to walk 50 feet on a level surface. Today, thanks to the generosity of a donor she considers a hero, she is back to doing the things she never imagined she could do again – and more.

Growing up as a self-described “tomboy” in Southern California, Tisa spent lots of time outside being active. Then at age 16, during a hospitalization, she received a surprising diagnosis of Cystic Fibrosis (CF), a chronic and incurable disease that affects the lungs. Her lung capacity was at just 60 percent.

Years later, after managing her CF with breathing treatments and medication, her lung capacity deteriorated such that, in 2008, she was put on the waiting list for a double lung transplant. “My life consisted of a series of lung treatments that began when I woke up and ended when I went to bed. Physical activity was over. I had to drag a 50-foot oxygen line through the house. I dreaded walking to the kitchen for a drink. In the final months before my transplant, I could not bathe myself…. But I NEVER gave up.”

On August 8, 2010, Tisa received the call that a new set of lungs were available – and she was ready to begin living her life again. “The scariest is waiting for a transplant. The scariest is not the transplant itself.”

During Tisa’s first days home from the hospital after her double lung transplant, she did many of the things she hadn’t been able to do for so long: vacuum, pet and brush her dog, rearrange her closet, and go for walks. Within six months of transplant, Tisa joined a step aerobics class and soon after she stepped it up to a more challenging “boot camp” class. Now she is a regular at the gym, and for the last four years, she has participated in the American Lung Association’s annual “Fight for Air Climb” fundraiser which consists of climbing 32 stories – or 657 steps – to the top of San Diego’s tallest building. “My legs are what slow me down now,” she laughs.

After being on disability since the age of 19, Tisa is in school working towards a career in the medical field. She also volunteers her time to speak to high school students about the importance of organ and tissue donation. “I have lost countless friends who were waiting for a transplant… it became too late for them. I do not want anyone else to die waiting. One tragedy can create life for many, many people.”

As for her anonymous donor, Tisa says, “Part of her is still alive, and she has given me so much life every day. I am forever grateful to her and to the person who convinced her to check the ‘Donor’ box.”

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