Second Wind

ALUMNA ANNA YOUNG’S QUEST TO BREATHE

Once Anna Young could sprint 200 meters in 28 seconds. Now she struggles to walk 250 meters in six minutes.

She fights for each breath. It started when she was 8 years old. She noticed, out on the soccer field, that she couldn’t seem to catch her breath. Doctors thought it was asthma and gave her an inhaler. She’d use it before gym class and it seemed to work — for a while.

Young, 31, has a rare, degenerative lung disease. Each breath is excruciating. When most people breathe in, the diaphragm pulls down so the lungs can inflate. When they breathe out, the diaphragm goes up, shrinking the size of the lungs and pushing the air out. Young’s diaphragm is extremely weak and works against her — pulling up when it should be pulling be down. So every breath is like a tug of war.

Young made it through high school, often hiding when she couldn’t breathe and pretending she was okay when she wasn’t. She graduated from USD in 2006, sometimes testing her body to see if she could make it up a flight of stairs only to wind up in the hospital. She went on to work in the media relations office for the San Diego Padres. Eventually, working even part time became too difficult.

Through the years, her need to use the inhaler became more frequent. Her list of medications grew longer and visits to the doctor turned into long stays in the hospital. Her life has been a series of adaptations. She’s tried every type of medication and given traditional and alternative therapies a shot. She can’t say more than a few words at a time without stopping to gasp for air — and the oxygen tank is never far away.

Now her best hope is a double lung transplant. She’s fourth not he list for her blood type at the UCLA Medical Center.

“The day I found out was one of the best days of my life,” says Young. “I’m blessed that the doctors are giving me this chance. It’s what keeps me going.”

Young, an organ donor herself, can’t express just how grateful she’ll be to the donor she’ll never know. “I know someone will be dying so that I can have a new life,” she says. “After a year, I can write to the donor’s family, maybe meet them in person and learn about the person who gave me the chance to breathe.”

Finding the perfect donor — who’s the right age, blood type, and even the right height — could take anywhere from two months to three years. The procedure will cost $1.1 million, and Young has applied for grants and is raising money to pay for the procedure, follow-up care and pricey medications.

“It’s amazing to see the love of and support, and it’s inspiring to know that even strangers want to help,” says Young, who someday hopes to establish a foundation for others, like her, who are looking for someone who understands when they’re going through. “I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to think about breathing. I want everyone to know that I’ll appreciate each breath, each day, for the rest of my life.” — Krystn Shrieve