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Jennifer Johnson is a go-getter.
She met her husband of 34 years when she was a fitness instructor. She played racquetball, biked and enjoyed golf. She spent 25 years in law enforcement and switched careers to surround herself with students as an associate dean at Waukesha County Technical College.
Then she got sick. She was treated for bronchitis and pneumonia, but it never seemed to end. “I went from riding 50 miles a week on my bike to gasping for air and needing oxygen to survive,” says Jennifer. A simple walk across campus made it difficult for her to breathe, but Jennifer fought on and continued to pursue her dreams. “I don’t give up and I don’t let adversity stop me from achieving my goals,” says Jennifer. Those dreams came true in the form of a new career offer and Jennifer became a professor and program director of the accelerated degree program for returning adults at Wisconsin Lutheran College.
But she continued to struggle with her health. After years of testing at another hospital she was diagnosed with pulmonary veno occlusive disease and pulmonary arterial hypertension. She learned she needed a lung transplant to survive. After just nine days on the active waiting list at UW Health, she received her gift of life. Within days she was making laps around the hospital. A few months later she is walking 25 miles a week. “I keep setting goals for myself,” says Jennifer.
Through it all, Jennifer focused on her future. She plans to write a book about her experience to help people understand the impact of adversity. “I think that with resilience and grit- and of course the beautiful gift of organ donation- you can be successful on the other end of lung transplant,” says Jennifer.
She shares her gratitude for her care team. “My experience has been so wonderful,” says Jennifer. “Midwesterners need to talk more about the remarkable transplant team at UW Health. People don’t realize it’s among the best in the nation.”
Jennifer held a fundraiser and directed funds to help other patients and increase awareness around organ donation. She donated her diseased lungs for research and participated in a research study to help lung transplant patients with swallow issues. She quickly wrote to thank her donor family and was thrilled to get a letter back. That letter described her donor, stating, “We had a hard time keeping up with her.” Hearing that, Jennifer’s friends said those lungs were a perfect match for Jennifer. Says Jennifer, “Some matches are made in heaven.”