Lung transplant

Jenny gets renewed chance at her active lifestyle

Jenny Flasher-Yelczyn standing behind her bicycle in front of many purple and white wildflowers

Jenny Flasher-Yelczyn is a happy, fulfilled, active woman who loves to help others lead healthy lives through her job as a clinical dietitian. When she’s not working, she and her husband, Mike, enjoy kayaking, canoeing and hiking, both in their hometown of Beaver Dam and in state and national parks.

You would never guess that 23 years ago, Jenny underwent a double lung transplant at University Hospital after being on oxygen 24 hours a day.

“When I was undergoing tests in order to be placed on the wait list,” Jenny, now 52, remembers, “the doctors told me there was a 50 percent survival rate the first year after a lung transplant, and it just kind of went down from there. I figured that if I had the transplant, I would have a 50 percent chance of being alive, whereas without the transplant, I wouldn’t live at all.”

At age 7, Jenny was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), a progressive, genetic lung disorder that limits a person’s ability to breathe over time. She did not experience any breathing problems while growing up, but after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 1990, her health went downhill. She started needing hospitalization more and more frequently, until she finally asked her doctor about the possibility of a lung transplant. At the time, such a procedure was a very new idea for CF patients; many doctors felt it was simply trading one disease for another. But Jenny was able to go on the wait list for a new set of lungs in November 1994, and she received the gift of life on March 27, 1995.

The procedure went well — other than a minor rejection the week after the transplant, Jenny experienced no problems. Even so, “I was so paranoid about not being able to breathe,” says Jenny. “I took my oxygen tube from the garbage and put it back on. I didn’t need it, but I thought I did.”

In 2003, Jenny — who had suffered from Type 1 diabetes since she was a child — underwent another transplant at University Hospital. This time she received a kidney from her mother; the combination of being diabetic and taking anti-rejection medications for her new lungs had destroyed her kidneys.

She had gone through a lot, but Jenny was ready to start the next chapter of her life: The same year as her kidney transplant, she earned a second bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this time in dietetics. She is now a clinical dietitian at a small community hospital where she works with a wide variety of patients. “I’ve experience a lot of what my patients have experienced,” says Jenny. “My patients with breathing problems will say, ‘You don’t know what it’s like.’ Well, actually, I do — and I can help them.”

Away from work, she and Mike are avid travelers and stay as active as possible. “Once you can breathe,” says Jenny, “you can do whatever you want to do. One day at church I heard the pastor say, ‘Fill your life with experiences, not excuses,’ and that is exactly what I intend to do!”