"CF may be a part of you, but do not let it define you."
The experience of living with cystic fibrosis is markedly different today than it was decades ago. Thanks to the discovery of the CF gene, the availability of effective drug therapies and advances in technology, the 30,000 Americans who deal with the disease day in and day out are living longer and fuller lives. In a word, they are thriving.

Dottie Lessard

Go to Dottie's April 2011 podcast with BEF's Jerry Cahill.

Dottie's Story

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.

Dottie on Life Pre- and Post-Transplant

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.

Dottie on Motherhood

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.

Dottie's Mission

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.

Fun Fact About Dottie: Her nicknames are Scrappy, Squirt and Run28

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