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These portraits of Emily Monfort were taken in 2008 and 2011. On the left she is thinner and more frail, though most people would not realize how ill she was except for the oxygen tube. On the right she is a bit more robust and lovely as ever. The truth is that Emily would not even be in the 2011 photo except for the miracle of a double lung transplant.

When Emily was a child, she was full of life and zest. To the outsider’s eye it was impossible to tell that she had cystic fibrosis, a genetic and incurable disease. In spite of her diagnosis, Emily became an ice skater, skier and soccer player. Every morning, to clear her lungs, her parents would pound on her back to shake loose the thick mucus created by the disease. She took pills to digest her food because, as another aspect of the disease, her pancreas didn’t produce proper enzymes. Emily grew into a beautiful young woman. Then, just as she began to study nursing at the University of Oregon, her health began a precipitous decline.

Treatment for cystic fibrosis has improved over the past decade. But after 23 years of struggle, Emily’s lungs deteriorated to a point where she could hardly breathe. She quit college and moved back home so her parents could help her. She developed a fungus in her lung and had to have a lobe removed. In April 2008 she coughed up one third of her blood volume.  Later she required an oxygen tank just to walk. When I photographed her in my studio in December of 2008, her father had to carry her up the stairs. Soon after she was put on the transplant list at the University of Washington. She was becoming more frail by the day.

On February 16, 2009 the call came from the UW Medical Center to her parents’ home in Eugene. They had found a donor for Emily. Suitcases packed and ready, she and her parents flew to Seattle in a medical transport plane. In less than three hours Emily was in the operating room. During the six-and-a-half hour surgery, the transplant team opened Emily’s chest below the rib cage and pried her ribs up like a clam shell. The surgeon removed the old lungs that resembled over-cooked hamburger patties, replacing them with the donor’s healthy pink lungs.

That is the first part of the story. The new part is now, two-and-a-half years later. It has been a long journey of recovery. Emily has had complications that are worthy of a novel. She developed a hole in her diaphragm which caused her liver to herniate upward, requiring yet another surgery. Her dog, happy to see her, broke the cartilage on her fragile ribs, resulting in months of pain. Gradually she weaned herself off of morphine and sleeping pills. Lately she has been dipping her toe into what most people would consider a normal life. She moved to Seattle to experience independence. She works in a rock-climbing gym. She goes out with friends. She looks like a normal, healthy young woman.

Prior to her transplant I photographed Emily for my book, This is Who I Am. In her interview she states, “Looks can be deceiving in many ways. It’s important to look deeper than the skin to get the whole picture.”

“Cystic fibrosis is a horrible, horrible disease,” she says. But even though her days are filled with a regimen of dozens of pills and insulin injections, she is grateful to have a second chance at life and the opportunity to try out some of what she missed, including school, travel, work and dating.

“Many people take their good health for granted,” she says. “They don’t know what a good thing is until it’s gone.”

11 Responses to “emily’s new lungs”

  1. ed & Jane says:

    What a wonderful story and you two have been with both
    her and the family all the way

  2. Margaret Lara says:

    What a wonderful story of perseverance-thank you for sharing it, along with the beautiful photographs. Certainly a good reminder to feel gratitude for something as simple, yet as critical, as a healthy body.

  3. Philip Randolph says:

    Bravo! Excellent account, Rosanne, of Emily’s challenge, struggle, and triumph. Very moving. When we met her at your dinner, half a year ago, I had no idea. It is so hard to see beneath surfaces, including the surface of a glowing present. Which is also worth a lot. Yea.

  4. james housel says:


    How thrilled I was to read Emily’s story. I think I may have told you I used to work as a volunteer at Children’s Hospital and it was the CF kids who really tugged the heartstrings. They seemed so close to being healthy…I’m not sure they had even invented double lung transplants at that time. It was simply a given that these lovely children would have a two or three decade life. It would test your faith if you had one.

    Thanks for sharing her story, which I am glad to imagine will have some wonderful chapters yet.


  5. jennell says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post about Emily! I’ve often wondered how she has been doing. Even though we have never met, I feel connected to Emily through our participation in This Is Who I Am. Oceans of love to you, Emily (and Roseanne!).

  6. Linda says:

    Emily is a lovely girl, both inside and out, and her parents are amazing in their constant support. I’m so glad they’ve all been given this chance for a healthy life. Much gratitude to the generous organ donor for their incredible gift!

  7. Laura Zeck says:

    Thanks Rosanne for such an uplifting and inspiring story. She is beautiful and so are you – and I wish you both more health and happiness!

  8. Jeannine says:

    What a touching story about Emily’s health challenges. Thanks for the photos and comments. Her story is worth sharing with young adults who are so concerned about having the right clothes, the right car or being part of the “in crowd”. She is an example of life being so much deeper.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    Rosanne, thank you for these beautiful and subtly complex photographs, and for Emily’s story. Her resilience is inspiring.

  10. Sri Rome says:

    WOW! What a beautiful lady and remarkable story. You capture her “coming alive” in that second shot. So remarkable.

    Your natural ability to capture an individuals “True Live” with such beauty is an amazing gift of talent. Outstanding shots!

  11. Mark Everett Sanders says:

    Rosanne, you continue to be a wonderful photographer and human being.

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