Christopher Nalley took his first breath on July 6, 2006. He was 26.
"It was never-ending," he recalls. "It was the longest breath I had ever taken."
Born with cystic fibrosis, Nalley's double-lung transplant allowed him to do things he never thought possible. He started playing flag football and running, and in 2008 he ran the Richmond Marathon. Previously unable to use more than 12 percent of his lung capacity, he had full use of his lungs because of a 16-year-old boy from Gloucester who died in a freak accident.
Nalley now has a good job at Home Care Delivered, setting up medical supply deliveries after a decade working in retail. He's a spokesman for organ donation across the country, and in 2011 he helped start the Virginia Transplant Games, sponsored by Donate Life Virginia. He's a living, breathing example of how organ donors save lives.
Then it happened again. A year and a half ago he came down with pneumonia — the first time it happened, in 2005, led to a medically-induced coma that lasted five months — and his body started rejecting his new lungs. He takes 36 pills every day to weaken his immune system, to slow his body's rejection efforts. His lung capacity fell from 105 percent to 27 percent, and it's getting worse. Nalley is back on the organ transplant list.
But he sees life differently now.
"I heard once that you don't know how sweet the sweet is until you have the bitter in your life. I've seen both," he says. "I know how sweet it can be. There's hope."