Karlie Sageth de Mejia
Double-Lung Recipient – Waiting for a Second Transplant
Karlie Sageth de Mejia was diagnosed with asthma at 6 months old. As she grew up, she struggled to keep up with her twin, Sara. Asthma medication seemed to work for other kids but not for her. She was frequently so sick that she missed school.
Then in 2006, just before turning 16, Karlie was diagnosed with bronchiectasis, a chronic condition that thickens the walls of the bronchi. She was told she had six months to live – and that a case of the flu could kill her. She had to take oxygen with her everywhere and could no longer walk.
Yet, miraculously, Karlie got better and after two years only needed oxygen occasionally. She was thrilled to be able to get a job as an Uber driver, where she met LifeGift’s manager of organ preservation services Jocelyn Cooper when she picked up Jocelyn one day for a ride. They started talking, and Karlie eventually began volunteering for LifeGift. She also became interested in photography and started taking baby and wedding photos for her friends and family – and found a passion for doing makeup, volunteering her talents at fashion shows and photo shoots.
Then, Karlie’s right lung collapsed. Over the next several years, she was in and out of the hospital and once, for a few minutes, died in her mother’s arms. Recovery after that was difficult – she had trouble with simple tasks, like eating and walking. But she worked her way back to relative health with the aid of her faith, family and new fiancé, Elwin. In May 2014, Karlie was placed on the waiting list for a double-lung transplant.
She received that transplant on Oct. 4, 2014. The lungs came from Kenneth “Buddy” Wentworth, a 16-year-old Arizona motocross racer with a heart of gold. She was able to meet his family in April 2015.
“I would never have thought that my hero would have been a 16-year-old,” she said. “For him, being a donor was an act of compassion. When I see his family and friends, I actually see him through them, and I get why he did what he did. He saved my life and gave me four years to keep on living.”
After her transplant, Karlie says her proudest accomplishment was saving the money to purchase her dream car – a Jeep Wrangler.
Unfortunately, in 2016, Karlie’s body started rejecting those beautiful new lungs: She had acid reflux and underwent a gastric bypass. She was placed back on the waiting list in May 2018 and is now waiting for a second miracle.
Her hopes for the future are simple. “I just want to live without thinking of all those steps I need to do before stepping out of my house. That’s all I want in life. I want to have energy to go through the day and not feel so tired that I need my bed.”
Meanwhile, Buddy’s gift has bought Karlie the time to marry Elwin, on Christmas Day in 2017, and to play and explore with her nieces and nephews. She lives and gives by volunteering when she can, sharing the story about her first double-lung transplant and her hopes for a second, so she can live a long life before becoming another kind of donor.
“I’ve been registered as an organ and tissue donor since I had an ID,” she said. “However, since I was diagnosed in 2006, I really want to give my body to science, so they can learn more and find a cure. I don’t want others to go through what I’ve been through.”