Six lungs, one life

Tiffany Christensen

Tiffany Christensen

A double-lung transplant patient slowly makes her way down a hospital hallway just days after lifesaving surgery.

She’s assisted by several staff. One pushes a pole with the jumble of tubes she’s hooked up to, while others support her weakened body. But the patient’s attention is on the person helping her breathe: He steadily pumps the device by hand that’s pushing air into her new lungs. As they travel down the hall, she’s worried — he’s chatting and laughing with coworkers about his weekend plans.

“Is he paying attention? What if he forgets to squeeze? What if he gets off-rhythm?” Her anxiety and vulnerability build with each step.

That was 15 years and two double-lung transplants ago. Today Tiffany Christensen is a national speaker, author and patient advocate. She travels to health systems across the country, sharing her experiences as a patient and encouraging medical professionals to evaluate the way we provide care.

“I’ve discovered there’s a really deep desire and need among the medical community to understand what it is to be a patient,” said Christensen. “Our medical culture is changing to where taking care of a patient’s emotional well-being is just as important as taking care of their physical well-being.”

Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 6 months old, Christensen is intimately familiar with the world of health care. She received her first double-lung transplant in her early 20s and, when her body rejected the organs two years later, she endured another surgery. Before her 30th birthday, she had breathed through three different sets lungs.

A dynamic presenter, Christensen describes what it’s like to receive a daunting diagnosis, live with a chronic illness and experience the world of health care as a patient. She urges her audiences to see patients as more than just their sickness. She emphasizes respect, peace and empowerment.

“Things that become very mundane for health professionals may not be so mundane to the patient who’s experiencing them,” said Christensen. “One thing I know now is that I am not my illness. When I see pictures of myself from the past, I see sickness moving through my body. I can also see that the person inside remains the same.”

All UF Health faculty, staff and students are encouraged to see Christensen speak on Monday, March 14, as part of Patient Safety and Quality Week. She will present at noon in the UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital Auxiliary Conference (south campus).

Other Patient Safety and Quality Week events will take place March 14-18. Activities will include games, behind-the-scenes tours, interactive patient safety displays, a poster session and more.

To learn more, visit the Quality Bridge site at