I’ve wanted to be a published author since I was eight years old, but I never had a compelling story idea until a very special student came into my life. Then the idea for my novel Breathtaking was born.
In 2015, the high school where I teach asked me to tutor a student who was homebound with cystic fibrosis (a genetic disease that affects the lungs). That’s when I met Madison Taliaferro. She was a fifteen year old freshman at the time who had to quarantine before the rest of us ever thought of having to do so. I tutored Madison three nights a week for two years, but it wasn’t long before I realized she was teaching me more than I ever taught In working with her, I quickly learned about her disease and the fact that she had received a double lung transplant at the age of twelve. When Madison was around the age of eleven, her cystic fibrosis was so severe that her lungs were only functioning at 18%. She was told that if she didn’t receive a transplant, she wasn’t going to see her thirteenth birthday. She and her mom moved to St. Louis and waited many months for a miracle at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Madison’s miracle was named Alex Lott. He was a senior in high school from Mississippi who was living his best life. He had a serious girlfriend, was a pitcher for his baseball team, and was preparing to go to college the next fall. Organ donation was something that Alex was passionate about–in fact, when he went to get his license, he told his mom he was adamant about becoming a donor because when he died, he wasn’t going to need those organs where he was going anyway. Those words became a reality in November of 2012. Alex was conditioning with his baseball team when he had a freak accident that crushed his C5 vertebrae. Although it was initially believed that he would be a quadriplegic, complications occurred after Alex had a massive stroke that caused his brain function to cease. His parents decided to take him off life support so he could donate his organs. Because of that, Alex was able to save the lives of five people, and his lungs were the perfect match for Right around the time I started working with Madison was when she got to meet her donor’s family for the first time. There was a huge event celebrating Madison’s third “breath day” (the anniversary of her lung transplant). I was able to attend and hear Alex’s mother, Penny, talk about her amazing son and his life-giving decision.
Madison and her incredible organ donation fascinated me. Here was a girl who literally struggled through every breath to make the most of her second chance of life. With her new lungs, she got to travel for the first time and spend more time with friends and family. In high school, she was in the musical, the manager of the football team, the vice president of her senior class, the president of the RESIST club, and more. I learned to seize more opportunities in life while I had the chance. In 2017, I started working on fulfilling my life-long dream to be an author and began writing my novel Breathtaking. Madison was so excited when I told her she had inspired my story. Sadly, she never got to read it because cystic fibrosis took her life in 2018 when she was senior in high school.
After her death, I kept thinking about how Alex’s lungs gave Madison six extra years of life. If he wouldn’t have been an organ donor, I would have never had the chance to meet this incredible human. I made a point to publish Breathtaking and use it as a tool to honor both Madison and Alex, spread awareness about cystic fibrosis, and emphasize the importance of being an organ donor.