• By Dana Sparks

In the Loop: Lung transplant recipient’s first breath goes viral

March 6, 2018

lung transplant patient Jennifer Jones excited to breathe with her new lungs

When Rob Ronnenberg captured the moment his fiancé took her first breath with new lungs, he did so only to preserve the powerful moment. But since posting it to YouTube, it’s been seen around the world.

Jennifer Jones lay in a hospital bed about to take her first breath with new lungs. Cystic fibrosis had stolen Jennifer's breath, and so much more, over the years. A lung transplant gave her a chance to get some of it back. As her care team at Mayo Clinic removed Jennifer's breathing tube, her fiancé, Rob Ronnenberg, pressed record and captured the scene on video. "You're breathing!" someone in the room says, and Jennifer's eyes widen. It's a powerful moment — and one that's been viewed by millions of people around the world since Rob posted the video on YouTube back in October.

"Overwhelming and unexpected sum it up best," Rob says of going viral in the months since. He'd taken the video simply to preserve the moment for Jennifer and — the couple hoped — to share with the donor's family someday. Rob and Jennifer say the interest in the video has been a happy surprise, giving them a welcome platform to raise awareness of cystic fibrosis, encourage people to register as organ donors, and highlight the life-changing difference of donation. "Breathing has been on my mind for so long, but I didn't understand how bad off I really was until being able to breathe again," Jennifer says.

The video also has given the couple a chance to connect with other donor families and transplant recipients, many of whom have reached out to them via social media. "Some have shared their sorrow of loss and how this has brought them peace," Jennifer says. "Others have messages of encouragement, having lived many years after transplant, and for others, it gives them hope for all kinds of reasons." Rob tells us the responses "have been overwhelmingly positive, which is pretty uplifting."

Most of all, Jennifer and Rob say they're grateful for the opportunity the experience has given them to publicly thank Jennifer's donor and their family. "I wouldn't be here today without them," Jennifer tells KIMT-TV. "It's not about me, it's about them and their legacy." That legacy has given Jennifer a chance to do things she hasn't in years. Simple things, like making dinner or climbing the stairs to tuck her kids into bed. And special things, like planning a wedding. "Jennifer's health declined rapidly after our engagement, so everything was postponed," Rob says. "Now we get to plan our wedding and dream about our happy ending."

A happy ending made possible by the "real hero" of the story, Rob says: Jennifer's donor. "Without them and their family turning a sad period of their lives into something beautiful they could share with others, we wouldn't be talking today," he tells us. "As Jennifer likes to say, this is her miracle, but it's their legacy that lives on."

You can hear Rob and Jennifer talk about the viral video and life after transplant in this update. Then leave a comment below and use the handy social media tools to share this story with others.

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