Katherine S.

Graduate Recipient

"Life can be a series of challenges or opportunities depending on how you approach it. As you enter adulthood, how have you conquered a difficult task to turn it into an opportunity? As part of your essay, please explain the significance of your creative presentation to your journey with CF."

When I needed a double lung transplant, I was at the cusp of adulthood. I'd just graduated college and started working as a freelance writer. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were planning a future together. Then pneumonia struck.

I was always a diligent patient, but I was born with bronchial malacia that further complicated every infection. Fluid in my lungs was compressing my stomach, so I couldn't eat. I lost forty pounds. I was placed on the transplant list a mere two weeks until we found lungs, but it took months to recover. Painstakingly, with my family's tremendous support, I rebuilt the strength to walk and breathe on my own.

Afterward, I struggled to find my purpose. Painful experiences force you to choose your outlook consciously: to see it all as tragedy or an opportunity to learn more about yourself; to loathe change or gain fresh perspective; to fall into self-pity or discover deeper empathy.

My transplant was worth every subsequent moment of happiness and love. I volunteer, follow my passions, and am pursuing a master's degree to study our criminal justice system.

For my presentation, I produced a song about the opportunity to rise from painful experiences and appreciate life on another level. I have a tracheotomy tube from post-transplant complications, so singing can be a challenge. However, I refuse to let little nuisances stop me from doing what I enjoy! I created this song in pieces and layered in my own cello accompaniment. Thanks for listening!


Katherine S.'s Artwork

Katherine S.'s Achievements

  • Earned B.A. in English/Creative Writing from SUNY Geneseo with a 3.68 GPA (2011).
  • Published books [under name Katherine Russell] include: Shapes of Water (poetry, 2012) Love Around the World (novel, Senserial Publishers, 2013) Without Shame (novel, FB Publishing, 2015)
  • Cellist in Buffalo State Philharmonia community orchestra. (2013-present)
  • Part-time employee of United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, where I coordinate "Operation United," a t-shirt fundraiser that has raised over $16,000 for local veterans. (2013-present)
  • Freelance writer with an international client base and over ten years of experience. My job includes polishing marketing materials, ghost writing articles, creating press releases, editing manuscripts, and writing informational scripts for teaching companies. (2006-present)
  • Talk it Up speaker for Unyts, which strives to increase the number of registered organ donors in New York State. (April 2015-present)
  • Volunteer literacy tutor and mentor with formerly incarcerated individuals in attempts to raise the success rates of reentry and develop programs that assist at-risk youth in Buffalo, NY. (August 2013-present)
  • Volunteer for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation locally and nationally. (2000-present)