MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Taking a deep breath is something most of us take for granted.

Nikki Dumonceaux learned at age 5 that it was something that would become harder and harder for her to do on her own.

Eventually, she was put on the lung transplant list. Today, Nikki celebrates life while honoring her donor.

A simple stroll in the neighborhood with her partner, Travis Malnar, and their dogs is something Nikki savors. It wasn’t so long ago she was wearing an oxygen tank full time, and in her words, was near death.

“There’s been a couple of times in the hospital where they weren’t sure I was going to make it,” Nikki said.

She was adopted at six weeks old. Doctors diagnosed her with cystic fibrosis a few years later.

“When I was diagnosed at the age 5, at the time the life expectancy was age 8,” she said.

Each day beyond that, Nikki surpassed doctors expectations. Along the way, she found out she had an extraordinary talent for figure skating.

“I know to this day that it’s why I’m living today because all that exercise. It exercised my lungs, it kept that air moving,” she said.

Nikki was on the national, international and junior world figure skating team for the United States.

She pressed on in spite of her disease.

At 16, she began what’s called vest treatments, using a nebulizer for medication. By 30, she relied on oxygen to help her breathe. She couldn’t make it up two stairs without gasping for breath.

“It is a progressive disease, and the older you get the harder it is,” Nikki said.

She was added to the double lung transplant list at 34. Three years, three months and two weeks later, she got “the call.”

In the operating room, she asked for a moment of silence for her donor.

“Here I was, about to get the greatest gift possible, the gift of life, and this other family was grieving,” Nikki said.

She says she thinks of her donor and their family daily, and remains grateful for the heroes that chose to give her life.

“It’s one of the bravest decisions they’ve ever made in their life,” she said.

Travis says he is forever grateful for the gift of life Nikki received.

“We weren’t going to have her for very long if she didn’t get that gift,” Travis said.

Nearly two years later, a morning regimen of medication starts Nikki’s day. She has routine appointments to test her lung function and to meet with her doctor. That will continue for years to come.

But she is free of other restrictions.

“I can breathe. I can take that deep breath that I was never able to do before,” Nikki said.

And for the first time in nine years, she’s able to enjoy that passion of hers that never went away.

“I grew up with skates strapped to my feet and I’m able to strap them on again,” she said.

Nikki calls herself living proof that being an organ donor truly saves lives.

“Here I was supposed to live to age 8, and I’m happy to say that I’m going to be 40 this year,” Nikki said. “I’ve beaten the odds and I continue to thrive, and these new lungs are what are making me continue my life.”

Nikki was named Ambassador of the Year by Life Source, the non-profit organization that manages organ and tissue donation in the Upper Midwest.

Friday is National Donate Life Day, and there is an event in Minneapolis on Saturday where Nikki will be honored.

Click here to learn more about Nikki’s journey and organ donation.

Jennifer Mayerle

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