My Decision to Quit: Taking Back My Life and Celebrating My First Lung-a-versary

By Joanne Stingo Iuliucci

JoJo with two of her children, James and Nicole, post-transplant

My name is Joanne, they call me JoJo. I am 53 years old and I started smoking at the age of 12. I am a mom of three boys and one girl, and a Rottweiler. My husband and I live in New York City. On November 1st, 2010, I changed my life forever; I decided to take back my life. I quit smoking. My mother died of lung cancer in August of 2010, and I'd have to say that she saved my life – I dedicate my quit to her.

Thanks to smoking, I was diagnosed with stage 4 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) with emphysema. This was why I needed a life-saving lung transplant. COPD took over my entire life. COPD made my choices for me. Smoking literally sucked the life out of me. I was listed as needing a transplant on May 22, 2012 and am now the proud owner of a healthy beautiful pink lung which I received on June 28th, 2012. If I hadn't quit smoking, I wouldn't be here today to tell my story.

JoJo and the Brooklyn Bridge

I found the site,, to be a great resource. It offers a free online quit program and is home to a community of quitters, like me. Some of us have also had transplants and most of us have amazing advice to share and stories to tell. Quitting can be difficult, but smokers are not alone. I used to say that you only live once. Now I say that we live every day and we only die once. Think about it! Today, this lady is living! After being a smoker for 40 years, I am a survivor and a motivator.

Tomorrow is never promised, so appreciate all the small things in life, one day they might turn into something bigger. Next month, I am preparing to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back – something that has been on my bucket list and I said I would do if I made it to my one year lung-a-versary. I never thought it was possible and I'm now re-learning life without cigarettes. You can do it too, trust me.

More Reasons to Quit

Quitting smoking is one of the most important lifestyle changes people can make to improve and extend their lives. This is especially true for potential organ donors and transplant recipients. Even a casual relationship with smoking can increase one's risk for negative post-transplant surgical outcomes. These include problems with wound healing and respiratory complications no matter the organ -- kidney, liver and heart:

  • In kidney transplant recipients, smoking significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular events, infections like pneumonia, organ rejection and cancer.
  • Liver recipients who smoke have higher rates of blood clots, complications with bile production and cancer.
  • Heart recipients with a smoking history have increased risk of hardening of the arteries, graft problems, and losing the heart after transplantation.
  • In kidney and heart recipients, smoking is also associated with graft loss and delayed graft function.

Organs from donors who have smoked can have a negative impact on the outcomes after transplantation, as well. Recipients of smokers' organs are at a greater risk of death, extended stays in intensive care units, and a greater need for ventilation. Clinicians must always balance the use of these higher-risk organs with the consequences of dying while waiting for an organ.

Quitting smoking for two years before receiving a transplant reduces circulatory and heart complications and stopping smoking can help provide a protective effect against the development of cancer. If you are looking to quit, the National Kidney Foundation offers additional tips to help.