To say Nicole Antaya is grateful to be graduating from Quinnipiac University this weekend would be an understatement.
“I’ve had to miss a lot of school in order go through very severe procedures and hospitalizations," Antaya said, "which is why I treasure school so much and graduating this Saturday is so incredible.”
Reaching this milestone has been six years in the making.
“So I would say for first semester or even year I had a backpack on one shoulder and oxygen tank on the other, trying to go to classes, trying,” Antaya recalled.
She was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that causes chronic lung infections and limits the ability to breathe.
“I would say June of 2015 my lung function dropped down to 18 percent,” Antaya said.
Six months to a year - that's how long doctors said she had to live. So Antaya moved with her mom to Durham, North Carolina in desperate need of two new lungs.
“Because otherwise the infected the lung would then infect the good lung and there would be no point in that,” she explained.
In August 2015, she underwent a double lung transplant at Duke University Medical Center that gave her a second chance at life.
“One hundred percent I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him and it was literally a stranger’s gift," Antaya said, "he didn’t know me, he didn’t have to check the box to become an organ donor but because he did I’m here.”
Antaya said she wrote a letter to the parents of the 17-year-old boy who donated her new lungs. He died in a car crash.
"Just expressing my like absolute humbled gratitude," she said, "and there’s no words you can really say to a family who is mourning because when I received the call that would save my life, Jordan’s family was receiving a devastated call.”
Antaya's road to recovery wasn't easy. After a month of intensive care, she had to learn to walk again.
“So just getting back on your feet again is literal, it’s a literal getting back on your feet again,” she said.
Since the transplant, she takes 76 pills daily to stabilize her blood pressure and prevent her body from rejecting the new organs.
After taking online courses and returning to campus a year and a half after the life-saving surgery, Antaya is ready to receive her bachelor's degree in psychology from Quinnipiac.
She has decorated in her graduation cap in honor of her donor.
“I know I will have Jordan’s spirit with me and so I want to accept that diploma for him ‘cause he never graduated from high school," Antaya said, "so when I reach for it I really want to like envelope his soul in that actual moment.”
At Quinnipiac, Antaya has started a chapter of Student Organ Donation Advocates (SODA).
After graduation this Saturday at the People's United Center on the York Hill campus, Antaya said she will continue her education in the master's in social work program at Southern Connecticut State University.