Shirzana Mitha: nurse, double lung transplant recipient

I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension in 2010 when I was 27. Before my diagnosis, I looked healthy, but I was constantly short of breath and felt fatigued all the time. It was hard to explain to people, because how I looked didn’t match how I felt. People thought it was in my head, or that I was exaggerating my symptoms. I even told myself I was out of shape and just needed to go to the gym more often. But then I’d see old ladies walking faster than me uphill, and I’d be like, “Okay, maybe something’s wrong.” It took me two years to get diagnosed.

Eventually, the medication I was taking stopped working. I had to try a different treatment, which also failed. I was fast-tracked to the lung transplant list and I had my transplant six months ago. 

I spent 19 days in the hospital. I came out with new lungs, and that’s great, but the process felt like torture. I had only minor complications – I was very lucky in that way. But learning to stand again in the ICU was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. I completely ran out of energy after 30 seconds. The next day, I was able to walk a lap around the hall. Every day, I would have these small victories.

I remember looking in the mirror one day after my surgery. I had all these scars and I was putting vitamin E oil on them, and I was like, “Why am I trying to hide them? They’re proof of everything I’ve overcome.” That’s my medal of honour, my badge. I don’t want to cover them up anymore.

I’m hoping to compete in the Transplant Games and even run a marathon down the road. Right now, just building up my tolerance for running, I can already feel a difference. I’m hoping to go back to nursing full-time again, to travel more, be more active and keep doing what makes me happy.

As a kid, I was bullied for the way I looked. I had more body hair than everyone else. There were people in my life saying I didn’t have the right body shape – I was either too skinny or too fat. As an adult, I was always trying to look the way I thought I was supposed to. When I got diagnosed, I simply realized that that stuff doesn’t matter. At the same time, with the diagnosis, it felt like my body was betraying me. It turned into a whole different battle. 

It wasn’t until after the transplant and seeing all these scars, I realized: This is my life, this is my body, and I’m so proud of how far I’ve come. 

In the process of doing this shoot, I realized that it’s not just my body in these photos – I now carry a part of my donor’s body, too. It’s like I’m showing both of us off. Now I live my life not with just my dreams and goals and passions – I’m also thinking about my donor and their family, and how I’m going to honour their life, and what I’m going to do to make a difference in this world so that I can make both of us proud.


See last year’s Body Issue here.

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