Learning to Breathe: A Tribute to Anabel Mariko Stenzel

January 23, 2014

                          Anabel Mariko Stenzel

We want to take this time to honor the life and spirit of
Anabel Mariko Stenzel (“Ana”), who shared her story in our Spring 2012 issue.

Ana and her twin sister, Isabel Yuriko Stenzel (“Isa”), had
reached the combined age of 82 when Ana passed away on September 22, 2013.
Partners in life, Ana and Isa battled cystic fibrosis since birth and have
lived far beyond the average life expectancy of 10 years. On their birthdays,
their father would add their ages. Their doubled age was not just a reflection
of their will to survive, but also a sign of hope.

The sisters persevered through hours of daily therapy and
numerous hospitalizations throughout their lives. And they didn’t just survive
-- they thrived. After attending Stanford together, they went on to attain graduate
degrees at the University of California, Berkeley. Ana became a genetic
counselor and was able to work with families impacted by genetic disease. She
met and married a man named Trent Wallace who was drawn by Ana’s strength
throughout her lung transplant recovery.

Ana received a lung transplant in 2000 and again in 2007
when her body rejected her first donor lungs. After her first lung transplant,
Ana could finally hike, swim, run and travel without worrying about coughing or
fatigue. A fierce competitor, she even won medals in swimming and running in
the US Transplant Games.  

Ana and Isa told their story through a memoir, The Power Of Two: A Twin Triumph Over Cystic
, which was later made into an award-winning documentary. They
traveled throughout the country and overseas, taking their story to Japan where
organ donation is stigmatized. By sharing their story, they hoped to encourage
their audience to see organ donation as a way to care for others rather than as
a process by which someone’s life is taken or a priceless debt incurred. A
second edition of the book is planned to be issued in 2014 with an afterword
written before Ana’s death.

Ana shared that Asian Americans make up only approximately two
percent of organ donors -- but six percent of those on the national waiting list.
Statistics like these called Ana and Isa to the need to spread awareness of
organ donation in the Asian American community. She spoke, and we listened.

Ana has done many things in her life, but perhaps one of the
most important things she shared with those around her was learning to “be.”
The simple act of breathing is one that occurs naturally for most of us. But
for someone with borrowed lungs, each breath is a gift, and Ana wanted to make
sure each moment was treasured.

On Ana and Isa’s blog, Isa shared Ana’s favorite quote by
Hunter Thompson: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention
of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in
broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly
proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Let’s take a breath and remember Ana.