Libby Hankins’ spirit has outlived the breath in their lungs. Her memory and impact live on in those who “choose strength” every day.
Libby was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at the age of 2 in her hometown of Gordo, Alabama. She and her parents, Susan Hankins Estes and Scott Hankins, were referred to Children’s of Alabama, where they had a three-day education admission to learn about CF and how to administer her care at home, including aiding in food digestion, aerosol treatments and chest physiotherapy.
That initial visit was the first of many trips Libby would make to Children’s. While most days Libby managed well, she was admitted to the hospital four to five times a year, when her lung function or weight decreased or for periodic lung and weight checks. She also endured numerous sinus surgeries—23 total—and two rhinoplasty surgeries to correct structural defects that impaired her breathing.
“The staff at Children’s was like family to her,” Susan said. “They recognized she was sick, but they also let her be a little girl. Her doctors and nurses knew that her right arm had too much scar tissue to start an IV and her favorite color was purple. They knew her medication allergies and her puppies’ names. She was cared for physically and emotionally, but also loved.”
Despite a routine that was different from other children—she woke up every morning around 5 a.m. to do breathing treatments and a chest CT, as well as take dozens of medications—Libby managed to balance CF and school. She joined the cheerleading squad in junior high, and in high school, she was a cheerleader and homecoming queen. “Libby never let CF be her whole life,” Susan said. “There were certain things she had to do because of it, but we made her medical necessities as routine as possible.”
After high school, Libby attended the University of West Alabama (UWA), where she was a cheerleader, UWA Ambassador, a member of Phi Mu sorority and homecoming queen. By Libby’s senior year, her lung function rapidly decreased. To make matters worse, she contracted a bacterial infection, one that was considered the absolute worst for a CF patient. Libby’s only option was a double lung transplant. After a strenuous evaluation, she received a double lung transplant on April 17, 2016 at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina. “The surgery went perfectly,” Susan said. “Her surgeon told us that she would probably need another transplant in her lifetime, and he would be ready when that time came.”
But less than a year later, Libby’s body began rejecting the lungs. Just 51 days shy of receiving her degree and almost 11 months to the day of her transplant, Libby succumbed to CF. She was 23 years old.
Although Libby’s life was cut short, her legacy lives on. Her high school football stadium, where her memorial was held, now houses Libby Field. Today when players take the field, they touch a monument bearing one of Libby’s favorite quotes – “Choose strength.” Her family also started a foundation, the Live Like Libby-Love Like Libby Foundation, which focuses on organ donor awareness, cystic fibrosis research, special needs children and adults, and animal rescue.
“Libby was always well aware of her life span,” Susan said. “She squeezed every bit of joy she could into every day, and she wanted to make a difference. After her transplant, she very much wanted to honor her donor by repaying and spreading the kindness shown to her. We are so proud to be able to carry out the wishes of our hero and the strongest warrior we know.”