The wheezing began on the soccer field. Then it got harder for Katie Sutherland, 16, to walk to school. She thought it was because she was out of shape. The doctors told her family she had only months to live.

Her death sentence was a form of pulmonary hypertension, a rare lung disorder that constricts vein and arteries within the lungs and forces the heart to work harder. The only thing that could save her was a double lung transplant.

“The doctors told my parents there was nothing else they could do but wait for the right donor,” recalls Sutherland. With a long wait list, and a slim chance of finding a match so quickly, the family prepared for the worst.

In a matter of days, Sutherland’s lungs began to give out. She needed oxygen to breathe, gasped for every breath and her heart started failing.

In a three-hour emergency surgery in the middle of the night last July, a 10-member team attached Sutherland’s heart to an external artificial lung to keep her alive until a donor could be found.

This was the first time anywhere the technique had been used on a child. A donor became available and a successful double lung transplant was performed on Aug. 2, 2008. And just last week, she began playing indoor soccer again.