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Jefferson Award Winning Sisters Embody Benefits Of Organ Donation

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Anabel Stenzel and her sister Isabel Stenzel Byrnes lead a workout. (CBS)

Anabel Stenzel and her sister Isabel Stenzel Byrnes lead a workout. (CBS)

PALO ALTO (CBS SF) – They meet weekly at the Palo Alto High School track to run a boot camp. And like most group leaders, Anabel Stenzel and her sister Isabel Stenzel Byrnes set goals.

“Lets try to make it to the bleachers!” Stenzel Byrnes called out to the group striding around a corner doing leg lifts.

They’re also good motivators.

“Good job!” Stenzel added encouragingly.

But what makes this exercise class so unique is that every one of the participants, including the leaders, has had an organ transplant.

“I received a double lung transplant eight and a half years ago,” Stenzel Byrnes said.

“I received a double lung transplant in 2000 and a second double lung transplant in 2007,” added her sister.

These identical twin sisters were born with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic pulmonary disease that used to be uniformly fatal.

“CF is a progressive disease, so as we got older, it became increasingly more difficult to breath,” Stenzel remembered. “Before my transplant I could only walk a few blocks maybe.”

Today they have become ambassadors for organ donation, traveling the world to bring awareness to the need for organ donors. They inspired a documentary called “The Power of Two,” which has helped spread their message.

“If we can come forward, be public, and show people faces and lives that have been impacted because someone said yes to organ donation, then that’s our purpose,” explained Stenzel Byrnes. “That’s why we’re saved.”

Stanford’s Director of Lung Transplants, Dr David Weill, said the sisters regularly take time to meet and mentor other patients, and that their weekly exercise class offers real medical benefits.

“Muscles actually atrophy and the only way to combat that is with regular exercise,” said Dr. Weill. “So the camp that the Stenzel twins have built is perfect for what transplant recipients need.”

It’s what Tiffany Van Alst needed after five kidney transplants.

“It kind of counter balances what the side effects of some of the medications are,” Van Alst said. “Exercise really helps with that.”

Equally important for patient Anna Modlin is the sense of community.

“We are all medical miracles here, and it’s just inspiring to be doing this with friends who really get what it’s like to be living with a second chance,” Modlin said.

Both sisters are married and work part time, but still find energy to lead this special class.

“We love this camaraderie, we love this feeling of fitness,” Stenzel said. “We honor our donors by exercising.”

Her sister agreed: “So often I needed help and I needed support, and now that I’m well, it feels really good to be able to serve others and contribute in some way.”

So for their service to the cystic fibrosis and transplant communities, and for inspiring others to celebrate life to the fullest, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Ana Stenzel and Isa Stenzel Byrnes.

Learn more about organ donation from the California Transplant Donor Network.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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