I was first introduced to Kelly McHale in February 2020, which was a pivotal time for Kelly who had just received a double-lung transplant in December 2019. The significance of this moment in Kelly’s life and the timing is not lost on me.

What better way for us to kick off our next iteration of ‘29 stories’ than by sharing her remarkable story.

Kelly is a middle school science teacher in South New Jersey. She attended Rowan University, where she double majored in elementary education and Math & Science. She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at birth. On the heels of her transplant, she began creating lung-shaped cookies for her care team at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia and the Gift of Life Transplant House, which provides housing and meals for people on the organ-donation list or recovering from transplant surgery. This led her to start McHale’s Munchies, a cookie company that she runs in her free time. Not many people can say they started a company following a life-changing surgery while the world was shutting down, but that’s what makes Kelly so unique. She’s created a springboard from her passion to bring joy to others and support the causes most important to her through funds raised. She also recently won a swag design contest for BreatheCon (a virtual conference for adults with CF) with her famous lung cookies.

In other big news, Kelly got married since we last spoke. One of my check-ins last Spring found her traveling in Jamaica celebrating her one-year wedding anniversary.

Nick has been such a blessing. He has seen me at my worst from hospital visits and stays and pre/post-transplant. He has also seen me at my best, from working at school and being fully involved with my students, to our kitchen table full of cookies.

Kelly McHale

Travel is a passion for Kelly and her family. Last summer, she took a river boat cruise in Europe with her mom. She and Nick are adventure lovers and have an impressive travel bucket list, encompassing both local and international destinations―from seeing the Red Sox in Boston (Nick’s favorite baseball team) to spending time in Italy.

Stateside, Kelly continues to excel in her career and make a positive impact on both her students and colleagues. Not only has she received tenure since 2020, but as the Science Department Coordinator and Co-Advisor for the Positive Behavior Incentive System (PBIS), she dedicates her time and effort to keeping kids engaged in their education and building a positive staff culture through activities like spirit days, student of the month, and group celebrations. In speaking with Kelly, I do note that food is often central to these activities; specifically, she mentions a Cinco de Mayo lunch and a Super Bowl crock pot competition. Between this conversation and looking at pictures of her cookies, it’s safe to say Kelly is a bit of a foodie and I’m starting to feel hungry.

Kelly is also passionate about raising awareness for CF, specifically thriving as an adult, and bringing attention to important topics such as surrogacy options. She was an honoree at the 2023 Philadelphia’s Finest, an event honoring Philadelphia’s finest young professionals―those who show exemplary leadership, are active in their communities, and who have excelled in their profession or business, and continue to help raise critical funds to support research and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) community.

When I was recognized for one of Philly’s Finest of 2023, I wanted to bring awareness to the CF community that isn’t thriving from all the new medical advances. This is close to my heart because after my transplant, I feel fantastic (4 years later), however I am unable to carry my own children due to the anti-rejection medications. I signed those rights away in 2017 when I was being evaluated for my double lung transplant. This came up as a topic because my husband, Nick, and I got married in April 2022 and we thought about having our own biological children. We started our fertility journey in the summer of 2021 by freezing embryos for the future. We are currently in the process of trying to start our family via a gestational carrier. With CF and my transplant, medications, as well as doctor’s appointments, costs add up quickly. Add starting a family via fertility and surrogacy and it becomes a challenge that makes you get creative financially.

Kelly McHale

I’ve been sitting in my home office writing up notes from our conversation. As I come to the end, I find myself laughing a little looking at my desk plant from four years earlier that never made it back to the office. A lot sure has changed in four years, especially for Kelly. And I don’t think she’ll be slowing down any time soon. It is clear to all who know her that she is an exceptional person who lives life to the fullest.

On behalf of my colleagues, we want to extend our heartfelt appreciation to Kelly for continuing to share her story with us.

You can find Kelly on Instagram at mchales_munchies or via her McHale’s Munchies Facebook page. To learn more about the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation please visit www.cff.org. To get involved, Kelly suggests visiting the New Jersey State Organization of Cystic Fibrosis www.njsocg.org given their work to support local adults living with CF and their families through fundraisers and events. Another organization near and dear to her heart is www.giftoflife.org.

Lumanity is committed to amplifying the voices of people living with a rare condition, and using our ’29 stories’ initiative, we seek to alleviate feelings of isolation, drive awareness for rare diseases, and facilitate more open and authentic conversations about the impact on patients and families.

We invite you to submit your unique experiences and wisdom through a series of quick and insightful questions. If you or anyone you know would like to submit a story, please click on ‘submit your story’ and please feel free to e-mail contact@lumanity.com if you have any questions.