IT WAS the day she had longed to see, one that for years seemed likely to elude her as she battled cystic fibrosis. But Ashley Owens had just received a double-lung transplant, in November 2009. The organs had been donated by a young boxer, Francisco "Paco" Rodriquez, who had died of head injuries at the Blue Horizon. The operation gave her the ability to breathe again without obstruction and enabled her last June 25 to walk down the aisle and exchange vows with Jesse Quinter at Blue Falls Grove in Reading.
"It had been cloudy that day and the sun came out," said her mother, Charlotte Owens. "She was a fairy princess."
In a somber turn of events, Ashley Owens Quinter died on Dec. 8 at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. According to her husband Jesse, the cause of death was respiratory failure. She was 24.
Featured last year in a two-part series in the Daily News, Ashley was one of five recipients who received a total of seven organs from Rodriquez, who died of injuries he absorbed in a scheduled 12-round bout with Teon Kennedy for the United States Boxing Association super bantamweight championship. The same evening Rodriquez stepped into the ring, Jesse proposed to Ashley in her hospital room as she clung to life in anticipation of a transplant. Seventy-two hours later, the tragedy that had befallen Paco had given her a second chance at life.
Childhood pleasures such as running and swimming had been beyond Ashley because of cystic fibrosis. By age 20, she had seen her lung capacity drop to 20 percent. With her new lungs, she embraced life with a vigor that soared. In the 2 years given to her by her transplant, she graduated from West Chester University with honors and pursued opportunities as a grade-school teacher. On their honeymoon, she and Jesse traveled to Jamaica. While her immune system was low because of the transplant, it did not stop her from participating in a swimming competition, or learning how to ride a motorcycle, or joining a friend for a trip to Spain in October.
"She would tell me, 'I'm doing this,' or 'I'm doing that,' " said Vicky Davis, who received a pancreas and kidney from Paco. "And I would say, 'You have to slow down and heal.' "
Ashley would not hear of it. "Even with the transplant, you know you are dealing with a limited amount of time," Charlotte Owens said. "So she could either live life in a bubble or live life fully. She lived life fully."
Ashley came home from Spain in a state of deep fatigue. Doctors admitted her to the hospital on Oct. 21, at which point her condition began to deteriorate. Within a few days, she was moved from a regular room to the intensive care unit, where she was placed on a ventilator and then a lung machine. Jesse and her family were at her bedside when she passed away peacefully.
"I cannot sit here and say she had enough time," Jesse said. "Even if this had happened 20 years from now, it would not have been enough time."
A Rodriguez family spokesman was saddened by the news. "Every one of us has destiny," said Alex Rodriquez, Paco's older brother. "Ashley lived long enough to get married, go on a honeymoon and travel to Europe. She is in a better place."
Howard Nathan, president and CEO of the Gift of Life Donor Program, said of Ashley: "She certainly was special in many ways . . . She was just a sweet girl." Nathan added that Ashley had been selected to appear on the Donate Life float in the New Year's Day Tournament of Roses Parade with Alex Rodriquez. Heart recipient Alexis Sloan was chosen to take her place.
Sadly, Jesse added, "I think if you could talk to her today, she would say that she was happy."