Second Chance Blog

 

Sister Pays Tribute to Her Hero Brother Who Gave the Gift of Life

April 9th, 2018

This story was submitted by guest blogger, Jamie-July Bassett.

My brother Scott and I were 20 years apart. Yes, 20 years. Statistically, siblings with large age gaps do not grow up emotionally close. Statistics were wrong when it came to me and Scott. Growing up, Scott was my cool older brother (we won’t neglect my other brother, Rob, in this statement because he is pretty cool, too). Scott had moved out on his own by the time I was born so we never actually lived in the same home, but he would visit and we’d watch Grease (a mutual favorite of ours) and play Scrabble.

He was my hero. Once I hit middle school and high school, Scott and I realized we had a lot in common. We loved psychology, history, Star Wars, Norman Rockwell, traveling, art, and trying our best to be the kindest people we could be. We actually started to realize we were almost the same person, even down to being the same Myers-Briggs personality type – which only 2% of the population has. My mother always jokes that I am my brother (even in regards to some of his negative qualities – like misplacing everything and being a “slob”).

I trusted him. I told him things I had never told anyone before, things other people still do not know about me. I know he took those confidential conversations “to the grave.”

In life I do not believe that soulmates can just be spouses. Soulmates can be friends and family, too. Scott was one of my soulmates.

Scott believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He pushed me to best version of ME. Whenever I feel like quitting something difficult, I think of him saying, “You will go far in life, but it takes drive, discipline and going forward when your body says stop. It’s your responsibility to become whatever you will. You must keep your nose in the books and get ready for a major college.”

On May 23rd, 2011, Scott was in a freak car accident that ended his life the following day. There were so many decisions to make. I was 17 at the time so I am extremely blessed for my family being strong enough to make the best decisions for Scott. Scott was already an organ donor (indicated on his driver’s license), so the one decision that was extremely easy for my family to make was to authorize the donation of his organs and tissues. Scott donated seven of his major organs, all of his tissues, as well as his corneas. He SAVED 7 lives, gave sight to two people, and bettered the lives of up to 75 people. He would be so proud.

A gentleman that recieved one of his major organs wrote us a letter saying that if it wasn’t for Scott’s donation he would have died and would have never met his grandchildren…

I would feel solace if I knew that the quality of a few lives were bettered because of Scott but lives were saved. A man got to know his grandchildren. A woman never thought she’d be able to walk her dogs again, and now she does. Lives were changed. Scott’s accident was a tragedy. But, something beautiful was made out of it.

Young Family Grateful for their Gift of Life

February 13th, 2018

Lukeman, Carolina Harvey and their three young sons have much to be thankful for this new year.  In October 2017, Lukeman received a life-saving kidney transplant that transformed his life.  That same month, his wife Carolina donated her kidney to a young woman she never met as part of a paired kidney exchange program to save her husband’s life.  Now, a few months later, Lukeman is feeling vibrant and healthy after his 3 ½ year ordeal and his young family is happy and well.  Lukeman and Carolina recently celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary.

Photo credit: Jessica File.

Lukeman had always been healthy, but in 2014, he made the decision to go to the doctor after he experienced severe sleep issues.  After numerous tests and x-rays, Lukeman’s doctor rushed him to the hospital, where he was stunned to learn that he was experiencing heart and kidney failure.

Two days later, the doctors had more shocking news.  Lukeman was told that he would need a kidney transplant to live. He was then put on dialysis in July 2014 and his name was added to the waiting list in December 2014.  While he waited for a kidney, his health slowly declined.  He had little to no quality of life as his illness became more and more debilitating.  Sadly, Lukeman no longer had the energy to do the things that he loved to do like wrestle and play with his boys. His wife and sons were impacted as well. Carolina had to carry the weight of the household on her shoulders, and their young sons had to mature quickly and take on increased responsibilities.

Carolina expressed their heartbreak, “It was sad to watch the person you love in so much pain.”

As they waited, an innovative process known as paired kidney exchange gave them a fresh chance. The paired exchange connects individuals who are willing to donate a kidney – but who do not match with their loved one – with other people in the same situation.  Lukeman’s chain included nine recipients and nine donors.

Lukeman’s donor chain and Carolina’s gift did not only help those nine people. When they received their transplant, it allowed nine other people to move up on the kidney waiting list.

“The blessings are exponential,” declared Carolina. “You can save more than one life.”

“As a kidney patient, I was in a constant state of suffering. Feeling constantly awful became my new normal. Immediately after my transplant surgery, I woke up feeling physically and mentally better.  Even though I’m physically thirty nine, with my new kidney, I feel like I’m in my twenties,” Lukeman said.

“You’re giving a new life to someone when you donate an organ. My sons got to have a new dad, and I got to have a new husband,” Carolina agreed.

The difficulties and trials of the past few years have taught Lukeman and his family an important lesson that many people seem to forget.

“Time is precious,” Lukeman said.  “I don’t know what the future holds, but I don’t want to waste time.  I want to enjoy life now that I have the energy and options to do so.”

Gift of Life Donor Program encourages everyone to discuss the importance of organ and tissue donation. For more information, or to register, go to donors1.org.

Woman Finally Able to Meet Newborn Son Thanks to Hero Organ Donor

December 1st, 2017

Melissa was born with Cystic Fibrosis, but that hasn’t stopped her from living her best life.  She has continued to amaze those around her with bravery, perseverance and positivity in overcoming her illness. We are especially inspired by her story, submitted by Melissa and her family for us to share below!

Near Christmas in 2015, Melissa Courchain and her husband Bob shared with their family some wonderful news: Melissa was pregnant.  This was the first in what would become many miracles to come. Just six months later in June of 2016, while in her third trimester, Melissa went into septic shock due to a powerful infection that began in her lungs. On the morning of June 30th, she underwent a risky emergency C-section in order to save both her life as well as her child’s. Austin Robert Courchain was successfully delivered and taken to the Intensive Care Nursery, while Melissa was moved to the Intensive Care Unit. Over the next few days, her family and friends remained by her side, praying for a miracle.

It was soon determined that Melissa’s lungs were damaged beyond repair and she would need a life-saving lung transplant. She bravely fought through several more weeks on the ventilator with many ups and downs, during which Austin could sometimes be brought by nurses to say hi. Soon, Austin was given a clean bill of health and he was able to go home.

Nearly two months after the deadly infection attacked Melissa’s lungs, she received the call. Finally, Melissa got a second chance at life from a registered organ donor. In August 2016, Melissa received a new set of lungs from a generous donor and it wasn’t long before she was awake and fighting again. She courageously powered through weeks of recovery, physical therapy and procedures until she was finally able to return home.

Melissa continued to impress everyone around her with her quick rehabilitation and she was finally able to bond at home with baby Austin, bob and their dog Scootcheroni. It has been a tough and treacherous road since recovering from surgery.  In December, Melissa became ill with another resistant infection and she was soon back in the ICU on a ventilator. She required life-saving support through continuous dialysis and ECMO because the ventilator was no longer working for her. Two days after Christmas, Melissa had an emergency surgery on one of her lungs and the family’s prayers were answered when she came back with no complications.

Today, Melissa is finally home with her family. Austin (aka Stinky Butt, according to his mom) is now 15 months old, walking, and keeping Melissa and Bob on their toes! Melissa has even returned to work, but her true full-time job is staying healthy and strong post-transplant. Just as before her life-saving surgery, she continues to inspire friends and family with a contagious commitment to push any boundaries that get in her way! Almost a year after her transplant, she even got permission from her doctors to ride the new roller coaster at the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk… something she insisted for months she would do!

The “Right Turn” That Saved My Life

October 14th, 2017

This is a blog post submitted to Gift of Life by heart recipient, Wanda Griffith.

I am somebody, but part of me is somebody else and for that somebody, I am eternally grateful… Let’s think about that for a moment, a complete stranger, in the worst moments, made a decision to save somebody and that somebody is typing this today to tell her story.

Organ donation has saved my life and has directly affected the lives of those around me. Today, I want to tell you about my transplant journey as a heart recipient.

More than 20 years ago on October 24th I came to a literal crossroads that would determine my destiny.

In the weeks leading up to the night of October 23rd I was tired, light headed and having severe dizzy spells.  As any other working mother of a toddler I was quick to blame the fatigue on my everyday routine.  I was too worried about what my then 18 month old daughter needed and what I needed to do to provide for her. I was too worried about the needs of a professional life and the expectations of my job and clearly not listening to my body and focusing on what I needed.

The night of Oct 23rd, 1995, I didn’t sleep. I was having trouble lying flat and couldn’t breathe. As if I hadn’t slept all night I was still up at the crack of dawn getting my daughter ready for daycare and myself ready for a day at the office. After dropping my daughter off, I came to my literal crossroads. Knowing I wasn’t feeling well, while sitting at a traffic light, my thoughts were that if I turned right it would take me to the hospital and turning left to the office I turned right that day and drove myself to the emergency room.

As they examined me and brought in the specialists, I was found to be in Congestive Heart Failure, had I turned left…. I wouldn’t be here to tell my story. Turning right began my journey to transplant, 3 weeks before my 30th birthday.

For the next 15 years I lived with many limitations in my diet and everyday living. I took many medications to keep my heart stable. I couldn’t walk more than 100 feet without rest. I was tired beyond any tired I could have imagined. Though limited, I never let my limitations be evident to those around me. I pushed with positivity. I had to for my daughter. I wanted to see her grow up.

As my daughter grew, I was able to share in all of her milestones. I never missed a concert or game she participated in. I worked full time and built a good life for us. Behind the smile I was tired, but pushed for her sake.

I knew that transplant was my cure from the day I was diagnosed with heart disease. I knew I wasn’t sick enough to be on the list but knew it the day was coming all too fast as well. On October 24th, 2010, 15 years to the day of my right turn, I collapsed, which lead to the discussion of transplant. It was time.

On my 45th birthday I started my transplant journey. My Social Worker sang “Happy Birthday” to me before she began her routine of the transplant evaluation process. I was listed in late November and transplanted in December just 20 days later. I was fortunate enough to wait at home surrounded by family. My mother and father had moved in to help. I wanted my daughter to enjoy her senior year of high school and not worry about the care I may need while waiting.  I had in-home nursing visits and kept that smile for my daughter’s sake.

The call came at 5:30 a.m. We rushed around like a new mom, waking everyone. The news of a match was met with every emotion that morning. When we arrived at the hospital it was like a whirlwind of activity. I was: anxious but ready, scared but hopeful, sorrowful but grateful, all at the same time.

I understood what needed to happen for this day to arrive but still felt a sense of mourning, guilt and peace all at the same time. It is still hard to explain. I was prepped and ready. I went to sleep knowing I would see my daughter graduate from high school, I would see my parents grow old, and I could continue the hope of one day meeting my son.

Ten days later I was discharged from the hospital, with a grateful heart and lots and lots of medication!  I visit my heart team (what I like to call “OZ”) every 6 months for a checkup. I undergo extensive testing yearly to ensure the rest of me is keeping up with the new heart.

All in all, I am healthy. I take my meds every 12 hours. I try to eat right and exercise regularly.  In the time since transplant I have been living life. I have celebrated my daughter graduating from high school. I have seen her off to college. I have married my high school sweetheart, who supports me in everything I do. I gained wonderful step son. I am back to work full time in a job that I love. I have met and have a relationship with my son (a son that I gave up for adoption 29 years ago). I have met and have a relationship with my 3 beautiful grandchildren whom I never knew existed. I have celebrated my nephews graduating high school. I have celebrated my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. I have traveled with my family. I have celebrated the birth of a new nephew. I have been a part of my daughter getting engaged to the man of her dreams. I get to plan a wedding with her I get to love more grandbabies. I get to grow old with my family.

I am grateful beyond words for the selfless gift that allows me to continue my life journey. A decision was made in the moments of despair that changed mine and my family’s lives forever. I like to think my donor and donor family also made a right hand turn when at the crossroads of life, by making the decision to be an organ donor thus syncing us forever.

I pray for my donor family daily and live life as if they are watching. I believe I am here to serve a purpose and for now that purpose is to share my story and hopefully convince others to take the same “right” turn and check the box to be an organ donor.

“In Sickness and In Health” Husband Donates 40 Percent of Liver to Save His Wife’s Life

September 18th, 2017

“My whole world just came crashing down,” said Karen Rudolfi of Clarks Summit, PA. “You don’t realize how much people rely on donors until you need one.”

After battling Sarcoidosis in her lungs and liver for 16 years, Karen’s condition had become unstable. Her declining health came to a head after she began to turn jaundice and was experiencing episodes of nausea, bringing her to consult a gastroenterologist. Testing revealed the severity of Karen’s condition and she was told the only treatment would be to receive a life-saving liver transplant.

Karen met up with a team at Hershey Medical Center to begin the process of qualifying for a transplant and finding a donor. Doctors suggested Karen find a living donor to avoid the wait of the national transplant waiting list, which could take over a year.

“When we first met with the team we wanted the procedure done in May,” Karen said, explaining how they wanted the transplant to fit her work schedule as a teacher. “The doctors told me it didn’t work like that.”

The process to become a living donor is not as simple as selecting a volunteer to donate his or her liver. The testing process to identify a match is lengthy and can take multiple tries. Karen’s first thought of who may be a match was to ask one of her sisters to be tested, as blood relatives are often more likely to be matches for a successful transplant. Karen’s husband, Gary Rudolfi, had a different plan.

“The doctors didn’t think Gary would be a match,” Karen said, but the result defied their expectations. “My husband was the first and only one tested.”

Hershey Medical staff did their best to keep the couple informed, explaining the transplant and recovery procedure for both recipient and living donor. Their family members rallied with support, helping Karen and Gary in any way possible and even holding a benefit at the local fire hall to show their support.

Karen and Gary’s surgery dates were set, ironically, for May. Karen remembers the doctor tapping her on the leg as she was rolled into the operating room saying, “Well I guess you are having it done in May,” recalling her original request.

“My husband went above and beyond for me that day,” Karen said. “I remember laying in the ICU and thinking about how people stress over little, unnecessary things. Everything we do matters, every day is a gift.”

Gary was able to donate 40 percent of his liver to his wife in a successful transplant. However, post-transplant, the couple was met with another challenge. Both required some recovery time to return to their best health. Their families made this process as easy as possible, so that Karen and Gary could focus on their recovery and quickly return to a normal, healthy life for the fall and beginning of the new school year. Gary was released before Karen and was assisted by his sister and a home care nurse. Karen continued her recovery at Hershey Medical and was frequently visited by friends. Their house and meals were taken care of by their family members and their nephew took care of the lawn work. The community overwhelmed them with support.

Five years later, both Karen and Gary are living strong, healthy lives thanks to Gary’s sacrifice, their Hershey Medical team, and countless friend and family supporters.

“My team was my angels,” Karen said about her doctors and nurses at Hershey Medical.  “I feel blessed to be able to share my story and I thank God every night. Every day is a gift; this was truly ‘A Gift of Life’.”

Ad in Church Newsletter Inspires Lehigh Valley Woman to Save the Life of a Stranger

August 28th, 2017

Jo Ann Coles and her husband attend 9 a.m. mass at Peckville Assembly of God in Blakely, PA every Sunday. In July 2016, there was a flyer placed in the church bulletin for a man named Kevin who was in need of a life-saving kidney, a flyer that would inspire Jo Ann to save a life.

Jo Ann had never met Kevin before, but the flyer caused her to ask another parish member if he knew Kevin. She was told Kevin was also a member of the parish who always attended the 11 a.m. mass. Kevin had been on dialysis for two years after having both kidneys removed due to a hereditary disease, ruling out most of his family as potential donors as many of them suffered from the same condition.

“This overwhelming feeling came over me,” Jo Ann recalls the day she saw the flyer. “I had never thought about being a donor, not when I died, let alone when I was alive.”

After mass, Jo Ann could not stop thinking about the call to save a life. She told her husband that evening that she wanted to be tested to be Kevin’s living kidney donor.

“My husband thought I was off the wall,” Jo Ann said. “But he knows when I make up my mind to do something there’s no arguing.”

After sharing the news with her husband, Jo Ann called Leigh Valley Transplant Center right away. Jo Ann was determined to help this man she had never met, calling the center every day for three weeks, until she finally received the call to come in for blood work. She began her testing in a local lab in Scranton, the only other person knowing of her actions, besides her husband, was her pastor.

“After I passed the second round of tests, my pastor insisted I tell Kevin that I was an exact match,” Jo Ann said. “I will never forget that day and how grateful he was that someone he had never met would step out and try and save his life.”

Despite being an exact match, the road to the day of the transplant was not an easy one. Jo Ann was told she would need to lose some weight in order to donate her kidney to Kevin. While Jo Ann worked to be in her best condition, Kevin’s health continued to decline, experiencing episodes where his lungs were filling up with fluid. In six months Jo Ann lost 65 pounds, motivated by the fact that Kevin’s life depended on it and the transplant date was set for February 8th, 2017.

As the day of surgery drew closer, the pair continued to experience struggles that could lead to a delay in the transplant. Kevin was continuously showing high potassium levels and it was uncertain if the 8th would stay the date. However, they remained optimistic, even planning a dinner for their families, along with their pastor, to meet the Saturday before the transplant date.

“I never wanted our families to meet in a waiting room,” Jo Ann said. “That was the best thing we could have done, it’s amazing how two families became one.”

The morning of the scheduled date, Kevin continued to show high levels of potassium and failed a stress test, unable to get his heart rate up. Doctor’s tried a final round of dialysis in an attempt to bring levels up to avoid postponing the surgery, and it was a success, just as the kidney transplant that followed that afternoon.

“I call Kevin my ‘brother from another mother’, we talk every single week,” Jo Ann said. “His mother and I also talk several times a week and do things together, we are family.”

Today, both Jo Ann and Kevin are living healthy, happy lives. The pair of strangers gained both a second chance at life and a new family, all because of Jo Ann’s gift of life to Kevin. Jo Ann and her husband serve as avid advocates for organ donation, both volunteering with Gift of Life Donor Program. They strive to spread awareness of the importance of organ donation, hoping to educate those who were once life them, unknowing of the lives registering as a donor can save.

“I never knew until I started this process how many people die every day waiting for an organ donor,” Jo Ann said. “Now when I see someone reaching out desperately for an organ, for either themselves or a loved one, it saddens me that more people aren’t coming forward to save a life. One never knows when they might be the one who is desperately searching for themselves or a loved one.”

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