Second Chance Blog

 

Two Wilmington Fathers Share Gratitude for Organ Donation

June 19th, 2015

It’s not easy having a chronic heart condition and trying to do the “normal” things in life. From mowing the lawn to walking his daughter down the aisle – life was challenging for Wilmington, DE resident, Bruce Schweiger.  He struggled to keep up with his children and grandchildren – and never was quite able to.  Luckily, his children – now adults with kids of their own – always helped out. Schweiger Family

Bruce had experienced a lifetime of surgeries and treatments for his heart, starting when he was just a teenager. He discovered that he had a heart murmur at 16 years old. After receiving a cardiac catheterization, he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which is the thickening of the heart muscle. After numerous cardiac catheterizations, complications and an episode in 1999 where he had a potentially life-threatening heart attack, doctors said that he needed to have a cardiac defibrillator implanted into his heart. The defibrillator was able to kick start his heart and set it to a normal rhythm in hopes of preventing a heart attack and sudden death. By 2003, Bruce’s heart was weakening and it was continuously being shocked by the defibrillator to reset his heart rhythm and keep him alive.  Over the next eight years, he went through four defibrillators from wear and tear.

In 2010, it became apparent that Bruce’s heart was failing. He needed a heart transplant to survive, and the prospect of waiting for one was frightening.  In Gift of Life Donor Program’s region (eastern PA, southern NJ and DE), there are more than 6,100 people who are waiting for an organ transplant.  Currently, 21 people die each day while waiting.  Bruce was justified in worrying that his second chance at life may never happen.  He waited for nearly a year.  Then on Mother’s Day 2011, he got the call that he had been desperately waiting for – a heart was available for him.

Only a month after receiving his transplant, he felt like a new man. He celebrated Father’s Day 2011 at Rehoboth Beach with his children, wife and grandchildren.  The year that he received his transplant, his son’s wife was pregnant with her first child.  Before his transplant, he didn’t know if he would live long enough to see his grandchild’s birth.  As Father’s Day approaches this year, Bruce is grateful to be able to celebrate another holiday with his family.

Today, Bruce is very active with his three young grandchildren, Veruca, Cassie and Ella. He regularly babysits them, picks them up from school and spends as much time with them as he can.  After years of not being able to keep up, he can now watch them without any help, truly enjoying every moment that he shares with them.

Bruce said, “Through my transplant, recuperation and everything I’ve gone through, my family has been so supportive. My wife and kids were right there next to me through it all.  They’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I just feel grateful for my donor and for having the chance to be with my family.  My kids have become major advocates for donation, telling my story whenever they can.”

On the other side of donation is father, Gabe Archangelo II, whose daughter, Gabrielle, received a liver transplant at just 13 months old. When Gabrielle was born, she weighed only 4 pounds 15 ounces.  She was severely jaundiced and her parents suspected that something was wrong.  After three months of not gaining weight and being lethargic, the pediatrician diagnosed Gabrielle with biliary atresia, a rare disease of the liver and bile ducts that occurs in infants and causes cirrhosis. Although she had a reparative surgery, it was only a temporary fix.  She would need a liver transplant.

Archangelo Family, Eve and Gabrielle recipsShe was added to the organ transplant waitlist at seven months old, and would wait six months until she received the gift of life. During her wait, she had excessive skin irritation, her eyes were yellowish-green, her stomach was distended and her parents had to feed her through a tube.  Then, they received the phone call that saved their baby’s life.

Only 12 hours after her surgery, Gabe knew that there was hope when he saw Gabrielle’s eyes. They had completely cleared up.  For the first time in over a year, her eyes were no longer yellow.

“All that I knew was that Gabrielle’s donor was a two year old from Texas who passed away in a car crash – and that the family chose for their son to be an organ donor, saving my daughter’s life.” said Gabe.

Then, a random thing happened, proving just how small the world is. Gabe’s father began dating a woman who had family in Texas.  He told his girlfriend about his granddaughter’s transplant and she said that her niece had been through a terrible accident, where her husband and 2 year old son had passed away.  As the pieces of the story came together, the Archangelo’s realized that this was in fact the same family that so generously said “yes” to organ donation.  Soon after, the two families began communicating and arranged to meet.

Today, Gabrielle is a college graduate and a nurse at Wilmington Hospital. And, the Archangelo family has become close to the donor family who saved Gabrielle’s life, taking vacations together and creating a lifelong bond.

“This Father’s Day – and every day – I just cherish every minute that I have with Gabrielle.” said Gabe. “I’m so proud of her – graduating college, giving back to society and helping people through being a nurse. For all that she has been through, we are grateful for every day that we have with her.  Everything she has done in life was an extra big deal for us.  We were at every softball game and swim meet.  It didn’t matter if she did well or her team won, we were just so in awe that she was able to do all of it.”

Gabrielle gives back as much as she can. She visits Nemours/AI duPont Hospital for Children often and talks to children who are waiting for transplants to show them how far she has come.  She gives them hope when they see how healthy she is.

“We’ve just have so much fun together as a family – from going to amusement parks to vacations, to enjoying the annual Italian Fest – we’ve been very fortunate.” said Gabe.

It only takes 30 seconds to register as an organ and tissue donor at donors1.org. Just one donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 50 people through organ and tissue donation.

Local Grandfather Grateful for Organ Donation

June 19th, 2015

This Father’s Day, Marlton resident John Browne, has a big reason to be grateful. This year marks his ten year anniversary since receiving a life-saving liver transplant.  John and his wife, Pat, have two sons, Tim and Greg.  Their sons are now adults with children of their own, and live in Atlanta, GA and Philadelphia.  In 2003, John wasn’t sure if he would survive to see his grandchildren be born and grow.

John Browne Family

He was diagnosed with bile duct cancer in 2003, a very serious and rare form of cancer. After receiving radiation therapy, doctors told John that he would need a liver transplant to survive.  He was listed on the organ transplant waitlist, and then his wait began.

The prospect of waiting was a frightening one. In Gift of Life Donor Program’s region (eastern PA, southern NJ and DE), there are more than 6,100 people who are waiting for an organ transplant.  Currently, 21 people die each day while waiting in the United States. John was justified in worrying that his second chance at life may never come.  And then, he received the phone call that saved his life – there was a liver available for him.

“I waited for two years for a liver transplant. My son, Greg, and his wife, Elizabeth, were expecting their first child (Alex) – and my first grandchild – when I was sick.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t live to meet him.” said John.  “When Alex was born, I was still waiting and was unable to go to Atlanta to visit him.  It was very hard.  My son, Tim, took care of me while my wife was in Atlanta, and I became increasingly ill and had to be rushed to the hospital.”

Today, life is much different for John. He is active and healthy and is the proud grandfather of three grandchildren.  “I am just so grateful for my donor, Sue.  She is my hero.  Without her, I would not be here today.  She was able to save two people by donating her kidneys and liver.  We had many similarities – Sue was a grandmother, and we were both married for 38 years when she passed away.” John said.

“After my transplant, I took everyone on a big vacation. I still have family in Ireland, so that’s where we decided to go.  We also visited relatives in England.” he said.  “For my 70th birthday, my family came from Ireland and England for a family reunion.  There were over 50 Browne family members there – kids, grandkids, everyone.  It was so amazing to see all of them together – especially at such a happy time, instead of a sad one.”

Several months post-transplant, John decided to give back. “When I was sick, so many people helped me and took care of me.  Now, I’m healthy and it’s my turn to give back.” he said.  John volunteers with Gift of Life Donor Program, the region’s organ procurement organization that coordinates transplants in the region.  He speaks at local schools, health fairs and community events, sharing his story and inspiring people to save lives by registering as an organ and tissue donor.  He also is a driver for Gift of Life Family House, a “home away from home” for transplant patients and their families receiving care in the Philadelphia area.  He drives a Family House van and takes patients to doctor appointments.

His sons have also become supporters of organ donation. “They are both advocates of donation because they saw all that I went through.  They talk to their friends about registering and share my story, and my son, Tim, has helped with Gift of Life’s Donor Dash for many years.” John said.

Harrisburg Father of Three Waits for Kidney Transplant

June 19th, 2015

After a year of living with chronic kidney disease and waiting for a transplant, Harrisburg father of three, Lukeman Harvey, is ready to get his life back.

Harvey Family

Lukeman began experiencing issues in June 2014 when he woke up in the middle of the night and was unable to breath. At first, doctors believed that he had respiratory issues and heart failure.  But after numerous tests, they discovered that he was in kidney failure, which was putting significant stress on his other organs.  After being released from the hospital, Lukeman was faced with the grim prospect of undergoing dialysis for nearly 15 hours a week to keep him alive.

A year ago, Lukeman was a healthy 37 year old man. He’s married with three young boys – Jackson, 11, Gabriel, 8 and Elias, 4.  He played basketball and softball, and loved to wrestle and play outside with his children.  He was a branch manager at a local bank, and life was good.

“My boys play kickball and baseball and I have always played with them. Now, after 20 minutes, I have no energy for the rest of the day.” Lukeman said.  “I just can’t keep up anymore.  We used to wrestle all the time and have fun as a family.  It’s tough to hear them laughing in the next room when I am too weak to participate.”

Currently, Lukeman is doing dialysis in his home and is facing many of the challenges that come along with the life-sustaining treatment. He has cramping, swelling, pressure and often sleeps all day, due to exhaustion.

Despite his illness, Lukeman is optimistic. His wife and a fellow congregation member at his church have both been tested and are potential candidates to donate a kidney.  His life-saving gift may arrive as soon as late summer or early fall.

“I feel like I’ve missed so much of my boys’ lives this past year. I’ve missed their games, going to amusement parks and just being able to spend time with them.” he said.  “My oldest son understands that I’m sick and has really stepped up around the house by helping his mother.”  Lukeman’s pride as a father is evident when hearing him talk about the struggles that his family has faced and how supportive they have been.

Lukeman is one of more than 6,100 people waiting for a second chance at life in Gift of Life Donor Program’s region – eastern PA, southern NJ and DE. Every day in the United States, 21 people die while waiting.  These harsh statistics are not just numbers.  They represent thousands of individuals who are sick and waiting – like Lukeman.

He said, “Those who are waiting for a transplant are suffering quietly. If others understood the pain and exhaustion of this disease, I believe that they would register to be donors.  I know people who have been waiting years for a kidney transplant.  It’s a really tough place to be.  I hope that everyone understands the positive impact that they can have by registering to be a donor.”

It only takes 30 seconds to register as an organ and tissue donor at donors1.org. Just one donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 50 people through organ and tissue donation.

“We love Camp Jeremy!”

June 5th, 2015

We asked the Schrader Family what they love about Camp Jeremy (coming up July 13 – 17) at Mermaid Country Day Camp.  Luke, the middle child, received a life-saving liver transplant in 2011.  This is the Schrader Family’s third year attending Camp Jeremy.

Camp Jeremy is a week-long day camp in Blue Bell, PA, that offers children who have undergone a life-saving organ transplant and their siblings an opportunity to make friends with kids just like them.

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“I like Camp Jeremy because I get to learn about other kids transplants.   I like knowing about other transplant, not just Luke’s liver transplant.   I can’t wait to meet some new kids and see my transplant friends this summer. ” Victoria Schrader

 

 

 

“I like to play fun games with other transplant kids and their siblings.  It makes me feel happy.  I am looking forward to going to Arnold’s!” Luke Schrader

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“I think the counsellors are very nice.   There are many fun things to do.  I am excited to do archery again this year.” Shane Schrader

 

“Camp Jeremy is an amazing experience for my children!  They get to spend time with other families that have similar health situations as ours.   Just knowing that my kids can create bonds of friendships with children that have gone through the same struggles as our family is great.   They talk about their Camp Jeremy Friends all year long.   They can’t wait to see everyone come summer time!” Diana Schrader, Mom

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What do you think of this Argentinean organ donation PSA?

May 26th, 2015

The video below is a PSA that has aired in Argentina to promote their liver transplant foundation.

The video features an elderly man and “man’s best friend.”  The ad is clearly meant to attract viewers with the “cute” factor, but do you think it achieves the goal of registering new organ and tissue donors?

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

A Mother’s Love – the Gift of Living Donation

May 8th, 2015

There is nothing comparable to a mother’s love. It’s selfless, always giving and comforting.  But for three local mothers, Julia Moeller, of Lafayette Hills, Jen Lambert, of Lawrenceville, NJ, and Christie Voelker, from Norristown, PA, their generosity was put to the ultimate test when each of them received the news their child was diagnosed with biliary atresia and would need a life-saving organ transplant.

Biliary atresia is a rare disease of the liver and bile ducts that occurs in infants.

Julie and Jade Moeller

Moeller Family

Jade was diagnosed with biliary atresia in 2014.  After that, things moved quickly. Jade was diagnosed with the liver disease biliary atresia, and her family was told that she would need a liver transplant to survive.  In the ICU, Jade had a seizure – making it all too clear that her health was rapidly deteriorating.  They learned about the organ transplant waitlist, and realized how scary the prospect would be to watch Jade fade away before their eyes, while waiting for a second chance at life.  The Moeller family sprang into action and decided that they would be tested to see if they could be living donors.  Living donation is an option for those in need of a kidney or a liver transplant.

Jade’s father, Tim, wasn’t a match. “After two C-sections and going through so much watching Jade be sick, the thought of another surgery was the last thing I wanted to have.  But there was no choice.  I just wanted her to be okay,” said Julia.  “I was tested and I was a match. Going into surgery, I wasn’t even scared.  I knew this was what I had to do.”

Within 48 hours after the surgery, the yellow tint of Jade’s skin and eyes was gone. She had some complications after her surgery – there was gastrointestinal bleeding and one side of her diaphragm was paralyzed – but her health was improving and she was getting stronger every day.

Still being fed through a tube and on a breathing machine, Jade was able to go home after months in the hospital. Today, it’s quite clear that she is a resilient little girl.  She is off of all machines, has caught up to all physical and mental milestones for her age and brings joy to her mother, father, brother Zachary and just about everyone she meets.

Jade is a fighter and just turned 15 months. She’s alive today because of her mother’s love.  “She is the most amazing little girl,” said Julia.  “I don’t feel like I did something special.  Helping her was something that I had to do.  She’s my baby and it’s what a mom does.”

Jen Lambert and Liam Barnosky

Jen Lambert and Liam Barnosky

When Liam was diagnosed with biliary atresia, he had jaundice that persisted for nearly seven weeks. His twin, Finn, wasn’t born with liver disease, and Jen could see how Liam’s health was suffering in comparison to his brothers. After a trip to their pediatrician and many tests later, they were told to take Liam to the emergency room.

Things began to move quickly. After Liam was diagnosed, doctor’s decided to try to do a reparative surgery that they believed would prolong his life. It was only a temporary fix though. The first surgery did help him for several years, but he became ill again and was listed for a liver transplant at 3 and a half years old.  Liam had developed cirrhosis and had a chronic infection.  He was in desperate need of a life-saving liver transplant and couldn’t wait. The family learned about the organ transplant waitlist, and realized how scary the waiting would be. Would he be able to receive a new liver?  Would that call ever come through? They couldn’t sit back and watch Liam’s health fade away before their eyes, while he waited for a second chance at life.

After several months and extensive testing, it was determined that Jen was a match and she prepared for surgery. Liam had a liver transplant on June 20, 2012 and the surgery was successful!  Within a week, Jen was up and walking around post-op and out of the hospital.  Liam was doing great, and has continued to do so for the past few years.

Now at almost seven years old, Liam is an active boy. He plays soccer and tennis and loves them both.  Today, he has no restrictions and is a normal healthy boy.  Jen said, “We try to talk everyone we can about Liam’s experience to highlight the importance of organ donation.  When they see Liam – happy and healthy – I think it helps them understand the significance of it.”

Christie and Alex Voelker

Voelker Family

Alex was diagnosed with biliary atresia in 2012. Christie knew that something was wrong with Alex soon after she brought him home from the hospital. His eyes were yellow and even after five weeks, he was not eating enough.  After a trip to their pediatrician and many tests later, they were told to take him to the emergency room.  They moved into action.

Christie’s husband didn’t have the same blood type as their son, so Christie decided to get tested too. She was a match and prepared for surgery. The transplant was a success, but Alex suffered a stroke during the surgery.  As he healed, the Voelker family was unclear if he would have cognitive delays and if he would fully come around.

Today, Alex’s recovery has impressed everyone who knows him. He’s gained weight and has grown a lot post-transplant. “People are shocked when they see him.  He’s smart and outgoing and you would never know what he went through,” said his mother Christie.  “He’s just doing amazing.  He has friends and can play like everyone else now.  He is such a fighter – even as a baby, he was not going to give up,” she said.

Christie has also found a supportive community through creating a Facebook page for Alex called Team Alex. “It’s been amazing to connect with other people who have gone through this.  I can share pictures of Alex and show how successful his transplant was,” Christie said. “People are inspired by his story.  I tell people about it and they get emotional.  It makes them realize the importance of organ donation.”

 
 

© Gift of Life Donor Program, 401 North 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123
    800-DONORS-1 / 800-KIDNEY-1

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