Second Chance Blog

 

Thankful for the Gift of Life: Lung Transplant Recipient Brian Ziont-Bernstein

February 21st, 2017

At 35, Coopersburg, PA resident, Brian Ziont-Bernstein, realized something was wrong when he was hiking with his son and his Boy Scout troop.  He couldn’t keep up.  He had to keep drinking water and taking breaks to catch his breath.  He had a dry and persistent cough, which he thought could be from an upper respiratory infection.

After a visit to his family doctor, he was told that his volume output from his lungs was low, and that he needed to go to a specialist.   He learned that he had scar tissue in his lungs that was preventing them from expanding properly.  After months of waiting to see if it would clear, he had a biopsy and received somber news – he was diagnosed with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a chronic and often fatal disease characterized by a progressive decline in lung function.

“My wife and I were devastated.” said Brian.  “We found out that in the near future, a lung transplant was going to be my only option. I was on medication so the progression of the disease was slowed down. Then in 2013, there was a significant decline in my lung function and i started to have a lot of shortness of breath.” he said.  Everything became a challenge – the steps at work, walking up hills and he was faced with extreme exhaustion that required him to take power naps in his car just to get through the work day.

He was put on oxygen and it gave him some relief, but his health was suffering.  His doctor told him that it was time to be evaluated for a lung transplant.  He went through the extensive testing to be added to the organ transplant waitlist, and then the wait began.

“I waited for three months and one week.” Brian said.  “I had to go through pulmonary rehab to keep fit and stay eligible for the transplant.  It was hard and frustrating.  I was on oxygen and tethered to a 50 foot hose constantly.  I’d be at work and sitting at my desk and would have to make sure my hose could make it to the conference room if I had a meeting.” he said.

When Brian received the call that there was a donor who was a match, he said that he was scared, excited and had a whirlwind of emotions.  After several hours of waiting and ten hours of surgery, Brian had a healthy, new pair of lugs because of the generosity of someone he never met.

Throughout his transplantation journey, Brian’s family was by his side.  His wife, Kym, was his advocate during his challenging battle, and was there when he came out of surgery.  “I had a tracheotomy and couldn’t talk, but when I opened my eyes I mouthed to my wife ‘I love you.’” he said. Brian was discharged six weeks later and had to use a walker until he built up strength.  “I walked progressively more and more every day.” he said.  “There was such a big difference after my transplant, and breathing without oxygen was amazing.  I started walking two miles per day again in my pulmonary rehab, and it was a big achievement.  Now, I feel good.  I can walk hills and my son, Sam, walks with me sometimes.” said Brian.

“I wrote to my donor’s family and said ‘thank you,’ even though that it doesn’t seem like enough.  I’m doing everything I can to take care of my lungs in honor of them.  There are no words to say how my family and I feel.  We are so grateful.  I volunteer with Gift of Life and try to give back.  I’m inspired to spread the word about organ donation, and I hope my story moves people to register.” said Brian.

In the United States, an average of 22 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. In Gift of Life Donor Program’s region more than 5,500 people are waiting, and nationally over 118,000 men, women and children are on the waitlist. Through increasing awareness and education about donation and transplantation, more lives can be saved.  You can help!  For more information about organ and tissue donation or to register today, visit donors1.org.  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

Tissue Recipient’s Life Restored After 20 Years of Pain

February 17th, 2017

Tissue recipient Kenneth Williams suffered for nearly 20 years with debilitating back pain from an old weight lifting injury. The 57-year-old retired aircraft engineer has battled degenerative disk disease in his back, leaving him unable to brush his teeth, comb his hair, or roll over in bed without pain. “It was like someone had a chisel in my back and was constantly hitting it with a hammer,” said Kenneth who lives in Southern California.

Due to the gift he received from organ and tissue donor, Jason Ray, Kenneth now lives pain free. Jason was the University of North Carolina’s basketball team mascot. He was killed when he was struck by a car in New Jersey in March of 2007 while attending a basketball tournament. Kenneth required a surgical procedure on his back that required donated tissue. “Jason’s spirit lives on through people like me,” stated the father of five and grandfather of six.

Simple tasks like driving, sitting or standing for more than 15 minutes at a time, traveling on an airplane, and taking walks on the beach with his wife are now possible without pain for Kenneth. “I have my life back. My wife can tell you, I became withdrawn due to my pain. Now she says I’m back to the way I used to be.”

When friends and family hear Kenneth’s story, they think about becoming donors too. “So many people I know are now considering donation because they see the way I was helped by it.”

Heart Transplant Recipient Expresses Gratitude for Second Chance

February 15th, 2017

This Valentine’s Day, Exton, PA resident, Wanda Griffith, has a lot to be grateful for.  When many people are excited to indulge in the holiday by giving and receiving cards and flowers – Wanda is celebrating receiving the greatest gift of all – a new heart.   

Far left Tom (birth son) holding Harleigh, Gary (top left) my husband, Me center, bottom left is Rachael (Daughter in Law) Top Right is Shawn (Step Son) Far center Right is Kelsey (daughter) Bottom center is Payton and bottom right is Liam.

“It’s very hard as a recipient to express my gratitude.  Talking about my story helps me feel like I’m spreading the joy and opening someone else’s eyes about donation.  It’s hard to put into words how grateful I am.  I don’t know my donor’s family, but I made a resolution this year to share my story and get involved to pay their gift forward.” said Wanda.

At 29, Wanda was diagnosed with heart disease.  She didn’t let it stop her though.  She loved being with her family and friends, going out dancing and just having fun.  She embraced life and enjoyed being a mother and having a family of her own.

Then one day everything changed.  She dropped her daughter off at daycare and was driving to work when she came to a stoplight. She felt like she couldn’t breathe and knew something was wrong. She was at a crossroads.  Making a left hand turn would take her to work.  The hospital was to the right.  She turned right and it saved her life. She had congestive heart failure, and doctors told her that she would have died if she didn’t get to the hospital when she did.  She spent two weeks in the hospital, was stabilized and was blessed with 15 years of health.

As her heart aged, it began to weaken.  She had a pacemaker implanted in her mid-40s, and the defibrillator went off twice.  She was evaluated and was a good candidate for a heart transplant.  She waited for a month and then – because of a donor and donor family’s generosity – she was given a second chance at life.

“I had been so exhausted before my transplant, that I couldn’t even walk five steps.  I was very limited, but I pushed myself for my daughter’s sake and never missed a lacrosse game or band concert that she was in.” said Wanda.  “Today, I can run, dance and walk 5ks!  I have so much energy and have been lucky to have no issues since my transplant.  I’ve been able to do things – like meet my son who had been adopted.  He has three children, and I immediately became a grandmother.  Him and his adoptive family welcomed me with open arms.” she said.

Wanda said, “I realize that I have a new chance at life.  I have so much gratitude.  It’s so big and has given me so much hope. For my donor family, they had a tragic event that I can never repay.  I think about my donor and donor family every day, and their decision that saved my life.  I’ve changed as a person since my transplant.  I feel so positive and grateful.  I’ve let any negativity go.”

In the United States, an average of 22 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. In Gift of Life Donor Program’s region – the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – there are more than 5,500 people waiting, and nationally over 118,000 men, women and children are on the waitlist. Through increasing awareness and education about donation and transplantation, more lives can be saved.

Since 1974, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 42,000 organ transplants and an estimated 600,000 tissue transplants. You can help!  For more information about organ and tissue donation or to register today, visit donors1.org.  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

Heart Transplant Recipient Gets Life Back After Receiving Gift of Life

February 2nd, 2017

This story is part of our Black History Month Profiles, aimed at highlighting the stories of extraordinary African Americans in our region.

Randolph Rahming has always been an athlete.  His love of track and field dominated much of his life.  Nearly every day, the Bahamas native ran three to five miles to stay healthy.  Randolph, who currently lives in Philadelphia, saw many of his family members suffer from heart disease, and wanted to keep his heart as strong as possible, for as long as possible.

Randolph and his wife LaShonda.

Randolph’s mother died at 61 from heart disease.  His 35-year-old-brother also passed away from the genetic heart mutation.  In total, nearly ten of his close relatives were affected by heart issues, which encouraged him to stay fit and get regular checkups.

He successfully maintained his health until his late 30s, when doctors noticed during a routine checkup that his heart was larger than normal, and that his heart rate was low.  Randolph believed that these symptoms were due to his strenuous workouts, but doctors were more concerned.  Shortly after, Randolph needed to have a defibrillator and pacemaker implanted in his chest.

“My heart wasn’t taking well to the pacemaker. I had one episode where I began to feel lightheaded and went outside of my house.” said Randolph. “I figured if I passed out, my neighbors would help me.  My heart rate went up to 210 BPM at one point, and the defibrillator would shock me and reset it.  I had the pacemaker for about ten years and then I was told I’d need a heart transplant.”

In 2014, Randolph started to realize that something was really wrong.  “My heart just gave up.  The doctor told me that I was in heart failure.  I couldn’t walk and wasn’t able to make it up the stairs.” said Randolph.  He spent 29 days in the hospital and went through an exhaustive amount of testing and paperwork.  Several days later, he got the good news – he would get a second chance at life.  A matching donor heart was available for him.

“My life after my transplant was like night to day. Getting a heart transplant was like walking out of the fog and coming into the sunlight.” Randolph said.  “They don’t give transplants to people who aren’t serious about it.  They knew I was committed to taking care of myself.  I don’t drink, smoke or eat animal products.  I try to be a good recipient.” he said.

Randolph’s gratitude is abundant.  He said, “My donor gave me a new lease on life.  This second chance that I’ve been given is very important to me.  It is such a tragedy for the donor’s family and I can’t imagine what they’ve gone through. My donor has given me my life back and I feel blessed.  It’s a beautiful thing that my donor was able to give me.” Today, Randolph said that he doesn’t have any limitations and takes very few medications. He’s a devoted father and has energy that allows him to live the life he wants to.

During Black History Month, Gift of Life is promoting the stories of African Americans in the region, like Randolph, who are organ transplant recipients, individuals waiting for organ transplants, or donor family members. In the United States, an average of 22 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. In Gift of Life’s region – the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – there are more than 5,500 people waiting, and nationally over 118,000 men, women and children are on the waitlist – 30 percent of whom are African American. Through increasing awareness and education about donation and transplantation, more lives can be saved.

Since 1974, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 42,000 organ transplants and an estimated 600,000 tissue transplants. You can help!  For more information about organ and tissue donation or to register today, visit donors1.org.  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

Local Woman Gets Life Back After Four Life-Saving Organ Transplants

February 2nd, 2017

This story is part of our Black History Month Profiles, aimed at highlighting the stories of extraordinary African Americans in our region.

Philadelphia resident, Ramona Howard, was active throughout her life.  She served eight years in the U.S. Army as a Chemical Operations Specialist, and earned the honorable rank of Sergeant.  After nearly a decade of service to her country, she became a surgical scrub nurse, a career that she loved and was devoted to for more than 20 years.

In her late 30s, she noticed that she was having difficulty assisting in surgery.  Her hands would cramp up and she would suffer from intense pain that made grasping and releasing surgical tools a significant challenge.  At 39, she went to a doctor and was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.  Her joint pain was severe and was affecting her knees, hands, shoulders and hips.

Ramona had a successful career, a loving husband, Jay, and two sons.  She never imagined what would come next for her.  All of my medications had side effects, but they only negatively affected one in a hundred thousand people. Unfortunately, I was the one. My liver had been damaged and it was irreversible.”  Ramona said.  She was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, and after testing was added to the organ transplant waitlist for a new liver.

“I used to weigh about 155 pounds and got down to nearly 80 pounds while I was waiting.  I had muscle wasting and couldn’t walk.” Ramona said.  Her health began to go downhill and her other organs were being affected by her failing liver. Doctors told her that she would also need a pancreas, small bowel and stomach transplant.  For the next two years, Ramona waited and was in and out of the hospital constantly.

After a long and painful wait, Ramona received the call that she had been desperately waiting for – she would get a second chance at life.  There was a matching donor.  “After my transplant, it took me over five months in the hospital to recover.  I left the hospital with newly transplanted organs and had my spleen removed.” Ramona said.

These last three years have made a world of difference in Ramona’s life.  She has become a dedicated volunteer with Gift of Life Donor Program.  She has even been able to travel with her husband, going to the Caribbean and visiting destinations across the United States.  Whether it’s going to see musicals, movies, spending time with her loved ones or indulging her creative talents in baking and cake decorating – Ramona is healthy, happy and forever grateful to her donor and donor family for saying “yes” to donation.

She said, “It takes a really strong person to make such a generous decision about organ donation, especially when they are faced with so much grief.  Without my donor, I would have never had a chance to see my sons graduate from high school and college.  I didn’t think I had a future, and this year, Jay and I will celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary.”

During Black History Month, Gift of Life is promoting the stories of African Americans in the region, like Ramona, who are organ transplant recipients, individuals waiting for organ transplants, or donor family members. In the United States, 22 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. In Gift of Life’s region – the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – there are more than 5,500 people waiting, and nationally over 118,000 men, women and children are on the waitlist – 30 percent of whom are African American. Through increasing awareness and education about donation and transplantation, more lives can be saved.

Since 1974, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 42,000 organ transplants and an estimated 600,000 tissue transplants. You can help!  For more information about organ and tissue donation or to register today, visit donors1.org.  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

High School Senior Returned to Soccer Field After Life-Saving Heart Transplant

December 27th, 2016

“Joe Mansaray said that not a day passes without him wondering whose heart beats inside his chest.” – PennLive [Read full article here.]

After Joe Mansaray received the gift of a life-saving heart transplant, he said he began to feel like a teenager again.  The high school senior and soccer star had to give up sports and much more as he relied on an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) to keep him alive through months of testing and medical appointments while waiting for a heart to become available.

Joe was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardio myopathy after his sophomore year of high school.  This same disease also affected his mother, who received a heart transplant, but then passed away due to complications.  Just three months later, Joe had his transplant.

“I was really scared,” he told Gift of Life staff at our annual Thanks for Giving event.

Joe’s recovery took a lot of time and hard work, but throughout it all he focused on his goal of returning to the soccer field. Just prior to the start of his senior year, he was cleared to play, and he quickly got back his starting position and nickname of “the Blur.” He continues to do well and plans to attend college next fall.

“I’m very grateful,” he said.

 
 

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

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