Second Chance Blog

 

A Mother’s Love: Giving the Gift of Life

May 6th, 2016

There is nothing comparable to a mother’s love.  It’s selfless, always giving and comforting.  But for Tiffany Kuzmick, from Garnett Valley, PA, her generosity was put to the ultimate test when her daughter, Emma, was diagnosed with biliary atresia.

Tiffany and her family

At six weeks old, Tiffany took Emma to her pediatrician because she had jaundice.  After having her liver functions checked, it was clear that something was wrong.  She had a surgical treatment, but it was only a temporary fix.  After a ten-day hospital stay, she was able to come home.  Because Emma was failing to thrive, she needed to have a feeding tube to ensure that she had a sufficient amount of nutrition.

As a small child, Emma had experienced a whirlwind of testing, surgeries, illness and long hospital stays. “On a good day, you would never have known that she was sick.” said Tiffany.  “But she was.  In just a few years, she was in the hospital for more than 100 nights. We were lucky to have such a strong support system with our family and friends.  It allowed me to focus on Emma.  I wanted my baby to thrive.” she said.

Due to Emma’s decreasing liver function and deteriorating health, she was added to the organ transplant waitlist – which didn’t provide much comfort to her family.  Currently in the U.S., an average of21 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving organ transplant that never comes.  There are over 5,700 men, women and children waiting for an organ transplant in the region, and over 121,000 nationally.  These statistics are frightening. Tiffany knew that there was no guarantee that Emma would receive a second chance at life, so she moved into action.  She began the extensive testing to see if she was a match for Emma, and if she could be a living donor.

“After five weeks of testing, I found out that I was a match.  Emma was only three at this time, and I had my son Ben, who was one.  It was a lot to juggle – me having the surgery and Emma recovering too.  We had calendars to manage everyone’s schedule and my husband was really amazing during that time.” said Tiffany.  “It got to a point where I felt like ‘Take whatever you need from me.  Just make Emma better.’”

Although it was difficult for Tiffany to not be able to care for Emma after they both had surgery because of her own recovery, she felt grateful that she was able to save her daughter’s life.  “Before Emma’s transplant, she was really sick.  Her ammonia levels were very high, and she had bleeding episodes and blood transfusions. After recovering, we never looked back.  She was able to live an active life and had an appetite for the first time.” Tiffany said.

Today, Emma is a healthy seven-year-old-girl.  “She’s a miracle.  She takes one medicine, twice a day and is able to do gymnastics and dance – which she loves.  She’s a great big sister and is a happy little girl.  I feel blessed that I was able to give her life two times.  Not every mother can say that.” she said.

  

About Gift of Life Donor Program: Since 1974, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 42,000 organ transplants and an estimated 600,000 tissue transplants. Gift of Life’s service area includes nearly 11 million people, and in 2015 the organization coordinated over 44 organ donors-per-million-population – ranking it among the highest in the world. One organ and tissue donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 50 people.  For more information about organ and tissue donation or to register today, visit donors1.org.  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

Honoring Mothers: Manchester, PA Mother Waiting for a Second Chance at Life

May 6th, 2016

Most mothers are happy to be given flowers or just spend time with their children on Mother’s Day.  For one Manchester, PA mother, Sheila Beichner, she will receive more than a gift next week – she’ll get a second chance at life.

Sheila was healthy for most of her life.  At 27, she started having recurring urinary tract infections and went to the doctor to find out what was going on.  She was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, but was told by her doctor that she had one of the least aggressive forms of the disease.  She didn’t have any major symptoms for nearly a decade.

Sheila and Kyle

Then at age 37, her health began to significantly decline.  Her kidney function decreased, and she started to experience muscle spasms, cramping and excessive water retention in her legs, ankles, hands and feet.  Her issues progressed quickly, until she reached stage four kidney failure and had to be listed for a life-saving kidney transplant.

She knew that the wait for a new kidney could be a long and painful road.  Many people wait years for a kidney transplant, and currently 21 people (on average) die each day in the U.S. while waiting.  She relied on her faith and church for support, and found a group for individuals who are going through severe illness. The group, led by Lisa Little, RN, gave Sheila hope during her challenging struggles with her failing health.   

At one point, Sheila and her son spoke to their congregation about her need for a kidney transplant.  As she desperately waited for a phone call telling her that a kidney was available, she also shared her story in hopes that a living donor would come forward.  Twelve people were tested in an effort to save Sheila’s life through living donation.  Even her support group organizer, Lisa, was tested.  Then something amazing happened.

“When I found out that Lisa was a match and wanted to be my donor, I was in awe.” said Sheila. “It’s such a selfless and heroic act. I am filled with gratitude for her. We’re going to do the surgery on May 13th.  I still can’t believe it.”

Sheila has gone through a very dark period in her life while dealing with her illness, and she is anxiously awaiting her transplant. As Mother’s Day approaches, she is looking forward to having her health back, and is grateful to have more time with her son Kyle, who is now 14.

“When I spoke in front of my church to discuss my need for a transplant, I asked Kyle to stand with me.  I wanted him to see how important it is to be supportive and to show compassion.  I also took him to the support group with me.  I think he gets it – life has ups and downs.” she said.

Sheila spoke about her mother as well.  “My mother will be my caretaker after my transplant.  She is the type of person who would do anything for others.  She’s really helped me while I’ve been sick – cooking, cleaning and taking me to appointments. She’s a very positive person.” said Sheila.  “I hope that everyone registers as an organ donor.  You can save a person’s life.  I can’t imagine a greater thing to do for someone.”

About Gift of Life Donor Program: Since 1974, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 42,000 organ transplants and an estimated 600,000 tissue transplants. Gift of Life’s service area includes nearly 11 million people, and in 2015 the organization coordinated over 44 organ donors-per-million-population – ranking it among the highest in the world. One organ and tissue donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 50 people.  For more information about organ and tissue donation or to register today, visit donors1.org.  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

Milford, DE Mother Heals through Daughter’s Organ Donation

May 5th, 2016

For firefighter and EMT, Laura Mallow, one of the hardest challenges she ever faced was not being able to save her 17-year-old daughter, Brittney Ford.  In December 2014, Laura was at the fire station decorating fire trucks for Christmas when she heard a dispatcher announce an accident.  A pedestrian was struck by a vehicle – and they gave Laura’s home address. FB_IMG_1462284899633

“I knew it was Brittney.” said Laura. “I asked a co-worker to drive me to the hospital, and doctors said that she had no broken bones and thought she would come out of it.  I knew something was wrong.  And the next morning, she still hadn’t come to.”

The driver who had hit Brittney was her younger sister’s boyfriend – and her sister was in the car.  It was a tragic accident.  After hours of waiting and testing, Brittney’s family was told that she had sustained a traumatic injury, and that the blood had been cut off from her brain, causing her to have a stroke on both sides of her brain.

Brittney was pronounced brain dead, and Laura immediately thought to contact Gift of Life.  As an EMT, Laura has helped transport many individuals to the hospital to be transplanted.  She understood how sick people on the waitlist are, and how much someone saying ‘yes’ to donation could help.  “The best decision that I ever made was reaching out to Gift of Life. I had to make some good out of this tragedy.  My daughter was gone, but I thought why not give life to someone else.” Laura said.

Laura wasn’t the only person in her family who was a fire fighter.  It was also a passion that Brittney shared.  At just 17, she knew she wanted to devote her life to helping others.  She was committed to firefighting, and received a junior fire fighters award, which has now been renamed the Brittney Ford Award in her honor. Not many people can say that they reached their life’s goals by the age of 17, but Brittney did. “She was able to be an organ and tissue donor and saved the lives of five people. I felt a sense of hope knowing that so many people were able to be helped by Brittney’s gifts.” said her mother.

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This Mother’s Day, Gift of Life is celebrating the generosity and selflessness of mothers – like Laura – who made the decision for their loved one to be a donor.  Even in the midst of Laura’s most painful moment in life, she chose to help others through organ and tissue donation.

Brittney was very involved in her local community, and there was an outpouring of support after her death.  Her funeral had to be held over two days to accommodate the more than 2,000 people who came to pay their respects.  Today, Laura still grieves the loss of her daughter, but is able to find hope through Brittney’s legacy of caring. She finds great comfort knowing that Brittney’s recipients are healthy and living full lives.

“Through Gift of Life, we’ve been able to write to some of her recipients.  We’ve even met one, Natalie, who received one of Brittney’s kidneys. We’ve formed a strong bond with her and her family, and it brings a smile to my face to know she is doing well. Words cannot explain the joy that brings to my broken heart.” she said.  “We’ve heard from all but one of her recipients. To hear the stories and understand just how sick they were – and that my daughter is responsible for saving their lives – is just amazing. Brittney is our hero and we are so proud of the impact that she has had. Her recipients will always have a space in our hearts and in our lives!”

FB_IMG_1462284071766Laura and her family created a fire camp, called Camp Bruiser, in Brittney’s honor.  Laura described Brittney as a rough and tumble girl, which is where the name came from.  Camp Bruiser is the first fire camp in Delaware, and educates 14-17 year olds about becoming a fire fighter.  More information is available on Facebook through the Brittney Lynn Ford Memory Page and Camp Bruiser.

About Gift of Life Donor Program: Since 1974, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 40,000 organ transplants and an estimated 600,000 tissue transplants. Gift of Life’s service area includes nearly 11 million people, and in 2015 the organization coordinated over 44 organ donors-per-million-population – ranking it among the highest in the world. For more information about organ and tissue donation or to register today, visit donors1.org.  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

Three Local Women Share Special Bond, 25 Years after Receiving Organ Transplants

April 29th, 2016

National Donate Life Month is celebrated in April to raise awareness about the more than 121,000 men, women and children in the U.S. who are awaiting a life-saving organ transplant.  Registering as an organ and tissue donor is a heroic and selfless decision.  It’s a choice that changes and saves lives, impacting not only the individual in need of a transplant, but their families and the community as a whole.

Over 25 years ago, Gabrielle Archangelo (Wilmington, DE), Joelle Atkinson (Franklinville, NJ) and Gabrielle Steiger (Philadelphia, PA) were fortunate to receive a second chance at life – life-saving organ transplants. Today, all three women are in their late 20s and living life to the fullest.  Throughout the years, these women have become good friends and have shared many of the same life experiences.  Although they have all gone on to create active and full lives, their one common thread – transplantation – still bonds them together.

gabbi aGabrielle Archangelo received a liver transplant at just 13 months old.  When she was born, she weighed only 4 pounds 15 ounces, and was severely jaundiced. 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.

She 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, her family knew that there was hope when they saw Gabrielle’s eyes.  They had completely cleared up.  For the first time in over a year, her eyes were no longer yellow.

“The transplant has allowed me to live my life to the fullest.” said Gabrielle. “Over the past twenty-five years, my family and I have worked to raise awareness about donation and share my story. I have spoken at many health care events, visited transplanted children in hospitals and presented to the state legislation. My mother, Eve, is also the recipient of three life-saving transplants. Giving back is at the center of our family.” she said.

Because of the incredible care that Gabrielle received as a child, she was inspired to pursue a career in nursing. “I hope that I can make a positive impact on the people I help.” she said. “I am currently working as a registered nurse on a medical-surgical floor, and am hoping to advance my career and earn a MSN.  All of this could not have been possible without my donor’s mother making the powerful choice to donate life – during the toughest time of her life.”

Joelle Atkinson was born with Polycystic Kidney Disease, a disease that leads to kidney failure. It was an emotional struggle and joellewait for Joelle’s parents.  As her kidneys began to fail, doctors told her parents that she needed to reach 22 pounds in order to go on dialysis.  After nine months of illness, she finally achieved the necessary weight, had her diseased kidneys removed and went on dialysis. Joelle’s parents were both tested to donate a life-saving kidney to her, and moved forward with the donation process to become living donors.

“I needed a kidney transplant and my parents were both a match for me.  They made the decision for my dad to donate.” said Joelle. “I was lucky to be able to have an active childhood because of him. Growing up, my only restriction was that I couldn’t play contact sports because I had a large kidney on my right side. I thought that I was a normal kid and that everyone went to the doctor all the time.”

After several healthy years with her new kidney, doctors began noticing changes to her liver.  Her severe liver decline was also causing issues with her transplanted kidney.  She was only nine years old, her health was failing and she needed two organ transplants to survive – a kidney and a liver.  She was listed for both transplants and had to wait nine months before her critical need was met.  “Even as a kid, I knew I was really sick this time.” said Joelle.  “I was retaining about 20 pounds of excess fluid and couldn’t even tie my shoes.  I couldn’t go to school.  It was very scary.  I’m grateful that my parents were able to be such a huge support for me.”

After receiving a third chance at life in 1999, Joelle got her life back and was able to focus on being a child again.  Post-transplant, she became a swimmer, continued dance lessons and took up running.  She applied her swimming and running skills at the Donate Life Transplant Games of America, where she competed with other transplant recipients and brought home many medals.  She also formed friendships with other recipients, Gabrielle Archangelo and Gabrielle Steiger, at the Games.  From June 10-15, Joelle will go head-to-head once again with athletes from across the country and compete in the Transplant Games.

“I have amazing friends from the transplant community.” she said.  “I shared a hospital room with Gabrielle (Archangelo), and today we are still best friends.  I’ve always been grateful for all that I’ve been given, even when I was younger.  It’s just crazy that it’s been 25 years. I feel very lucky.”

Today, Joelle is giving back by promoting organ and tissue donation and helping others.  She is healthy and happy post-transplant, and has earned a B.A. and M.A. in occupational therapy.  She is free from illness and makes the most of her gifts by enjoying every day and keeping an upbeat, positive frame of mind.

gab sIn 1988, Gabrielle Steiger was just one year old when her parents took her to her first year check-up.  When doctors said that Gabrielle was suffering from an enlarged liver, her parents were shocked because she appeared to be thriving.  After determining that Gabrielle had liver disease, her parents learned that she would need a liver transplant to survive.

Fortunately, Gabrielle only had to wait a few months before she received the gift of life.  The youngest sibling of four, Gabrielle was able to live a normal life post-transplant.  “My sister remembers us having a ‘Love Your Liver’ coloring book, which is funny.” said Gabrielle. “I was not in a bubble.  I wasn’t treated differently because of my transplant. My family and I became very active in the transplant community – speaking about our experiences often and participating in the Transplant Games.”

Gabrielle has been to the Transplant Games eight times since receiving a liver transplant, and has also participated in the World Transplant Games, bringing home medals and visiting France, Canada, Thailand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Sweden.

“I’ve always loved to travel and the World Games was a great excuse to see different countries while supporting donation.  All of my experiences with transplantation have opened doors for me that I never dreamed were imaginable.” she said.

Gabrielle graduated from Penn State University with a degree in International Relations, and later went on to teach English in Hungary and Slovakia.  She also lived in Israel for a year to volunteer. After returning to the U.S., she completed a Master’s in Public Policy and began her job as a Government Contractor in Washington, DC, which she still holds today.

“It’s unbelievable to me that it has been more than 25 years since my liver transplant.  It really is a second chance at life.  I think about what the donor family must have gone through.  My life really never had any limitations because of their decision to say ‘yes’ to donation.” she said.  Gabrielle is getting ready to begin the next exciting chapter of her life.  She is getting married in January, 2017.

Organ and tissue donors can save and benefit the lives of up to 50 people.  An organ donor can give a second chance at life to up to eight people. Through tissue donation, a donor can enhance the lives of countless others.  Donors can also donate their corneas, which can give the gift of sight to two recipients.

To register as an organ and tissue donor, visit www.donors1.org.  It only takes 30 seconds to register today!  Don’t wait – sign up today and join the movement to save lives!

17 Years With a New Heart, Man Grateful for Gift of Life

April 22nd, 2016

The life-saving power of donation reached Downingtown, PA resident, Chris Hagan, in 1998 when he was given a second chance at life – a new heart.  Chris always had a healthy and active life.  He was a volunteer fire fighter and an EMS practitioner. But itChris Hagan2 all changed when he was 33 years old. He began to feel exhausted, lethargic and had trouble catching his breath.  He knew something was wrong, and was given a grim prognosis. He was told that he had Enlarged Cardiomyopathy and Congestive Heart Failure, and that he would need a heart transplant to survive.  He was added to the waitlist and waited for eight months – until one mother’s generous decision changed his life forever.

“My wife’s coworker, Linda Greaves, knew that I was waiting for a heart transplant.” said Chris Hagan, Director, Property Management, Chester County Hospital.  “After her son, John, was killed in a motorcycle accident – she was told that he would able to be an organ donor.  Immediately, she asked if his heart could go to me.  He was a match, and that’s how I received my transplant. I still get emotional thinking about it.”

Chris Hagan and his nephew DanielChris is not only a transplant recipient. He also is a donor family member.  Both his brother, Dennis Hagan, and sister, Kassie Hagan Vannoy, were organ donors when they died.  Kassie was able to save seven lives through organ donation, and Dennis was able to benefit many others through tissue and cornea donation.

“Today, I feel 100% better.  I was back to work 91 days after my transplant, and have had many blessings since.  April, 2016 is my 17th transplant anniversary.  I’ve been able to see my kids and step kids grow up, to be with my family and to work at a job I love.” said Chris.

Local Women form Smiles for Julie to Honor Dear Friend

April 15th, 2016

When friendship is strong, it’s a powerful connection that bonds people together for life.  Allyson Leach (Pottstown, PA), Heidi Lechman (Pennsburg, PA) and Julie Riggi became close friends in college, when they attended Widener University in Chester, PA in the late 1990s.  Years later, they still had a relationship that most would envy, which was held together by Julie – a woman that Allyson and Heidi describe as a warm and caring person, whose bubbly and happy personality put a smile on everyone’s face who knew her.  Julie’s charisma wasn’t the only thing that set her apart from others – she was also a survivor.

Julie and Allyson and Allyson's daughter.

Julie and Allyson and Allyson’s daughter.

In 2004, after a lifetime of fighting Cystic Fibrosis (CF), Julie was told that she would need a double lung transplant to survive.  “People never knew that she was sick.  She did a respiratory treatment twice a day, but she lived a normal life.” said Allyson.  “She was a nurse, got married to her college boyfriend, John, and had a son, Johnny.  She was a phenomenal person, and was always there for everyone and willing to help them.”

Heidi was Julie’s little sister in their sorority at Widener.  “I never knew that she had CF, and didn’t have a clue that she was sick.  I just remember when I met her, I knew that I would have a friend for life.” said Heidi.

After receiving a life-saving double lung transplant, Julie became passionate about putting her gift to good use.  She joined Team Philadelphia, traveled with the team and competed in the Donate Life Transplant Games every other summer from 2006-2010, bringing home gold medals in several events.

Heidi said, “After her transplant, Julie was able to play tennis with her family.  She bowled and loved to travel.  She went to Disney, Mexico and Hawaii.  Her true love was her family and the students that she cared for.  She was an amazing school nurse.”

SFJ 1After six years with her double lung transplant, Julie’s health began to fail again.  She was listed for a second transplant and received a third chance at life in 2010. Even with her new set of lungs, her illness was too great and she passed away shortly after her transplant.  Today, Heidi, Allyson and Julie’s family – and approximately 30 other family and friends – will join together to honor their friend at the 2016 Donor Dash.  Their Dash team, Smiles for Julie, will participate in the Donor Dash on April 17th.

“After her first transplant, Julie was happy to volunteer at the Dash.” said Heidi.  “She loved to talk to people and share her story.”  Today, Smiles for Julie is a non-profit organization that raises funding in support organ and tissue donation and CF.

“Those six years that Julie received from her transplant were so memorable.  We were able to spend that time with her – which was a gift to us.  She was so special to us.” said Heidi.

Allyson said, “We talk to family and friends and encourage them to register as organ and tissue donors.  It’s very humbling to know that someone’s selfless decision to be a donor allowed her to live for years more than she would have.  She lived fully during that time, and she had a dramatic effect on people.  Everyone was touched by the great person that she was.”

Smiles for Julie founders and Julie's son and husband at the 2014 DASH.

Smiles for Julie founders and Julie’s son and husband at the 2014 DASH.

You too can support organ and tissue donation by participating in the Dash!  The Donor Dash offers several course options – a 5K run, a 10K run and a 3K walk – so people of all fitness levels can get involved.  The event begins at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and continues along the West River Drive, a USA Track and Field certified course. On-site registration opens at 6:00 AM, followed by the 10K run (7:10 AM), the 5K run (7:20 AM) and the 3K walk (8:30 AM).

The 2015 Dash saw a record number of supporters, with 12,000 people in attendance. This year, Gift of Life is looking forward to an even greater turnout!  Individuals or teams can register online until midnight on April 10th at www.donordash.org.

About Gift of Life Donor Program Since 1974, Gift of Life – the organ procurement organization for eastern PA, southern NJ and DE – has coordinated more than 40,000 life-saving organ transplants and over 600,000 tissue transplants. To register, visit donors1.org. It only takes 30 seconds to register, and one organ and tissue donor can save or enhance the lives of up to 50 people.

 
 

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

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