This holiday season, many residents in our region have a lot to be grateful for – the ability to share Thanksgiving with loved ones, a place to call home and an abundance of delicious food. These are just a few of the things that make the holidays meaningful – to residents in our region and to Americans across the nation. But several individuals have something even more powerful to be grateful for – they’ve received the ultimate gift – the gift of life.
Today, more than 5,100 people in our region are awaiting a life-saving organ transplant, and nationally over 122,000 are waiting. Unfortunately, because of the lack of individuals registered as donors, 22 people die each day in the U.S. while waiting. These frightening statistics make it even more significant for those who have received a second chance at life, and their appreciation this Thanksgiving – and every day – is huge.
Delaware resident and kidney recipient, Susan Comegy, commented, “For me, every day is Thanksgiving when you’ve been blessed with the gift of life. I am especially thankful this year as I had the privilege and incredible experience of meeting my donor’s father, and was able to thank him for making a decision that saved my life.”
Since the age of 15, Susan had been a type 1 diabetic. Throughout most of her life, she worked hard to remain healthy and keep her diabetes under control. Then after 40 years, she began experiencing serious health issues. She was underweight, weak and could barely walk. Her doctor said that her diabetes had caused her kidneys to decline, resulting in end-stage kidney failure. After extensive testing, she was listed on the organ transplant waitlist and was advised by her doctor to begin dialysis.
“I was so anemic from my kidney function being so low that I could barely walk across a room. I was very sick and was barely able to move.” she said. After nearly nine months of illness and waiting, Susan received a call that there was a donor who was a match for her.
Within a few days of receiving a transplant, Susan was like a new woman. “At 57 years old, I felt better than I did as a teenager.” she said. “After my surgery, I woke up and felt like a different person. Now, I can even work out. I get up at 6:00 AM, work all day and go to bed at midnight. My energy is endless.”
Susan’s donor was a 27-year-old man with three children. “I feel a depth of gratitude for my donor that words cannot express. I believe I am blessed, and I am forever thankful.” she said. I try to give back now and live every day to its fullest, mindful of all that I’ve been given.”
Pennsauken, New Jersey resident, Ed Galarza, is also grateful this holiday that he has another year to spend with his family – all due to the generosity of a family who said “yes” to organ donation.
Ed was added to the organ transplant waitlist for a liver after being diagnosed with cirrhosis. “I had symptoms before I was diagnosed – my stomach kept getting larger, I had jaundice and excessive pain, but I had to work and push through it.” said Ed. “I was worried for my family and didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Then in 2003, he received the call letting him know that a liver was available for him. After a 12 hour surgery, he came to and his wife and family were by his side. His wife, Marta, said, “His color looked better right away after the surgery. He had tubes everywhere, but I could see that he looked different, good.” “It was amazing – after just three or four days, I could sit up, the jaundice went away and I felt so different.” said Ed.
Since receiving his liver transplant, Ed’s life has improved greatly. He has more energy and has had an opportunity to travel with his wife of 41 years. “These past 12 years since I’ve had my liver have changed everything. I was able to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding and see my son get married, and I’ve been able to see my three grandchildren be born and watch them grow. I feel so lucky and grateful for my donor. I don’t think there are words to really express it. This Thanksgiving, I’m just grateful to be able to be with my family and for this second chance in life.” he said.
Gift of Life Donor Program has worked tirelessly for the past 41 years to coordinate donors’ generosity with those in need. Since 1974, Gift of Life – the organ procurement organization for eastern PA, southern NJ and DE – has helped save nearly 40,000 lives through organ donation, and enhanced over half a million lives through tissue donation. For more information or to register, visit donors1.org. It only takes 30 seconds to register.