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.
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.
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, 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.