Second Chance Blog

 

High School Senior Celebrates 1st Christmas with the Ultimate Gift – a Life-Saving Kidney

December 2nd, 2016

Dallas, PA resident, Andrew Schukraft, was an active 16 year old when his life was changed forever.   He played soccer and tennis from the time he was a child, and had just been named captain of his soccer team.  He was always physically active and felt healthy, never thinking that he would be someone with health issues.

He wenandrew-st in for a routine physical and his blood pressure was high.  The physician suggested that he go to his family doctor and find out what was causing the issue.  After going through testing, he learned that he was in renal failure and his kidneys were only functioning at 5%.  He was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy, a kidney disease that occurs when IgA, a protein made by the immune system to protect the body from foreign substances, builds up and damages the kidneys.  Doctors told him that he would need a kidney transplant, and he was in shock.

Andrew had only noticed slight changes in his energy levels during this time, but nothing significant enough to cause concern.  He said, “I never expected that anything like this could happen to me.  I was so upset at first, especially because I knew that I’d probably never play soccer again.  I figured out that complaining and being upset wouldn’t help, so I accepted it and decided to move forward.”

Now 17, Andrew’s insight and strength is beyond his years.  He continued high school and only missed two classes a week for dialysis.  While waiting for a transplant, Andrew was on dialysis three times a week.  He suffered from fatigue and some muscle aches, but was positive and relied on the support of his family and friends who knew how to lift his spirits, make him laugh and help take his mind off of his health.

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“When I received the call that there was a matching kidney for me, I had a mixture of fear and excitement.  I never had surgery before.  It all went so quickly and felt like I had blurred vision.  I know my donor was a few years older than me, and he was in a car accident.” he said. Andrew is currently in the process of writing to his donor’s family to thank them for his life-saving gift.  He said, “I have a lot of gratitude to my donor family.  I’m forever thinking about their loss and how they helped me so I can live a better life.  I want them to know that their loss wasn’t all for nothing, and that something good came out of something horrible.  I’m living my life to the best of my ability and am doing well because of them.”

Andrew was only in the hospital for five days post-transplant and went back to school after just two weeks.  Luckily, his transplant happened during his winter break, so he didn’t miss any school.  One month post-transplant, he began playing tennis again.  He said, “I really pushed myself after the transplant because I wanted to go back to school.  I have a lot more energy now and can do whatever I need to.  I’m also able to eat whatever I want.  After being on a restrictive diet, I came home and ate so much chocolate.”

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This is the first Christmas that Andrew will have his new kidney and he’s looking forward to having energy, enjoying time with his cousins and being active.  “We usually run around and play tennis.” he said.  Andrew is also looking forward to spending the holiday with his family, exchanging gifts and indulging in ham and french toast at his grandmother’s house.

Thanks to the generosity of his life-saving kidney donor, Andrew can look confidently towards his future.  He applied to several colleges and is excited to find out where he has been accepted to.  Today, he gives back by sharing his story at local high schools and universities – encouraging people to register as organ and tissue donors.  He said, “I think a lot of people just aren’t familiar with organ donation.  It’s foreign to them, and they may be fearful of the unknown.”

Gift of Life Donor Program has worked tirelessly for the past 42 years to coordinate donors’ generosity with those in need.  Since 1974, Gift of Life – the organ procurement organization for the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – has helped save nearly 42,000 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.

Cherry Hill, NJ Resident Reaches 200,000 Students with Life-Saving Message

November 22nd, 2016

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Twenty-nine years ago, Tom and Vivian Gano’s lives were changed forever.  Their teenage son, Curtis, 16, was riding his bike to a friend’s house when he was struck by a van.  When doctors confirmed that Curtis was brain dead, Vivian looked beyond her pain and asked about the potential for him to be an organ donor.  The family had watched a documentary about organ and tissue donation several years earlier, which inspired her to ask.

In the darkest time of their lives, Tom and Vivian said “yes” to organ and tissue donation, and prayed that this heartbreaking event could have something positive come out of it.  Tom said, “For me, I never wanted anyone else to feel how I did when Curtis died. I wanted to save as many people as possible.  We prayed for a miracle that Curtis would be okay, but when we knew that wasn’t going to happen, we prayed that he could be a miracle for someone else.”

Curtis was able to be an organ and tissue donor.  He saved four lives through organ donation and benefited countless others through tissue donation. His liver was donated for scientific research. “I’m 75 and I will never have the legacy that Curtis did.  He was only 16, but he was able to save lives.  I speak at schools in New Jersey mostly – and sometimes in Pennsylvania and Delaware – to share our story.  It makes me happy to talk about Curtis and for kids to know who he is.  I always pass around a picture of him. So many people know his name and have seen his picture.” said Tom.

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Over the past two decades, Tom has educated 200,000 students about organ and tissue donation.  He reached this exciting achievement in November 2016, and he is proud that his message has been heard and accepted by so many young people.  “I’ve met many teenagers who said that they registered to be an organ and tissue donor after hearing me speak.  It makes me feel good to know that I’m making an impact.  When I talk to them, they are interested in what I’m saying.  It’s refreshing to see how open they are.”

Tom has found comfort in knowing that his son’s legacy is one of compassion and caring, and it’s his life’s mission to reach as many people as he can to promote donation.  “It has been great to volunteer with Gift of Life and meet organ transplant recipients.  To see how grateful they are, and how much healthier they are with their transplant.  It really helped me to meet them.” said Tom.

Through reaching out to students and sharing his son’s powerful, life-saving story, Tom has been able to heal. He said, “Talking about Curtis gives me peace.  It helps me keep his memory alive and also save lives.  I am going to continue pushing to get into more schools to educate students. Sometimes I work 50-60 hours a week, speaking and traveling.  I have no plans of slowing down.  I’ve had teachers go online while I’m there and register.  It’s really rewarding when they come up to me and let me know they registered because of hearing me talk about Curtis.”

Gift of Life Donor Program has worked tirelessly for the past 42 years to coordinate donors’ generosity with those in need.  Since 1974, Gift of Life – the organ procurement organization for the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – has helped save nearly 42,000 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.

Pennsylvania Resident Thankful for Receiving the Gift of Life

November 22nd, 2016

This Thanksgiving holiday, many Pennsylvania families will break bread and celebrate all that they are thankful for.  It’s a special holiday to share with loved ones, express gratitude and indulge in an abundance of delicious food.  West Lawn, PA resident, Bill Griffis has something even more powerful to be grateful for – his life-saving liver donor.

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Three years post-transplant, Bill, 47, is in great health and spirits.  As a child, Bill was diagnosed with Hemophilia, a medical condition that causes severe bleeding from even the slightest injury.  Due to this disease, he required numerous transfusions and contracted Hepatitis C.  Throughout his childhood, he suffered from episodes of internal bleeding and joint and muscle issues.

Luckily, having Hepatitis C didn’t affect him through most of his young life.  It wasn’t until he was in his early 30s that his health began to deteriorate.  He went through various treatments to eradicate the disease, but after five separate rounds of medication, doctors knew that it was untreatable.

In 2011 during a gallbladder removal surgery, his surgeon took a biopsy of Bill’s liver.  “They told me that I had stage-two Cirrhosis, but that my liver would be fine for probably another 20 years.  It didn’t work that way, and in 2013 I started to get a lot of fluid retention in my legs.” Bill said.  “With the help of diuretics, I was still able to do my normal activities.  But the water pill dosage had to keep being increased and stopped working.”

In November 2013, Bill began spending more time in the hospital.  “I was in and out of the hospital for about six months.  It got really bad and I started to have Encephalopathy, which caused me to have confusion and be incoherent.” said Bill.  “One day my wife came home and I was on the floor and I didn’t recognize her or know my own name.”  He had to be flown with an air ambulance to the hospital and was put in a medically induced coma for a week.  When he came out of the coma, he was told that he would receive a liver transplant.

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“My wife cried when we found out that there was a matching donor.  She knew that I was at the end of my life and that I only had a few hours left to live without a transplant.” Bill said.  “I spent three weeks in the hospital and three weeks in therapy before I could come home.  Although I was in the hospital over Thanksgiving post- transplant, it was still so special to us – because I was alive!  We didn’t have a turkey dinner or any holiday decorations, but my wife said she got the best gift that year, the ‘gift of her husband’.”

Bill made a promise to his donor that he would be a champion for organ and tissue donation.  He’s an active volunteer and speaker today, sharing his story in the community in hopes of inspiring others to register as donors.  “My donor has been with me through everything I’ve done since my transplant.  I’m thankful every day to live my life to the fullest and make every second count.” said Bill.

Bill and his family will spend this Thanksgiving together.  Bill has two adult children, Chris, 26 and Alyssa, 21.  He said, “The holidays are totally different now.  My transplant put everything into perspective for me.  I used to worry about all of the little things before, and now I just live in the moment.  The holidays aren’t about gifts anymore, because I already received the greatest gift – my health.”

Today, nearly 8,500 men, women and children in Pennsylvania are awaiting a life-saving organ transplant, and nationally over 119,000 are waiting.  Unfortunately, because of the lack of individuals registered as donors, 21 people die each day in the U.S. while waiting.

Gift of Life Donor Program has worked tirelessly for the past 42 years to coordinate donors’ generosity with those in need.  Since 1974, Gift of Life – the organ procurement organization for the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – has helped save nearly 42,000 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.

Glenside, PA Mother of Two Finds Comfort this Holiday in Husband’s Life-Saving Legacy

November 21st, 2016

This Thanksgiving, many Pennsylvania families will break bread and celebrate all that they are thankful for. Thanksgiving is a special day to share with loved ones, express gratitude and indulge in an abundance of delicious food.  Often, the holidays can be a bittersweet time for many who have lost loved ones. Jackie Kelble knows this feeling well.  She lost her beloved husband, Dave, in 2012. The couple has two children together, Brooke, 7, and Tyler, 5.

jackie-2Dave was in a traumatic accident several days before Thanksgiving 2012, while cutting down a tree. He was only 32 years old when he died.  “Thanksgiving is a hard time for me.  We used to go to the Hatboro Parade every year, and I still haven’t been able to go since he died.  The last pictures I have of him were at that parade.” said Jackie.

Although losing Dave has been emotionally challenging for Jackie and her close-knit family, she has found one comfort in her grief – Dave’s decision to be an organ and tissue donor. He was able to save and enhance many lives through his selflessness, and his legacy is as a life-saving hero.  “He was an organ donor on his license, but even if he wouldn’t have been – we would have known it was what he wanted.  He lived his life that way.  He was a volunteer firefighter and he loved to help people.  Everyone who ever met him said what a great guy he was.  He worked really hard – many long hours – to take care of his family, and allow me to stay home and care for our kids.” said Jackie.

For Jackie and her family, knowing that Dave saved many lives is the “silver lining” in a very tragic situation.  “Dave being a donor has brought me healing.  It has also helped me to share our story and meet other organ transplant recipients through Gift of Life.  It means a lot to me to hear their stories, and to see how grateful they are.”  said Jackie.

This year, Jackie will spend Thanksgiving with her family.  “I’m the most thankful for my kids.  They’ve helped me keep going since Dave died.  Even if I didn’t want to get up every day, I had no choice with young children.  It really pushed me and I needed that.  My family has also really supported me.” she said.jackie-1

The Kelble’s choose to focus on the positive and celebrate Dave’s life each year in the spring.  His birthday, April 27th, is a special day for Jackie, her children, family and friends.  They gather together to honor him and have a big birthday party.  “He loved ice cream cake, so we have a party and get a cake.  We write messages on balloons and release them.” she said.

Today, nearly 8,500 me n, women and children in Pennsylvania are awaiting a life-saving organ transplant, and nationally over 119,000 are waiting.  Unfortunately, because of the lack of individuals registered as donors, 21 people die each day in the U.S. while waiting.  Jackie speaks in the community and at local Driver’s Centers to encourage others to register as organ and tissue donors.  She is an active supporter of donation, and enjoys volunteering for Gift of Life to share her powerful story.  “I try to tell people that organ donation can turn a terrible tragedy into something so good.  It can bring a positive outcome from something horrible.” she said.

Gift of Life Donor Program has worked tirelessly for the past 42 years to coordinate donors’ generosity with those in need.  Since 1974, Gift of Life – the organ procurement organization for the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – has helped save nearly 42,000 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.

Liver Transplant Recipient and Mother of Two Sets of Twins Expresses Gratitude for Gift of Life

November 16th, 2016

When California native, Megan Bondy, was young everyone used to tell her that she’d be a great mother.  She always wanted to have children and loved being around kids.  She had younger cousins that she adored and spent a lot of her free time babysitting.  She was active as a young person. She played soccer and travel soccer, which gave her the opportunity to compete against teams from around the world and to travel throughout Europe.

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She had a few health setbacks as a teenager.  At age 11, she experienced significant stomach pain and was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes long-lasting inflammation in your digestive tract.  She was put on a restrictive diet and given medication to help manage the condition.

Her energy level was high, but after turning 16 and still not having a menstrual cycle, she became concerned.  At first, doctors thought that it was due to her low percentage of body fat because of her rigorous soccer workouts, but soon after diagnosed her with ovarian failure. This was devastating news to Megan.  Even at 16 years old, Megan knew that she wanted to be a mother.  Doctors told her that the chance of becoming pregnant with ovarian failure was extremely low, and it was a painful, emotional blow for her.

Health-wise, she felt great.  Several years later, she went to college, played Division 1 soccer and studied abroad in Madrid, Spain her junior year.  After graduation, she moved to San Diego for graduate school to study Public Policy, and got her first job.  Then, everything began to change.  “I started to feel hung over every day.  I had dry mouth and was exhausted.  One day, it was really bad and I noticed that my eyes and skin looked yellow.” said Megan.  “I went to the doctor and they thought that I might have contracted Hepatitis A from a recent trip to Mexico.”

She started to feel more tired and spent a lot of time lying on the sofa reading.  Her weakness hit an all-time low one day when she was driving to the library.  “I felt so weak and I called my Mom, who was living in San Francisco. She told me that my Dad was coming to get me. Soon after, I was home and admitted to the hospital.  I was French’s mustard yellow.  I had lab work done and they began ruling out things, and I was diagnosed with autoimmune disease.” she said.  “I was added to the waitlist for a liver transplant, and was elevated to a status one patient with acute liver failure. Status one means that a patient is estimated to have seven days to live.”

“I waited eight days for a new liver.” said Megan.  “I was so out of it during that time, but I still have memories from it.  I was about to die.  My donor was a 16 year old girl who was hit by a car.  On my 10th anniversary of receiving my liver, I wrote to my donor’s family.  It took me a long time to be able to write.” she said.  After a few minor setbacks, Megan has been able to manage her health and has been healthy post-transplant.

A decade after her transplant, Megan met her husband and was married two years later.  The couple tried having children naturally, but was unable to.  They began IVF treatments, and Megan became pregnant with twins soon after.  Thirty-one weeks and five days later, Cyrus and Lily were born through C-section, each weighing just 3.5 pounds.  Her pregnancy had been a healthy one, except for skin irritation and itching that started at four months and continued through the birth of the twins.

vermont-2Megan always wanted two or three children and her husband, Neil, wanted one or two.  Lily and Cyrus fulfilled both of their parent’s hopes, and Megan didn’t plan on having any more children.  Then just a few months after bringing her newborn babies home, something shocking happened.  Megan became pregnant naturally – with twins!

At 33 and a half week later, Chloe and Daphne were born.  Today, Megan is the mother of two energetic sets of twins, ages three and two.  She is grateful and busy. She works at the Donor Network West organ procurement organization as a Family Resource Coordinator, helping families of organ and tissue donors cope with the loss of their loved one.  Megan said, “I’m blown away every day by the whole experience of working with donor families.  I’m constantly learning and feel like I’m able to make a difference with my work. I’m not sure if donor families ever can get over the loss of a loved one, but I do think that donation allows people to see that their loved one lives on.”

Megan has gratitude for her donor’s family, who said “yes” to donation at such a tragic time in their lives, which gave her a second chance at life.  “I feel like I have a responsibility to live for my donor.  I tell people that I had two sets of twins – one for me and one for my donor.  Her family’s decision has affected so many lives.  All of the people who know me, know about my donor.  Every time I feel like I need courage or a steadying reminder that I can do something, I touch my liver.  I tell myself that I can do whatever life throws my way because I have an angel with me.” said Megan.

While she was pregnant, Megan reached out to Gift of Life Institute’s Transplant Pregnancy Registry International (TPR), an organization that studies the outcomes of pregnancies in female organ transplant recipients and those fathered by male transplant recipients.  The TPR is an ongoing study that was created in 1991 Vincent T. Armenti, MD, PhD, and the information collected has helped countless transplant recipients make family planning decisions.

TPR is the longest running, voluntary pregnancy registry of its kind in the world.  Over the past 25 years, TPR has tracked the pregnancies and births of more than 2,500 individuals, and has worked with 250 transplant centers throughout North America.  In 2016, TPR will be opening participation to any transplant recipient in the world, due to the number of international requests for information and participation.

To celebrate its 25 years of success, TPR hosted a symposium and celebratory dinner in Philadelphia on October 21st. Nearly 200 organ transplant recipients, transplant surgeons and medical professionals from across the country joined TPR for this exciting event.

About Gift of Life Institute:  Since its inception in 2004, Gift of Life Institute has trained more than 7,500 donation and transplantation professionals from over 35 countries.  The Institute utilizes a number of modalities—including traditional classroom training, eLearning, and virtual classroom training—to deliver education on family communication and authorization for organ and tissue donation, DCD, and hospital development.  For more information, visit www.giftoflifeinstitute.org.

Transplant Recipient Relied on Faith While Waiting for Kidney and Pancreas Transplants

November 11th, 2016

At six years old, Philadelphia resident, Arlinda Griffin, was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.  She was put on insulin and was restricted from all the sweets that children often love – candy, cookies and sugar of any type. By the time she reached her late teens, she began suffering from seizures that doctors said were related to her diabetes.

Arlinda, a deeply faithful and positive woman, continued to live her life with hope in spite of her health challenges.  She earned a cosmetology license at 18, began a career as a hairdresser and gave birth to her son, Shawn, when she was 21.

Arlinda performs at Gift of Life Donor Program's Gospel Competition. Sunday, July 31, 2016. (©2016 Mark Stehle Photography)

Arlinda performs at Gift of Life Donor Program’s Gospel Competition. Sunday, July 31, 2016. (©2016 Mark Stehle Photography)

Years later, Arlinda began having changes with her vision.  She would wake up and rub her eyes because everything was fuzzy and she couldn’t see.  After pushing off a visit to the doctor for as long as she could, Arlinda went to an ophthalmologist and was told that she had a detached retina in her right eye.  After a surgery and many attempts to save her vision, today Arlinda has no sight in her right eye and 5% vision in her left eye.  She was faced with the reality that regardless of how well she was taking care of herself, her diabetes was resistant and she was unable to get it under control.

At 33 years old, she faced another obstacle – she was in the early stages of congestive heart failure.  After she passed out due to her heart issues, her son called 911 and she was raced to the hospital.  The diagnosis was alarming – in addition to her heart, Arlinda’s kidney function was diminishing and she was told that she would need a kidney transplant to survive.

“At that point, I wanted to give up.  I didn’t want to have to have a transplant, to go on dialysis.  It was frightening.  My mother was really a big support system for me during the time.  She took me to all of my appointments, tried to persuade me to get listed for a transplant and even wanted to get tested for living donation.” said Arlinda.  “I started to gain a lot of weight and had breathing issues because of my kidneys.  I couldn’t even walk up the steps.”

She was scared and unwilling to accept the reality that she needed a kidney transplant, until one night when her mind was changed forever.  “I was in bed and I heard someone call my name.  I felt that it was God and he was reassuring me that I’d be okay.  I know it may sound crazy, but it gave me so much comfort.  It made me feel hopeful and that everything was going to be okay.” she said.

At the same time, Arlinda’s health continued to diminish.  Fluid was overtaking her body and she could barely walk or breathe.  Her only hope was a life-saving kidney transplant, but as she waited, dialysis kept her kidneys functioning.  She went to dialysis three hours a day, most days of the week.  She was added to the organ transplant waitlist for both a kidney and a pancreas to help eradicate the diabetes that had taken her eyesight and her health.

Through it all, Arlinda relied on her Christian faith and singing in her church’s gospel group to pull her through.  Her faith was unshakeable and she still believed that God would make sure that everything would be okay.  She said, “My Pastor was so supportive.  He picked me up.  I would listen to gospel music as much as I could because it was so helpful for me.  I didn’t complain during any of my sickness.  I had hope that I would be okay.”

“My last day of dialysis – before I got the call that there was a matching kidney and pancreas for me – I had a thought that this may be the day.  I thought ‘what if this is my last treatment?’  I knew it was a possibility and it felt amazing.” said Arlinda. “My transplant surgery went well and doctors told me that there was no sign of diabetes in my blood.  I spent 12 days in the hospital and was able to sit up and eat just days after my transplant.  I was so thankful.  I never thought I could feel that great.  I felt bubbly and energetic.  My whole life I felt one way, and now I was different.  God was watching over me.”

After a year of corresponding with her donor’s mother, Mary Smith, the two women were able to meet.  “I was so anxious and grateful to talk with her and her husband.  I wanted them to know how grateful I was.  They gave me a second chance at life.  What more could I ask for?  Today, we have such a phenomenal relationship.  I thank God for her every day.  We talk regularly and it’s therapeutic for me.  Mary and her husband are both so easy to talk to.  We have a wonderful connection, and I believe that this was all in God’s plan.”

From November 11 – November 13, Arlinda will celebrate National Donor Sabbath, along with Gift of Life Donor Program and other transplant recipients, living donors and donor family members across the country.  The weekend is an opportunity to bring together organ and tissue donation education and faith-based houses of worship.

“I think the education that comes out of NDS is so needed.  There is so much misinformation and people need to know the truth about donation.” said Arlinda.

One of the most common misconceptions about registering as an organ donor is that one’s religion does not support it.  In fact, all major religions support organ donation. Observed annually,

National Donor Sabbath seeks to educate faith-based communities about the more than 119,000 men, women and children in the U.S. who are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. This national initiative partners with faith leaders, houses of worship and faith-based organizations to educate its congregations about the critical need for donors.

No final act is more heartfelt or caring than donating ones’ organs.  It shows an individual’s compassion for others, and can change lives forever.   The decision to donate – often made at a grief-stricken and terrible moment in life – is one that is far-reaching and greatly beneficial.  One organ donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 50 others – a gift that is impactful to the recipients, their family members and the community on a whole.

About Gift of Life Donor Program: Since 1974, Gift of Life Donor Program has coordinated more than 42,000 organ transplants, along with an estimated 600,000 tissue transplants. It only takes 30 seconds to register as an organ and tissue donor at donors1.org.

Just one organ and tissue donor can save or enhance the lives of up to 50 people.  For more information on organ and tissue donation, please call Gift of Life at 1-800-DONORS-1 (1-800-366-6771) or visit donors1.org.

 
 

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

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