Second Chance Blog

 

The Gift of Life: Twice – One Man’s Life Saved by a Stranger, then by his Brother

July 13th, 2017

“It was the worst day of my life,” said Michael Parsley, a two-time organ transplant recipient from Nazareth, PA.  He was reflecting on his first evaluation to be placed on the national organ transplant waiting list. “We drove back from Philadelphia thinking, in five years, I would be dead.”

In 1992, Michael was living with the discomfort brought on by his rare rheumatoid arthritis. He was working a physically demanding job that required a physical and a pulmonary function test. That year had marked four years since his original arthritis diagnosis. It was time for the results of his illness to be revealed, and they were anything but what he was hoping to see.

Michael’s results revealed blood in his urine, indicating kidney damage. His arthritis had spread to his lungs and he had developed another rare condition, bronchiolitis obliterans. He spent 8 years in and out of the hospital on heavy steroids to battle the condition; his breathing had reduced to 35% of his normal capacity over this time period. In 2001, Michael’s pulmonary doctor in Lehigh Valley explained no other treatment was available; he would have to undergo a lung transplant.

After his initial evaluation a Temple Lung Center, Michael was told that he was not the ideal candidate for a lung transplant. However, he persisted on, stating that he would find another clinic that would accept him as a candidate. His spirit won over the team and he soon placed on the waiting list.

“I waited so long that it became part of my daily living, dragging around oxygen and feeling that way,” Michael said. “My health had consumed my life, my entire family’s life.”

After two years of waiting, the call Michael had been hoping for finally arrived. Michael was going to receive a set of lungs from an 18-year-old who had just passed away.

“It was literally the gift of life when I received my lungs,” Michael said. “I only had about a month left to live.”

Life appeared to be returning to normal for Michael. Improvements in his health continued for more than two years post-transplant until another health issue took Michael by surprise.

Years of heavy steroids and the anti-rejection drugs from his doublelung transplant had taken a toll on Michael’s kidneys. He was placed on dialysis and was told he would need another transplant to save his life yet again, but this time he was advised to search for a living donor as he would probably not survive the transplant waiting list.

“After living with the health issues for so much of my life, I couldn’t imagine putting anyone else through anything like that,” Michael said.

However, Michael’s family took charge with determination to ensure that Michael was given another chance to live a normal life. Both Michael’s wife and brother were tested and matched as potential donors.

“People are always surprised when I tell them this, but it wasn’t a hard decision to make at all,” said Bill Parsley, Michael’s brother who volunteered to be his living donor. “There’s nothing more important you can do in your life than save someone else’s like this.”

Bill had always lived a healthy, active life. His nearly spotless health record and relatively similar size to his brother made him the perfect donor to save Michael’s life.

“I had never had a surgery before this,” Bill said. “They do a terrific job in preparing you. We had a wonderful transplant coordinator who is a friend now. She was very honest, sometimes brutally, but she’s a wonderful woman.”

After the transplant, Michael was immediately back on the path to healthy living.

“Be nice to your siblings, you never know when you might need something from them,” Michael laughed. “I wouldn’t have survived the kidney waiting list without my brother.”

Michael attends yearly checkups at Temple Lung Center. Results from his latest pulmonary test indicate his lungs are performing better than they were five years ago. In addition, Bill’s kidney has provided Michael with 11 years of continuously increasing health.

“My brother and I were always close, but the transplant definitely made that bond stronger,” Michael said. “We are each other’s best friend.”

Michael now works as a speaker and an advocate for organ donation, presenting his story to the community to help break down misconceptions and the fear of the unknown.  He believes that the best way to spread awareness of the importance of registering to be an organ donor is to interact with recipients and see how their lives have been saved by others.

“I will drop anything to help others, because without the help of my brother and the donor I never even met, I would not be here today.”

Young Man’s “Heart of Gold” Lives On Through Organ Donation

July 7th, 2017

Catherine Mack of Lansdale, PA displays a small reminder of hope, pride, and loss on her arm. A tattoo of the number 8484 and five strikes represent a day that she considers the worst in her life and the positive legacy that day left behind.

“The 8484 represents each day my brother was alive,” Catherine says. “Each slash represents one of the gifts of life he was able to donate. It symbolizes that each day he was alive was a gift, and to remind me to see the positive in his every day.”

In October 2016, Catherine’s brother, Jack Mack, lost his life to a drug relapse, but he still lives on through the five recipients who received a second chance at life because of his choice to become an organ donor.

“Jack didn’t let his addiction rob him of his selfless nature,” Catherine says.  “On Jack’s darkest days, he was still looking to be a light for someone else. He sought out the people who needed him the most. He was the most compassionate person I’ve ever known.”

Catherine had seen Jack’s I.D. days prior to his passing and noticed the words “organ donor”— words that made reappearance the day of his passing on a sign in the hospital. At the time Catherine thought little of it, but those words gave rise to a hero on her worst day.

“On the worst day of her life, my mom’s eyes smiled,” Catherine says, recalling the moment she told her mother and siblings, Ashley and Robby, how Jack’s selfless, giving personality would not end with his passing. “We all felt so proud that Jack’s heart of gold would live on in someone else.”

The news of five successful recipients reached Catherine through a text message from her mom while she sat in the emergency room with her grandmother— just hours after her brother’s passing. She had seen a friend in the waiting room who had given his condolences, and at the moment she received the message, she ran to his room, uncontrollably smiling.

“My baby brother saved five people,” Catherine told her friend. She went on to say that despite her brother’s struggle with addiction, he died a hero.

Jack’s ability to give and to save others is exactly what he would have wanted, as told by his family and his decision to register. By registering to be a donor, all of Jack’s good deeds and his selfless personality became his legacy.

“I can’t walk you through all the good things Jack did in his life,” Catherine says. “His decision to donate, him saving lives, is like a certificate of all the good he did in his life. It makes me wonder if everyone who was suffering from drug addiction was a donor, how people would view them differently.”

Catherine and the entire Mack family now advocate for awareness of the importance of organ donation every day. They make an effort to volunteer and speak out in any way possible to support all those suffering from addiction, including their families.

The Mack family attributes Jack’s decision to register as an organ donor as a source of comfort and healing through their grieving process. Catherine says that those who are not registered should consider how it helps their loved ones and allows for a positive image to be left behind for the family to remember.

“I am so thankful for a small moment, my brother checking that box at the DMV,” Catherine says. “It scares me to think what my grieving process would have been without this. If you don’t want to register to save someone you don’t know, do it for your loved ones.”

Courageous Young Women Inspire Others to “Be More”

June 23rd, 2017

Submitted by Breanna Sipple

When I came across Erin’s story, my heart was instantly connected to someone who was a complete stranger at the time. Erin was in need of a life-saving kidney transplant.  I felt compelled to help and immediately set out to apply to be Erin’s kidney donor.

Unbeknownst to Erin, I went through rigorous testing in attempts to give her a life-saving kidney and allow her to live a normal life again. Unfortunately, after six long months of evaluations, I was ruled out as a possible donor for Erin.

However, fate has brought Erin and I together, to encourage one other, to encourage others, and to fulfill our purpose of “being more.” We have learned about the number of people currently waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant and we wish to educate others about it as well as the importance of becoming a living donor.

What appeared to be the end was just the beginning for us. “Be More.” Being sick makes you a lot of things, it’s easy to be negative, but you must remain positive; you have to take the lows, but learn to see, embrace and appreciate the highs as well.

Father’s Day for Grieving Families

June 16th, 2017

With Father’s Day approaching this weekend, Gift of Life recognizes this day can be especially hard for bereaved fathers and bereaved children.  While ordinary days can still include moments of sadness and longing, days such as Father’s Day can highlight the absence of a father or a child.  No matter how many years it has been since the last Father’s Day spent together, the day can remain emotional and challenging.

We asked some donor fathers and donor children to share with us how they spend Father’s Day. We hope their words will provide comfort to those grieving on Father’s Day.

“Leading up to Father’s Day, I think the hardest part is the constant reminders of the upcoming holiday on either television commercials, print advertisements, and of course the internet. Ads showing fathers playing with their kids definitely gets to me as it serves as a reminder that my time with my dad was cut short. As the years have gone by and as I’ve gotten older, the holiday hasn’t gotten easier, but I have definitely become used to it. The build-up to the day is probably worse than the day itself. Because we spend the day as a family laughing and remembering my dad, it usually ends up not being that bad. For me, I would say the worst part about the day of Father’s Day is going on social media and seeing everyone I’m friends with posting pictures with their dads. It honestly does bring some jealousy into my grief to see everyone around me flaunt how great their dads are, while I spend the day wishing my friends could meet him, I could talk to him, or even just give him a hug.” —Emma R., donor daughter.

“For every email I get from a store about what I should buy my dad for Father’s Day, my heart sinks a little more.  Seeing the Father’s Day cards at the store is a subtle reminder that I don’t need to purchase one.  No one can ever fix the emptiness one feels when they lose their dad.  I find that it helps when a friend reaches out to acknowledge how that day can be hard for me.  My friends have been very supportive of me in the weeks leading up to Father’s Day which is coincidently around both my father’s birthday and mine.  I also find it helpful to turn a painful loss into a positive experience.  Last year, the Friday before Father’s Day, we held a memorial golf tournament in my dad’s name.  The money raised benefits scholarships for high school seniors.  This Friday, June 16th, will be the second annual memorial golf tournament.  I am so happy to keep his legacy alive.  (Fun fact: each golfer will be getting a Gift of Life wristband and we will be promoting that my dad was an organ donor.)” – Makala A., donor daughter

“Father’s Day is always an emotional roller-coaster for me.  I spend most of the day thinking about my son, Cecil, and how he coming into the world made me a ‘father’ but the love we shared made me ‘Dad.’ I always go to the cemetery and spend time at his site.   Then I think about how thankful I am that my father, at the age of 79, is still around for us to share special days and I still have my daughter in my life.  In short, it’s a roller-coaster of emotion and love as I have found most holidays are with my son passing.” –Cecil B., donor father

“Because of my other two children, I can concentrate on them on Father’s Day. Where there are many other days that I think about and reminisce about my daughter, Melissa.  It doesn’t mean that her loss is any less or hurts less, it’s just that my other children have always been there for us and helped to fill the void and share the loss and pain with us. I’ll always have and hold Melissa and my memories of her in my heart! The one thing I do think about is, as the Kenny Chesney song asks, “Who you’d be today.” Over the years I’ve listened to and watched that music video many, many times. And it always brings tears to my eyes and memories of Melissa and thoughts of who she would be today.” –Bruce E., donor father

There are many good articles about Father’s Day as well and we have included links to a few of them below.

Father’s Day for bereaved fathers

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-laurie/grieving-the-loss-of-a-child_b_3438087.html

http://www.silentgriefsupport.com/2016/06/13/what-can-i-give-a-grieving-father-on-fathers-day/

http://thegrieftoolbox.com/article/can-bereaved-dad-smile-fathers-day

http://www.hellogrief.org/fathers-day-after-a-childs-death/

Father’s Day for bereaved children
http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2013/06/when_grief_darkens_fathers_day.html

https://whatsyourgrief.com/kids-who-cant-remember-their-dads/

https://whatsyourgrief.com/fathers-day-sulking-without-apology/

We hope that, however you spend Father’s Day, you are able to find moments of comfort in the memories of your loved one.  Our bereavement counselors remain available to provide support to donor families and we can be reached at 800-366-6771 or family@donors1.org.

Second Chances – A first-hand encounter

June 8th, 2017

This post was submitted by Gift of Life Family Support Counselor, Jacqui Kates, who recently felt her professional and personal worlds align during a profound encounter highlighting a second chance.  How have you experience the gift of a second chance?

Thursday evenings I participate in a Mindfulness Stress Based Reduction class in Center City, Philadelphia. Our weekly assignment is to maintain awareness and remain present within our bodies; reflecting on when and why certain sensations and reactions to stimulus arise. Typically, I use my walk home from class to process the evening and practice my new found skill set.

One particular Thursday, I took a different route and found myself in the direct path of a man whom immediately triggered my sympathetic nervous system. He appeared rough with his unshaven face and body covered in tattoos, stumbling slightly but with purpose. I became keenly aware of my increased heart rate, body temperature, and tense muscles, yet as he approached, I decided not to veer my course.

Once we intersected, as I had predicted, he stopped me. Against my body’s urgings, something prevented me from brushing him off and turning the other way. As he asked me for a cigarette, I honed in on his clothing, and a very familiar image entered my stream of consciousness. A Gift of Life Donor Program t-shirt.

After I declined his request for a cigarette, he explained his ask. He had decided he was ready to receive treatment for his mental illness and addiction; he just needed one last smoke before he went to the crisis center right across the street. After commending him on this momentous decision, I noted his shirt. He shared with me that someone from Gift of Life had just given it to him!

This event had profound impact on me. It led to the difficult realization that perhaps my self- perceived traits of progressiveness, equal-opportunism, and sensitivity, were not as deeply ingrained as I had thought. A humbling reminder, that as an educated and proficient social worker, I too am guilty of judgment, preconceived notions, and callousness. It was a powerful experience to demonstrate that benevolence is imperative, as everyone is combating unknown challenges.

What is the purpose of this saga you may ask? It is a highlight of second chances, a mission Gift of Life Donor Program embraces every single day. A second chance of life for the almost 120,000 people awaiting transplant. A second chance for donor families; their loved one’s legacy is one of heroism and compassion. And for our community members enduring hardship; how an act of kindness as small as a t-shirt may influence the trajectory of their second chance.

National Brother’s Day: Denny and Tom Adams

May 24th, 2017

This is a Guest Blog Post submitted by Denny Adams.

I’ve been diabetic for 27 years. In 2011, during routine blood work, it was discovered that my kidney function was 39%. As bad as that sounds, doctors don’t even look at your kidney function unless it’s below 60%, and many people live their whole lives with that reduced function and without incident. At that time my diet was adjusted to reduce the sodium amounts daily. My function remained at 39% until June of 2013 when it dropped to 24%. At this point planning began to prepare for future possibilities of dialysis and transplant options.  My girlfriend, Shannon Zutell-Machen and I attended classes and got crash courses on all things kidney related. Without her to ensure that I followed my diet restrictions and staying on top of all the appointments, I’m sure I wouldn’t be as positive or even as little healthy as I am. She has been a lifesaver.

Just 2 months later, my kidney function dropped to 14%, technically this is when dialysis begins. During this time, my body started to retain fluid as my kidneys couldn’t clear the waste materials properly. This caused my body to be sluggish and without much energy. My legs felt like they were full of mud. The whole idea is to avoid dialysis, so enduring these symptoms was vital to long term health.

September 2013, I started going to Hershey Medical Center to complete all my extensive testing to be put on the transplant list. Tom, my brother, graciously offered one of his kidneys if he was a match for me. He’s been a true hero in being so selfless to offer without a second of hesitation. Tom and I completed our testing and matching to clear us for transplant. Hershey Medical Center reported that the only way I could have a closer match is if I had an identical twin. This was wonderful news to say the least! Our transplant was scheduled for March 18th, 2014 barring any last minute illnesses.

It had been a tough seven months, learning a lot, completing testing, and feeling helpless as my body broke down. On January 18th, 2014, when I knew that transplant was probably two months away I opted to start dialysis before I got so bad that I couldn’t work anymore. Doctors and nurses praised the fact that I opted into dialysis myself before getting too sick where it would be harder for me to feel better. After starting dialysis I felt so much better. Going to work and going about my life as normal as possible allowed me to stay as positive as possible.

On March 18, 2014, a successful kidney transplant happened.  My hero brother, Tom Adams donated life to me.   It’s now 3 years later and everyone is doing great, so blessed to have so many doctors, nurses, hospital staff, family and friends support us throughout the process.

 
 

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

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