Second Chance Blog

 

Back to School Feature: Local Educators Promote Organ and Tissue Donation

August 26th, 2016

For many students, the start of a new school year is an exciting time.  For teachers, it’s an opportunity to approach teaching with a new enthusiasm after a summer away from work and students. Lehigh Career and Technical Institute (LCTI) nurse, Liz Kennedy, believes that the beginning of the school year signifies a time to help students, and another opportunity to educate them about organ and tissue donation education.

Allentown, PA residents, Liz and Dave Kennedy, have personal insight into the life-saving and enhancing power of organ and tissue donation.  Their son, David Kennedy Jr., died in a car accident when he was just 19.  This tragedy hit the Kennedy family hard.  Little did they know at the time, saying “yes” to donation would have a lasting, positive effect on them.

Kennedy family June 12 1991_

David Jr. was a tissue donor and was able to enhance the lives of more than 45 others through the selfless act of being a donor. “If your child dies, you can’t bring them back.  But donation was something that we could do.  It has helped us heal.” said David’s mother, Liz.  “I wasn’t educated that much about tissue donation, and now knowing how many people it helped, I try to share this information and educate others.”

Since David Jr.’s death, Liz and Dave continue his legacy through educating the community about organ and tissue donation.  Liz has been a nurse for more than 40 years, and has worked as a nurse at LCTI for 15 years.  She has a strong connection with her students, and wants them to have all of the facts and information necessary to make an educated decision about registering as an organ and tissue donor.

“I see how interested students are in learning about donation and understanding the facts.  As they get ready to get their driver’s license, it’s an important time for them to learn about organ and tissue donation.  It’s their choice. I give them the information and then they can make an informed decision.” Liz said.

Dave also works in education.  He became President of the Parkland Board of School Directors in 2015, and has served on the Board for the past 19 years.  He has been a part of the Joint Operating Committee for LCTI for 19 years. Dave’s background is in printing sales, and he has been on LCTI’s Advisory Board for the Print Technology Lab since the 1970s.

Together Dave and Liz have shared their story many times throughout the community, including speaking at local high schools.  “I think that our personal experience has given us a perspective that is unique and others can really understand.  We’ve been through it and we have an insight that others can see and appreciate.  I think it may be difficult for many parents to discuss donation with their children because no one wants to think about the worst happening.  I think it’s easier for us to have these conversations with the kids.  The students see us as educators and feel comfortable to ask questions, which they may feel uncomfortable asking their parents.” said Liz.

Education is power.  When people learn the truth about donation, and are able to dispel the untrue myths and misconceptions – they are often motivated to register – which is critically needed.  Due to the need for more donors in the U.S., an average of 21 people die each day while waiting for a life-saving organ and tissue transplant.  In Gift of Life’s region – the eastern half of PA, southern NJ and DE – more than 5,600 men, women and children are waiting for a transplant.  Nationally, over 119,000 are waiting.  Just one organ and tissue donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 50 others through organ and tissue donation, showing how impactful choosing to register as a donor can be. You can help!  Register today to be an organ and tissue donor at donors1.org.  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

Young Liver Transplant Recipient to Participate in DE Donor Dash

August 2nd, 2016

Onyi Kenine, liver '05, gold medal darts

Wilmington, DE resident, Onyi Kenine, 12, is just like many other children her age.  She’s energetic, loves sports and has an outgoing personality.  What sets her apart from the others is that when she was a baby – she received a life-saving liver transplant.

At just six months old, Onyi’s mother and father moved from Nigeria to Delaware to have access to the expert medical care that would save their daughter’s life.  Onyi was diagnosed with Biliary Artesia, a rare disease that affects the liver and bile ducts and occurs in infants.  The disease is a life-threatening condition.  Onyi’s mother, Edith, said, “Onyi’s eyes were yellow, her stomach was swollen and she needed a feeding tube.  Our hope was really in God at that point – for Him to do his best.  Our transplant team was amazing.  They are our angels.”

Onyi was fortunate to only have to wait a few months for a new liver, because a family said yes to organ donation.  “After her liver transplant, it was the difference between life and death.  She was eating well. We never really knew what the outcome would be.  Since her transplant, she hasn’t had any setbacks with her development. She bounced back.”  said Edith.

Onyi Kenine, liver '05, gold medal in track

Not everyone has the same opportunity that Onyi did.  Currently, an average of 21 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant in the United States.  In Gift of Life’s region – Delaware, the eastern half of PA and southern NJ – there are more than 5,600 men, women and children awaiting a life-saving transplant.  Unfortunately, there are not enough transplantable organs to meet this critical demand.

“Having a liver transplant never held me back.  I play basketball, tennis and run dashes and relay races in track and field.” said Onyi.  She has also participated in Gift of Life’s Team Philadelphia, earning gold medals in track and field and darts.

Her family is very grateful for Onyi’s gift of life.  “We send cards and write to our donor’s family.  We’re sad for their loss,but we appreciate what they’ve given us.  We remember them through every minute of life.  We always have them in our hearts.” said Edith.

Edith said, “People should be organ donors.  Onyi shows how well transplantation works.  Without it, she wouldn’t be here.  I think many people have a fear of the unknown and that’s why they don’t register.  They need to have more awareness and understand that they can save someone’s life.  I’ve gone through this and Onyi, and she is alive because of her donor and her transplant.  Her donor’s memory still lives on.”

Onyi Kenine, liver '05, trackOnyi is going to bring her running skills to Gift of Life’s next exciting event, the Delaware Donor Dash.  Happening on Saturday, August 6th, Gift of Life, along with Christiana Care Health System, Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and the Delaware Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Board will host the 3rd Annual Delaware Donor Dash to raise funding for educational initiatives throughout Delaware. The 5K run/3K walk will take place at the Wilmington Waterfront at 8:30 AM (run) and 8:45 AM (walk). On-site registration opens at 7:30 AM.

Community education and events – like the Delaware Donor Dash – play an essential role in highlighting the importance of registering as an organ and tissue donor. Visit dedonordash.org for more information and to sign up.  Registration is $25.

Everyone has the power to make a change by registering as an organ and tissue donor at donors1.org and supporting local events like the DE Donor Dash. By saying yes to donation, you can help put an end to the shortage of registered organ and tissue donors – and ultimately help save lives.  It only takes 30 seconds to become a registered donor at donors1.org.

Wilkes Barre, PA Resident Gets His Life Back After Receiving the Gift of Life

July 28th, 2016

In 2007, Keith Chalmers began experiencing shortness of breath.  He knew that something was wrong.  His doctor sent him to a specialist and he was diagnosed with a number of lung issues, including COPD, bronchitis and emphysema.  He was put on inhalers, oral medications and oxygen.

“A few years later, it started to get even worse. The treatments weren’t helping anymore.” said Keith. “I could barely even take my daughter to school.  I would only have to walk maybe 10 to 15 steps to take her to her class, but it wore me out.  I would need to sit down and catch my breath.  Even being on oxygen didn’t help.”

Keith Chalmers

By 2014, Keith required oxygen 24/7 and his health was rapidly declining.  “I felt so weak and sick.  I called my sister and cried to her that I didn’t know what to do.  She rushed me to the hospital and doctors said that I needed to go to Philadelphia and get tested for a possible lung transplant.” he said.

“Before I got sick, I was active.” Keith said.  “I went to church and worked as a fork lift operator, which was a physical job.  I’m a deacon at my local church and I’ve always tried to help people.  Even when I was sick, I would shovel the snow for elderly neighbors and push myself to keep moving.”

Keith’s determination and faith in his religion helped pull him through this challenging period in his life.  He received the gift of life – a new set of lungs – shortly after being added to the organ transplant waitlist.  His recovery required him to devote much of his time and energy to respiratory rehabilitation, and to building his strength back up in the rest of his body.  He was off of oxygen and was able to ride a stationary bike without having to catch his breath.  For the first time, Keith began to feel like his life may be getting back to normal.

“After my lung transplant, I started to get my energy back and could do what I wanted to do without suffering.  It’s been so nice to be able to help others again.  Right now, I’m redoing the basement of my church.” said Keith.

Post-transplant, Keith can also run and play with his six-year-old daughter, Atia. She loves to play tag, and he can finally keep up with her.  “I feel blessed. Religion played a big part in my recovery.  Faith got me through it all.  I am grateful for my donor and their family.  I wrote to them to say thank you and to let them know that their generosity would be put to good use.” he said.

Keith shares his story openly with his church, family, friends and the community to show the positive impact that someone can have by being an organ and tissue donor.  Keith understands that he was lucky to receive a second chance at life.  Currently in the region, more than 5,600 men, women and children are waiting for an organ transplant.  In the U.S., an average of 21 people die while waiting because there aren’t enough organs available for transplant.

Keith said, “I tell people that they can live on and save the lives of others who are very sick.  I really believe that people aren’t educated about organ donation.  After my transplant, I decided that one of my goals in life would be to spread the message that organ donors save lives.”

In an effort to educate the community, Gift of Life is hosting its 20th Annual Gospel Competition and Program on Sunday, July 31st from 5:00 PM-7:30 PM at the First District Plaza (3801 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA.)  There will be performances from the top competitors of the Gospel Competition, along with gospel recording artist, Kenturah Duncan.  Praise 103.9 radio personality, Dezzie, will emcee this energetic and inspirational event.

Gift of Life’s Gospel Program has been held for the past two decades in honor of National Minority Donor Awareness Week, which takes place each year from August 1st-7th. The week honors the generosity of multicultural donors and their families – while underscoring the critical need for minority communities to register as potential organ and tissue donors.

Nationally, minority communities make up 25% of the population, but represent a startling 58% and more of those waiting for a life-saving transplant. In Gift of Life’s region, over 50% of those waiting for a kidney transplant are minorities.  Gift of Life believes this week is an important platform to build upon because the lack of education is crippling minority communities.

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. Just one organ and tissue donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 50 others.  Currently in the region, more than 5,600 men, women and children are waiting for a second chance at life.  For more information about organ and tissue donation or to register today, visit donors1.org.  It only takes 30 seconds to register.

Delaware Man Waiting on a Kidney Transplant for Three Years

July 15th, 2016

Delaware resident Bill Murray, 54, has been waiting for a kidney transplant for the past three years.  He is a father of three, and used to own his own plumbing business for more than 20 years.  Before his illness, he was physically active, refereeing softball and basketball regularly.  He used to love to travel and had energy to do what he loved most – spend time with his family.

Bill Murray 1

Since being diagnosed with kidney failure, his life has drastically changed.  He had to give up his business and now spends much of his time on home dialysis, 7 days a week, three and a half hours a day.  He is hopeful that he will receive the gift of life and is a passionate advocate for organ donation.  Although his energy level is very low, he still volunteers with Gift of Life Donor Program, speaking about donation and working at tabling events throughout DE, where he has an opportunity to make an impact and share his story.

“When I tell people my story, it makes a difference.” Bill said.  “There are a lot of misconceptions that keep people from registering, and when they see me and hear what I’ve been through, it changes their minds. So many people are waiting for a second chance.  They are really sick and struggling. It’s important for me to make sure others understand how much they can help. Educating people about donation is my life-long journey.” he said.

Currently, more than 120,000 people are waiting nationally – and over 500 of them are Delaware residents. Bill is a part of that group, and looks forward to getting his life back.  He said, “I can’t wait for the day when my life can get back to normal.  I want to receive a kidney transplant, build up my strength and get back to work.  I want to get off dialysis and not feel like a burden to people.”

Everyone has the power to make a change by registering as an organ and tissue donor at donors1.org and supporting local events like the DE Donor Dash.  On Saturday, August 6th, Gift of Life, along with Christiana Care Health System, Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and the Delaware Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Board will host the 3rd Annual Delaware Donor Dash to raise funding for educational initiatives throughout Delaware. The 5K run/3K walk will take place at the Wilmington Waterfront at 8:30 AM (run) and 8:45 AM (walk). On-site registration opens at 7:30 AM. Community education and events – like the Delaware Donor Dash – play an essential role in highlighting the importance of registering as an organ and tissue donor. Visit dedonordash.org for more information and to sign up.  Registration is $25.

Bill Murray 2

Bill will be at the DE Donor Dash again this year, volunteering and walking in support of donation and in honor of his girlfriend, Lynda Snellings, who passed away this year.  Lynda had heart issues and was going through the process of being added to the organ transplant waitlist for a new heart.  “This year, the DE Dash has a new meaning for me.  I’m trying to form the biggest team and raise at least $1,000 in honor of Lynda.  She was a great support for me.  We were always there for each other and were together for four years.  It’s been a very tough year.” said Bill.

By saying “yes” to donation, you can help put an end to the critical shortage of registered organ and tissue donors – and ultimately save lives.  It only takes 30 seconds to become a registered donor at donors1.org.

Click here to register for the 2016 Delaware Donor Dash.

Delaware Wife Carries on Husband’s Legacy through Volunteering

June 28th, 2016

Gregory Council was always a man who knew how to motivate others.  From his younger days as the owner of a barbershop in North Philadelphia to his work in the NJ School District, where he counseled and mentored at-risk youth who were facing possible incarceration – he had a gift at giving guidance to others and lending a helping hand.

Gregory and Brenda Council

He had always been a healthy man who was active and loved sports.  He got married and had two children, and settled down in Wilmington, DE.  His wife, Brenda, and him had known each other and dated since 1973.  His challenge in life was that he struggled with Hepatitis C, a disease that was destroying his liver and his health.

In 2009, his health continued to deteriorate and he was listed on the organ transplant waitlist for a liver.  He also had to begin dialysis because his kidneys were no longer functioning.  The strain of his sickness took a huge toll on his physical health.  He was very ill and was bed ridden for much of the time that he waited for a liver transplant.  He also required continuous care, so both of his adult children moved home to help take care of him.      

Even during such a challenging time, he never gave up hope on himself or on other people.  Although he was confined to his bed, he still welcomed the opportunity to counsel people.  He offered support to a young man who was having issues and was in the foster system.  Even physically ill, he used his ability to motivate and benefit others.  “He always strived to let people know the value of life, and to help them have the opportunity to appreciate it.” Brenda said.

Then, in September 2010 his generosity with others was returned to him – someone said “yes” to donation and saved Gregory’s life.  He got the call that a liver was available and he immediately went to the hospital.  His surgery was a success and he healed quickly.  Just two weeks after his transplant, he was at Gift of Life Donor Program volunteering and out in the community sharing his amazing story.

“As soon as he was able to, he starting volunteering and giving back.” said Brenda. “He got his transplant and was so excited to be alive.  He saw the beauty in everything.  Somebody gave him another chance to live and he wanted to give back.  He was rediscovering everything and had such an appreciation for his family, his neighbors and friends.”

Sadly, Gregory has since passed away, but his legacy lives on through his wife, children and grandchildren.  Brenda is a huge advocate for Gift of Life and for organ and tissue donation, speaks regularly and does community outreach.  She is also a member of the Delaware Coalition and has promoted donation throughout the state.

Currently, more than 5,700 people in Gift of Life’s region – eastern PA, southern NJ and DE – are awaiting a life-saving organ transplant, and minorities are the group that is affected the most.  National Minority Donor Awareness Week, held August 1-7, honors the generosity of multicultural donors and their families, while also underscoring the critical need for minority communities to register as potential organ and tissue donors. Nationally, minority communities represent 25% of the population, but represent a startling 58% and more of those waiting on a life-saving transplant. In Gift of Life’s region, more than 50% of those waiting for a kidney transplant are minority.  Gift of Life believes this week is an important platform to build upon because lack of education is crippling minority communities.

“I speak with so many people in the minority community who lack trust and have a lot of misconceptions about organ donation.” said Brenda. “I want to encourage people to give others another chance at life.  I don’t think people realize how many individuals are waiting and how great the need is.”

Why have I not heard from my loved one’s recipients?

June 3rd, 2016

Donor family members are often disappointed when they have not heard from their loved ones’ recipients. While many would agree that a thank you note is a kind and appropriate gesture, there are several valid reasons why one may chose not to write. Hopefully this post sheds some light on some of the emotions recipients’ face that may serve as barriers to the act of writing.   

There are a variety of reasons why some recipients don’t initiate the correspondence process or respond to letters from their donor’s family. Generally speaking, this is a very unique relationship and many people are unsure how to navigate it. Instead of opening the door to the unknown, they may choose the path of least resistance and leave it shut. Many recipients feel very overwhelmed at the thought of their life continuing on when someone else’s ended. Often, there is a level of “survivor guilt” that may be present. For some recipients, hearing from a donor’s family about the person who died could be emotionally difficult.  To write a letter may be a hard task for them to accomplish. Perhaps they don’t feel “worthy” of this immense gift or cannot put into words how this feels.

Also, some recipients may have a difficult recovery period or have not had the restored health they hoped for post-transplant. They may not want to share their health status with their donor’s family in the event that this would be a disappointment. Lastly, some patients, while the sickest and in most need, may not have the personality that lends itself to expressing their emotions.

Recipients are encouraged by their transplant centers to write letters of thanks to their donor’s family, but unfortunately this is not something that is a requirement once receiving an organ. Gift of Life Donor Program also offers “writing kits” for the transplant centers to provide to their recipients to assist them with the writing process. Family Support Services counselors at Gift of Life also hold “Writing to your Donor Family” workshops at area transplant centers and at Gift of Life Family House to talk with recipients about the importance of writing and to acknowledge the emotional aspects of the process.

If you would like to know more about the correspondence process you can contact Family Support Services.  We are also hosting an informational workshop for donor families on Wednesday, June 8 from 6:30pm-8:30pm about communicating with recipients. If you would like to attend the workshop, please RSVP by June 3 to Leslie Coleman.

Additionally, Hearts of Gold is a volunteer group of donor family members, whose aim is to address the specific needs and issues of these families. The group focuses on how donor families can educate the public about organ and tissue donation, and acts as a support system for other families whose loved ones have made the generous decision to donate in their time of grief.  Find out more here: http://www.donors1.org/volunteer/groups/hearts/ 

 
 

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

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