As August ends and September begins, many of the area’s students are heading back to school. For most students, the start of a new school year is an exciting time. It’s an opportunity for them to learn, to have fun with friends and to participate in extracurricular activities. Jenna Valle, a Manheim Central High School student, is grateful for more than just the start of the new school year – she’s grateful to be healthy and alive.
Jenna, 16, is a junior this year and just received her driver’s permit. When she passes her driver’s test and has her license, one thing is for certain – she will register to be an organ and tissue donor. In 2001 when she was just a baby, her parents knew that something was wrong. Jenna’s skin was yellow and she was failing to thrive. She began to require a feeding tube to eat, and her health was deteriorating. After extensive testing, doctors gave her mother and father news that no parent wants to hear – Jenna would need a life-saving liver transplant to survive.
After just a few short days in the hospital, another parent made the decision to say “yes” to organ and tissue donation. In their most difficult time – after losing their child – they courageously looked past their own sorrow and gave the gift of life. Jenna received a new liver and her transplant was a success.
“When I was 13 to about 15 years old, I felt very self-conscious about my scar and I had a lot of self-doubt because of it. Now, my whole outlook has changed. My scar and my transplant are a part of who I am, and I’m proud of that.” — Jenna Valle
Being a liver recipient has never held her back in life. She had to take anti-rejection medicine and had a scar, but she was a healthy and energetic child. She led an active life in middle school and played soccer, softball and was on the swim team. “My liver transplant is the reason that I’m alive.” said Jenna. “I won’t let it stop me! When I was 13 to about 15 years old, I felt very self-conscious about my scar and I had a lot of self-doubt because of it. Now, my whole outlook has changed. My scar and my transplant are a part of who I am, and I’m proud of that. I want to be open about it.” she said.
This past year, Jenna has broken out of her shell and has confidence in herself that she previously lacked. She joined the color guard at school, and has made many new friends through it. She is very outspoken about organ and tissue donation, and speaks frequently in the community – sharing her story and inspiring others to register as donors.
She has also participated in Gift of Life Donor Program’s Team Philadelphia five times. She has traveled the country with the team, competing in the Donate Life Transplant Games of America, an Olympic-style competition for organ transplant recipients and living donors. In 2016, Jenna went for the gold and brought home medals in bowling, softball throw and long jump. She said, “I think that being a part of Team Philly has given me a lot of self-acceptance. It showed me that I’m not alone, and that there are many others who have gone through what I have.”
Jenna is excited to begin the new school year. “My school is a great environment, people are friendly and I’ve bonded with many of my teachers. I feel comfortable there. I can’t believe that next year will be my last year.”
Education is power. When people learn the truth about donation and are able to dispel the 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 20 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 5,300 men, women and children are waiting for a transplant. Nationally, over 115,000 are waiting. Just one organ and tissue donor can save and enhance the lives of up to 75 others through organ and tissue donation, showing how impactful choosing to register as a donor can be.
“I always thought people knew about organ and tissue donation, but many don’t.” Jenna said. “I want them to know that donation saves lives. I think people should keep an open mind – and know that through being a donor – they can do a lot to help people. Life is a gift that not everyone gets. I have so much gratitude for my donor for saving my life. Even though I never met my donor’s family, I feel thankful for them every day.”