Liver recipient Rafiah Cheeks and his family have a special connection to donation, having experienced both sides of organ donation and transplantation. Rafiah explains more in his own words below.
“Most kids heal quickly, but not me. I broke my leg when I was two years old, and I didn’t heal for months. I needed a tiny little walker just to toddle around.
That was just one blow in a short life filled with medical problems. I was born with a failing liver that affected every part of my body, including bone formation. I can only imagine how difficult it was for my mom and dad, sitting by the phone as I waited for a liver transplant. They worried I would die before I turned four.
I did get a transplant. I only know two things about my extraordinary gift: my donor was my age, and my donor’s parents, on the worst day of their lives, made a selfless decision that saved mine.
I thought of them, and my little walker, as I practiced for the Donate Life Transplant Games of America, where organ transplant recipients and living donors competed in Olympics-style events in San Diego last summer. As part of Gift of Life Donor Program’s Team Philadelphia, I proudly helped represent our region and competed in basketball, track & field and bowling. My mom started taking me to the Games in 1996 as a chance for me to make friends with other young transplant recipients. Seeing everyone together on opening night, cheering, laughing, and crying, knowing we are here because of the generosity of another human being is truly magical.
My mom understood it was also important to spend time with another group, too: donor family members. Many of them travel with the team to cheer us on. It’s a special way for them to see the impact of their loved one’s generosity.
I am now a member of a donor family. I lost my mom in 2021 and we knew she would be proud to help others even after she was gone. Her tissue and corneas were used to heal and transform the lives of strangers.
Every day, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be here. I look at my little scar in the mirror, faded after 30 years. My new liver has never given me any problems. I have only been on one medication for it my entire life. When I saw my transplant doctor recently, he could not believe how healthy I looked.
My donor not only saved my life, they gave me a great life. And I am so grateful.”