Illinois Donor Diary – Team Swanson

December 8, 2011

A few weeks ago, we asked Robyn Swanson to write a short blog post about her experiences with organ and tissue donation. Robyn has a unique perspective on organ donation. Her twin boys, Jake and Luke, were diagnosed with biliary atresia which caused both to need liver transplants.

The Swanson Family

Our twin boys, Luke and Jake, became the newest members of “Team Swanson” in October 2008. At birth, they were the picture of good health. But it soon became apparent that something wasn’t right when the slightly yellow, almost jaundiced appearance, associated with newborns lingered.

Just three months later, we received devastating news from the doctors at Children’s Memorial Hospital. Luke and Jake both had a rare disease called biliary atresia, a condition in which the liver’s bile ducts develop improperly. The doctors at Children’s Memorial were as shocked as my husband and me since they were unaware of a case of twins both being diagnosed with this condition.

The exact cause of biliary atresia is unknown, but experts believe that during the third trimester of pregnancy something causes the fetus’ liver to attack itself. The build-up of bile causes irreversible cirrhosis of the liver. The only cure for my boys would be liver transplants. Both were place on the national organ transplant waiting List in fall 2009. Our family’s wait for two healthy boys was under way.

Waiting for a new liver.

On August 11 of this year, after almost two years of waiting, we were blessed with a call from the transplant team at Children’s Memorial. They had amazing news—there was a match for Jake. He received his new liver on August 12 and has experienced an amazing recovery. He is a new kid, full of energy and life!

As a family, we now find ourselves in an unusual and uncomfortable place.  We are excited and relieved for Jake, but we still feel very anxious and concerned for Luke as he continues to wait for a transplant. We are hopeful for Luke and his future and anticipate the day he will be able to run, laugh and play like his brother Jake.

As a family, we often reflect back on our journey. One of the first thoughts we had when we saw Jake in recovery was that donor family was in the opposite situation that we were in. They were grieving while we were joyous for Jake and his future. My eyes fill with tears when thinking about them. They decided, in their darkest moment, to help Jake and others like him during their unspeakable tragedy. We are forever grateful to this anonymous family for their gift of life.

The Swanson boys on the way to the Bears game.

This September, our friends at Children’s Memorial and Donate Life Illinois asked Team Swanson to join them at the Bears versus Packers game at Soldier Field. Of course, we said “yes” and were excited to go.  The smiles on all of our boys’ faces that day were priceless as we walked on the field. It was an encouraging reminder of all of the wonderful memories that are yet to come—memories made possible by offering the amazing gift of life through organ and tissue donation.

The boys at Soldier Field.

Robyn Swanson

Register your decision to save lives by becoming an organ and tissue donor at!


Donate Life Month Wrap-Up

May 4, 2011

April has ended, and May is officially here. We can now look forward to warm weather, kids coming home from school, days at the beach and all sorts of summer fun. But, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s be sure to reflect on an extremely successful National Donate Life Month.

There were hundreds of events and news stories surrounding donation throughout April, which led to a HUGE boost in donor registrations. Here, in no particular order, are four of our favorites from the past month.

1. 30 Reasons You Should Register as an Organ Donor Blog

Scott's driver's license showing that he is a registered donor.

Scott Meis, a good friend of Donate Life Illinois, documented 30 reasons why you should register as an organ and tissue donor. Each day throughout the month of April, Scott gave a new reason to register. His reasons to register ranged from sharing donor family and recipient stories to his #1 reason you should register—Duh.

Scott’s blog is an amazing compilation of donation stories and information. We encourage you to take a few moments to read 30
Reasons You Should Register as an Organ
 at Scott’s blog.

2. Charles Tillman and Paco Rodriguez

Organ and tissue donation leaped into the national headlines on Tuesday, April 19. Two nationally syndicated television shows prominently featured heartfelt organ and tissue donation stories.

Jackie Tillman, daughter and heart transplant recipient Tiana and Charles.

In the morning, The Oprah Winfrey Show featured the family of Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman and their story of life and donation. Tiana Tillman, Charles’ daughter, needed  a lifesaving heart transplant as a baby, and she was fortunate enough to receive the gift of life from a selfless donor. Oprah highlighted the Tillman family’s story and then introduced them to their donor family. You can view the video here.

Recipients of Francisco Rodriguez's organs with Francisco's wife and child, Sonia and Ginette Rodriguez.

Later that afternoon, the ESPN program E:60 told the story of Chicago boxer Francisco “Paco” Rodriguez and his family’s decision to donate life after a fatal bout in Philadelphia. The story is available on here.

3. Gift of Hope Hospital Campaign

Morgan D'Organ joins Wendy, Nichole and Ryan at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago

Throughout April, the Hospital Development staff at Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network worked closely with hospitals throughout Illinois and northwest Indiana to build donation awareness and register hospital staff and guests as organ and tissue donors. The Hospital Development staff held tons of events and registered hundreds of individuals as organ and tissue donors. Their efforts ranged from staffing donor registration tables to hosting educational panels featuring Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

Steve Ferkau and Anna Davlantes at Lifesaving Partners.

The Hospital Development staff also hosted the annual Lifesaving Partners Awards event with Fox Chicago News anchor Anna Davlantes as emcee and double-lung recipient Steve Ferkau as featured speaker. 

4. Commercial Featuring Mikahla Thornton and Brittney Payton

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s office produced a commercial featuring heart recipient Mikahla Thornton and Brittney Payton, daughter of the late Chicago Bears legend. The commercial aired throughout Illinois and encouraged viewers to register their decision to be organ and tissue donors.

Thanks to all of you who made an effort to promote organ and tissue donation throughout National Donate Life Month. No effort was too small in April, whether it was a tweet to friends encouraging them to register or an event that drew thousands. If you haven’t done so already, take 30 seconds to register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at!

Oprah and ESPN to feature Organ Donation Stories

April 18, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, will be a remarkable day for building organ and tissue donation awareness across the country and encouraging people to become donors. Tomorrow, two dramatic, hard-hitting stories that showcase precisely what we exist for as an organization—providing the Gift of Hope made possible through organ and tissue donation—will be televised nationally.

In the morning, The Oprah Winfrey Show will feature the story of Chicago Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman and his daughter’s lifesaving heart transplant. The broadcast will feature Charles, wife Jackie and daughter Tiana Tillman as they relive their experiences waiting for a transplant and the precious moments of life they’ve captured since then. The show also features the dramatic and emotional first meeting between the Tillmans and the family that chose to give hope and life to the Tillmans through donation.

Later, ESPN will showcase the powerful impact that organ and tissue donation can have on people’s lives in a segment on the critically acclaimed E:60. Reporter Jeremy Schaap will document the tragic death of professional boxer and Chicago native Francisco “Paco” Rodriguez and his family’s decision to give hope and life to others by donating Paco’s organs and tissue. In November 2009, Paco died from injuries sustained in a bout in Philadelphia. His family ensured that Paco’s legacy would live on by making the selfless decision to donate.

The Oprah Winfrey Show airs on ABC7 tomorrow, April 19, at 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. CDT in the metropolitan Chicago area. Check your local listings for broadcast times outside of Chicago. E:60 airs tomorrow on ESPN at 6 p.m. CDT across the country. In addition, a companion piece will run on, and ESPN Deportes will air a Spanish-language version of Paco’s story on Sunday, April 24.

Register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at 

Commuting With A Cause

December 1, 2010

Recently, we brought our message of the importance to register as a donor to CTA riders. Chicago residents and recent visitors may have seen our current batch of ads on city buses, inside L cars and on the L platform digital displays. As riders are waiting for the train to arrive or for the bus to make it to their stop, the ad will bring attention to the more than 4,700 Illinoisans waiting for a transplant and the individuals who are added to the list each day.

Although the ads appear only in Chicago for now, the message and statistics resonate throughout the state. Share your thoughts below or on the DLI Facebook page.  Click the image to view a larger version of the ad.

Bus Interior

Blue Line Interior

Brown Line Interior

Red Line Interior

Platform Digital Display

Bus Taillight

Morgan and Da Bears

October 20, 2010

Morgan D’Organ has been traveling this great state  for the past few months and has met loads of Illinois residents who support organ donation. Traveling with the DLI team, he was very well taken care of.

This Sunday, Morgan will be at the Chicago Bears Ultimate Tailgating event at Soldier Field. As always, Morgan and his entourage will be registering organ donors and giving away DLI t-shirts, wristbands and more. The tailgating event is free and open to the public. Check out the Bears site for all the details.

View Bears cornerback Charles Tillman discuss why he supports donation.

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Scrimmage with Chicago Bears and Save Lives

June 11, 2010

Donate Life Illinois partner, Illinois Secretary of State, has joined forces with the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation to bring organ and tissue donation to the forefront of Charles Tillman’s 4th Annual Meijer Celebrity Gridiron Challenge. Vicki, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Illinois Secretary of State, shares the event details in today’s post.  It’s an event not to miss! -Joslyn

On Saturday, June 19, Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman will host the 4th Annual Celebrity Gridiron Challenge.

There will be lots of games and activities for the entire family including a performance by the Jesse White Tumbling Team.  Fans of all ages will enjoy watching on-field scrimmages with pro football players and will have a chance to meet members of the Chicago Bears.  A donor registration drive will be held in The Cornerstone Fan Zone where there will also be games and activities for children.

Secretary of State Jesse White will present Charles Tillman and his wife Jackie with a signed Proclamation issued by Governor Quinn declaring June 19th as The Tillman Family Organ/Tissue Donor Awareness Day.

The Tillmans became involved in raising awareness for organ/tissue donation after their daughter Tiana received a lifesaving heart transplant at just three months old.  Tiana was born with cardiomyopathy and needed a heart transplant in order to save her life.  She is now a healthy 3-year-old. Click here to learn more about Tiana’s story.

The festivities run from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Lake Zurich High School located at 320 Church Street in Lake Zurich.  Attendance is free. Click here for additional event details.

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New Hope for Those That Need a Heart

December 10, 2009

CBS Nightly News had an excellent interview with Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman who has stepped up as a huge advocate for organ donation. Thanks to Glenn for sharing on his Donate Life blog and we’ve also included a link below, be sure to watch by just clicking on the photo!

In addition, if you live in Chicago, be sure to pick up a copy of today’s RedEye as the full-page ad below on Charles is featured right before the sports section!


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