Donation Offers Breath of Life

April 5, 2014
Jason wasn't supposed to see his first birthday. Here he is celebrating his 30th.

Jason wasn’t supposed to see his first birthday. Here he is celebrating his 30th.

Diagnosed at birth with cystic fibrosis — a disease that critically affects the lungs — Jason Wiltfang was expected to live two weeks. He is 33 today, thanks to organ donation.

Jason beat the early odds to live a relatively normal childhood, taking part in active sports like baseball and wrestling. But as he reached his mid-20s, his health declined, and he was placed on the lung transplant waiting list. In November 2011, his family received the call that a possible donor was available. At the hospital “the doctor came in to tell us that the lungs were a match,” recalls his sister, Kristina.

After the transplant, Jason was able to go bowling again, attend family get-togethers and go places with friends. “We were overjoyed but devastated for the family of the donor because that could have been us — we could have lost someone we love,” Kristina says.

Jason and his family as the prep for his lung transplant.

Jason and his family as the prep for his lung transplant.

In July 2013, Jason again was rushed to the hospital. His transplanted lungs had given him all the new life they could, and he needed another transplant. “We hoped and prayed every night for a new donor match for Jason,” Kristina says. “At the same time we felt bad for the loss that had to come.”

Months passed, and Jason’s body started to give up. Even worse, he began to lose hope. “My husband and I went to visit him,” Kristina says. “As I was leaving, I thought that was it. I thought I was saying goodbye to my best friend for good.”

Two days later, the family was called to the hospital. A lung donor had been found. “The best part of the day was seeing the huge smile on Jason’s face and his will to fight restored,” Kristina says.

Jason shortly after his transplant.

Jason shortly after his transplant.

Jason received his transplant and today is recovering and beating all odds against him, his sister says. “Imagine lying in that hospital bed, day in and day out, waiting to take your last breath. Now imagine being able to get out of it after seven months. Because of organ donation, my hero will be able to do that soon.”

Organ donation is a true gift of life and a large benefactor in Jason’s life, Kristina says. “That is why I’m an Advocates for Hope volunteer for Gift of Hope, and I hope to have my brother get involved with me as soon as he is able.”


30 Stories in 30 Days: Answered Prayers

April 16, 2013
The D'Agostino Family

The D’Agostino Family

The prayers of an entire community were answered on October 24, 2011, when Julie D’Agostino had her successful double-lung transplant surgery. On the one-year anniversary, family and friends gathered for a special rosary of thanksgiving at Visitation Church in Elmhurst, Ill., where hundreds of the faithful had gathered to pray for Julie many times during her life-threatening ordeal with cystic fibrosis, a progressive disease that clogs the lungs with mucus, makes it difficult to breath and causes lung infections.

Julie is alive today because a selfless donor said "Yes" to donation.

Julie is alive today because a selfless donor said “Yes” to donation.

“My daughter was prayed to good health,” said Mary D’Agostino. “She didn’t have a lot of life left in her. Those lungs were brought to her by prayer.” Julie had been on the transplant waiting list for two years. When her health took a dire turn, a donor came to her rescue. “We were celebrating, but another family had lost their loved one,” Mary said.

The D’Agostino family knows nothing about the donor who changed Julie’s life, but Julie and her family are so grateful that they have chosen to give back by advocating for organ and tissue donation. Today, they are all Advocates for Hope volunteers with Gift of Hope.

In addition to the family’s efforts to make people aware of the opportunities for organ and tissue donation, Julie’s neighbor, Giancarlo Iannotta, has made a movie, “Miracle on South Street: The Julie D Story.” His project began when he filmed Julie’s homecoming after her transplant surgery. He posted the two-minute segment on Facebook and was amazed at the interest.

This inspired him to tell Julie’s story by creating a 40-minute documentary that has been broadcast on WTTW Channel 11 in Chicago and on Comcast On Demand. It also has been featured at the York Theatre in Elmhurst and is now available on DVD.

<p><a href=”″>MIRACLE ON SOUTH STREET: The Julie D Story (Trailer)</a> from <a href=””>Giancarlo Iannotta</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Illinois Donor Diaries – Chapter 34 – I Am An Organ Donor Because of My Soul Mate

October 7, 2009

Julie shares the latest chapter from our Illinois Donor Diaries about her late husband, who was a transplant recipient.

Please submit your story here if you’d like us to share your personal tie to organ and tissue donation.



Julie and Chad

I was blessed to have met and spent three years with  my soul mate, Chad. Six months of that time we were married and enjoyed each others’ lives because of organ donation!

In 1996 Chad received a double-lung transplant due to complications from his cystic fibrosis.  If it hadn’t been for his donor’s family, Chad & I would have never met.  That donor and his family gave Chad a second chance at life and for that I am very grateful!

Ten years later, in 2006, Chad was in need of a kidney transplant and his sister was a match.  She selflessly gave one of her kidneys to Chad.  Six months later, Chad & I were married.  It was the most beautiful and memorable day of my life – and all thanks to organ donation.

Sadly, Chad was diagnosed with cancer shortly after our wedding and passed away six months later. Even before I met Chad, I was certain of the benefits of organ donation and had discussed with my family many times my desire to be an organ donor.  Knowing all the wonderful memories I have of Chad and that the time we spent together was possible because of organ donation motivates me to encourage others to register as donors as well.

-Julie H.
Quincy, IL

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Why Do You Heart Organ Donors?

September 29, 2009


Throughout September, we’ve been giving away free “I Heart Organ Donors” t-shirts as part of our Donor T-Shirt Tuesday giveaway. The shirts are given out to people who register each Tuesday as well as to those that write in to tell us why they “heart organ donors.”

We’re always blown away by the great response and willingness of others to share their personal ties to the issue – whether it be on our Facebook page, on YouTube, within our transplant community or elsewhere across the Web.

We also wanted to share some of the great responses we’ve received as part of this weekly t-shirt giveaway. Thanks to everyone that has submitted responses and remember that today is the last day to participate! Click here to find out how.


The last chance you have to help someone here on earth is to donate your organs.  I have been an organ donor for many years and I have a deep peace about it.  My precious little granddaughter Ashley has Cystic Fibrosis and it is very possible that one day she will need a lung transplant.  This could only be possible through an organ donor. I also have a friend who was the recipient of an organ transplant. I would not still have this dear friend today if it wasn’t for someone who cared enough about someone they didn’t even know, to donate their organs when they left this earth.  I know that someday I too will be that person who cared for someone I didn’t even know.

~Jan – Washington, IL

The reasons that I HEART ORGAN DONATION are simple.  My husband Joel of 13 years, received a double lung transplant October 30, 2006.  Without the generous gift a family made, he would not be here with me today.  We’ve been together since high school for a grand total of 20 years this past June. Unfortunately, his lungs are in rejection, so we are again waiting on the transplant list at Loyola.  Also, we are very grateful for another donor family, as my husband’s brother Kevin received a double lung transplant May 14, 2009.  He is doing very well, and I know that he would not be here with us today if he had not received a transplant.  I am an organ donor, and we encourage everyone we know to become one as well.  Thanks DONOR families!!! We LOVE YOU!!!!

~Jodi, Merrillville, IN

I heart organ donation for many reasons, but the primary reason would be my brother. He has Cystic Fibrosis and received a Bi-Lateral Lung Transplant. We are about to celebrate the one year anniversary of his transplant in October, and I couldn’t be happier. My brother’s donor is my hero because without him my brother may not have had another year, especially feeling as good as he does now. I am proud to be an organ donor so that I may be able to give more years to someone the way they were given to my brother, and my whole family.

~Ginger, Huntley, IL

Why others heart organ donors…

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Steve’s Organ Donation Story – The Circle of Life

November 19, 2008

It’s been a long time coming.



Chances are that if you’re involved in the transplant community, you’ve stumbled across Steve Ferkau at some point in your life. Whether you’ve connected through his blogging on Revive Hope, a discussion board post on, joining Kari’s Klimbers (Steve’s Hustle Up the Hancock team that helps raise money for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago), or out at a local speaking event or registration drive where Steve frequently volunteers time educating the public about the importance of organ and tissue donation.

Steve is 48-years-old. He has lived with cystic fibrosis his entire life.

If you know Steve, you know about Kari. Kari is Steve’s donor, who over eight years ago, helped Steve with a second chance at life when her family donated Kari’s organs. After back and forth email exchanges with Steve over the past couple years, I knew we wanted to find a way to convey Steve’s story in a video format. He’s about the most upbeat, motivating man you’ll meet.

Please take a moment to check it out and share with others. Thanks Steve – you do an amazing job of honoring Kari everyday.


Link to video:

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Illinois Donor Diaries – Chapter 23 – Brent’s Battle

October 31, 2008
Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Brent Shyrock over email. It was about the friendliest exchange anyone could expect from a stranger. Brent shared his story with me and detailed his great appreciation for life since receiving a lung transplant. Brent and his friend Laura helped us out with our inaugural Campus Challenge last year by helping to register members of the Illinois Central College community.

I asked Laura to share Brent’s story with us as part of our Illinois Donor Diaries. Please check out the entry below.




Several years ago a remarkable person entered my life, Brent Shryock. During our friendship, I learned so much from him. Brent was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), when he was a child. I learned about all the struggles he and his family had. Taking labs and making periodic visits to the doctors and hospitals were expected for the rest of his life. At age 22, Brent had a bilateral lung transplant. Through the hopes and prayers of his family and friends, the transplant was successful.

Over the next year, Brent was doing things he had never dreamed of.  He could finally breathe without a machine. During our time together, we were doing something new everyday. We had so many great adventures from going to Six Flags St. Louis to visiting the local parks and zoos.

In October 2007, Brent was having complications and returned to the hospital where he had his transplant.  Initially the doctors thought he had pneumonia, but his health quickly declined. Brent’s mother and I took turns keeping him company during his long hospital stay. Seeing his health worsen was very devastating; so many thoughts went through my mind, especially that of helplessness. His body was rejecting his new lungs and he was put back on the transplant waiting list. Soon enough, Brent became unconscious and didn’t realize his life was depending on another transplant.

I wasn’t there through his first transplant but I was going to stay by his side through the second. Weeks went by; his body would get worse and then better, yet no matches. It came to the point where all of Brent’s other organs were deteriorating. We were going to lose him. His mother told me they were going to call up the family to say their goodbyes before they let him go. It was the worst news to hear because he was such a strong man and I seriously thought that he would pull through. The family came in to speak to him; I watched his pulse go down to zero. He was gone.

Even though Brent’s body ultimately rejected the new lungs, the transplant saved his life. During the year that he had his new lungs; Brent accepted his faith and was able to experience what true love really is. Experiencing life with Brent also changed my life for the better. He led me into the right direction and there is not one day that goes by without thinking of him and the impact he has had in my life. While I wish another donor would have come at the right time for Brent, I know that he is still with me in spirit.

We can all make a difference in helping people like Brent that are in need of a second chance at life. Register to be an organ donor today and change someone’s life!

Laura Finney
Peoria, Ill.

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