30 Stories in 30 Days: Open-Hearted

April 30, 2013
Melissa and her daughter Chloe

Melissa and her daughter Chloe

“A heart transplant in 2007 brought me from my deepest, sickest day to feeling more alive than ever,” said Melissa Simon.  “This new heart has given me a life I never imagined possible.”

When Melissa was 14, she was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and weakened.  For about a year Melissa was on bed rest and medications.  In time her condition stabilized.  “I learned to compensate for my decreased heart function and led a relatively normal life for many years,” she said.  She finished her education, got married and started on her career.

When she was 26, an echocardiogram showed that one of Melissa’s heart valves was leaking.  Doctors performed reparative surgery but Melissa’s condition worsened and she suffered from pressure on the heart that prevents it from functioning normally.  “I went downhill fast,” Melissa explained.  “Every day was a struggle.”  Melissa was placed on the heart transplant list on May 20, 2007.

Melissa's donor, Chloe

Melissa’s donor, Chloe

Fourteen-year-old Chloe Coleman died June 5, 2007 and the next day Melissa received her heart.  “I am so grateful to Chloe for giving me her gift that represents the highest level of compassion for others,” Melissa said.  “While her gift is my greatest joy, it’s at the expense of greatest sorrow for Chloe’s family.”

Melissa now has a close relationship with Chloe’s family and when she first did the 95-flight climb up the Hancock Building, Chloe’s parents were at the top to applaud.  Also to honor Chloe, Melissa and her husband Dave named their daughter Chloe after the generous girl whose last act of giving was to donate her organs.

For more about Melissa, visit her website at http://www.MelissaSimon.org.


30 Stories in 30 Days: A Second Life

April 24, 2013

Norvelle Smith’s story started more than 15 years ago when, at the age of 24, he had two minor heart attacks and two strokes in one week. “I never had any health problems,” he explained. “I was very active as a child, playing football and basketball and even doing some weight lifting.”

Norvelle maintained a very active lifestyle well into his 20s. “I never used any type of drugs or drank much alcohol,” he said. “But I suppose medical conditions don’t always happen because of the life you live.”

After his health issues arose, Norvelle learned that his heart was functioning at only 33 percent of capacity and was enlarged. “I also learned that the strokes and heart attacks were caused by blood clots in my heart chambers,” he explained. “I lived day to day, taking many medications to control high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.”


Norvelle is alive today because an LVAD was able to sustain him until he received a lifesaving heart transplant.

This continued until Norvelle was 35 when his condition deteriorated further. He was admitted to the hospital where he received an LAVD (left ventricular assist device), which acts like a mechanical heart that takes over for a weakened or nonfunctioning heart and pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Norvelle was hospitalized this way for four months before he received a successful heart transplant. “I have been living for the past four-and-a-half years with my new heart and doing very well,” he said.

Like so many organ and tissue recipients, Norvelle said he received a “second life” due to the generosity of a donor. In many cases, donation also benefits families of donors and helps them manage their grief by knowing that someone lives because of their loved one’s selfless act.

30 Stories in 30 Days: Sarah’s Gift of Sight

April 14, 2013
Sarah Mittler and her family.

Sarah Mittler and her family.

One day in December 2009, Sarah Mittler looked at her kitchen wall clock, and it was blurry and cloudy. “It was as if I were looking through bubble wrap,” she recalled. Shealso noticed other vision problems, such as difficulty in watching TV and needing more light for reading. Driving was becoming tricky, too.

Sarah saw her eye doctor in January 2010 and learned she had Fuchs’ dystrophy, a buildup of fluid behind the cornea of the eye that causes vision distortion. After trying other therapies that failed to stop the deterioration of her vision, Sarah learned about a procedure called DSEK, where a layer of cornea is removed and replaced by a donor cornea. Her eye doctor said the transplant had little chance of rejection, a low rate of infection and a short healing time. “I was being given a gift of hope!” she exclaimed.

In August 2010, Sarah had her first surgery on one eye, and by the next morning she could see. “I opened my eye to clearly see the smiling faces of my children,” she said.She called a friend at the Illinois Eye-Bank to tell her of the “miracle.”

Her second surgery was in December 2010. “I could hardly wait to have vision in two eyes,” she said. Afterward, she did. “I could count the lights on the Christmas tree, drive in snow and see every day, all day,” she said.

“Words cannot express my gratitude for this beautiful gift,” Sarah said. “How could someone think of me during such a difficult time? I am overwhelmed each day, and I thank my donors for their unselfish gifts to me. I thank God each evening for the gift of sight, and each morning I ask God to embrace my donor families and bring them peace.”

30 Stories in 30 Days: Kevin’s Life Song

April 11, 2013
Kevin Smith's love of music helped sustain him through two kidney transplants.

Kevin Smith’s love of music helped sustain him through two kidney transplants.

In May 1989, Kevin Smith was 29, married with three daughters and a musician in Los Angeles when he went entered the emergency room at Harbor General UCLA Medical Center. His blood pressure was 322/218, and he had been suffering from severe headaches, blurred vision and nausea.

He was diagnosed with pheochromocytoma, a tumor that causes the adrenal glands to produce high levels of hormones and raises a person’s blood pressure and heart rate. Kevin was told that his long-term hypertension had caused his kidneys to shrink. “What I wasn’t told, and later found out, was that this often leads to kidney failure,” he said.

Kevin moved to Illinois to be near his family and its support system. Soon after the move, he had another major episode and was diagnosed with kidney failure. He was given emergency dialysis for five days to get stabilized. Then he started routine dialysis and went on the kidney transplant list.

Almost two years later, a donor kidney became available, and he had a kidney transplant. But major complications ensued. That led to seven more operations and, eventually, organ rejection. “I went back on dialysis, and it took several months until I was healthy enough to be placed back on the transplant waiting list,” he said.

Thanks to a selfless donor, Kevin is able to pursue his passion of music.

Thanks to a selfless donor, Kevin is able to pursue his passion of music.

His waiting time was anything but unproductive. During his time on dialysis, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Then, in 1994, he received another call and went to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield for a successful kidney transplant.

It has been more than 18 years since his transplant, and everything today is good. “I’m working in education with at-risk children, I’m still playing music and, most wonderful of all, I’m spending time with my three daughters and five grandchildren,” Kevin said.

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30 Stories in 30 Days: Liver Transplant Creates a Bright Future

April 10, 2013
Tim and Donna Battershell

Tim and Donna Battershell

When Tim Battershell emerged from a week-long coma in August 2006, he learned that he had liver failure. “This was the beginning of a journey that was very difficult for my family and me as we waited more than a year for the call that would save my life,” Tim said.

During the next 14 months, he was in and out of the hospital for procedures to keep him alive. “Many procedures were done to help keep me alive, with the hope of eventually receiving a liver transplant. I was eventually referred to Kovler Organ Transplantation Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago to be screened as a liver transplant recipient.”

In August 2007 Tim suffered a serious bowel obstruction and was flown from Carle Hospital in Champaign to Northwestern Memorial. “As I recuperated, I knew my body was struggling to keep going,” he explained. “Without a liver, I would not survive past Christmas.”

Tim prior to transplant

Tim prior to transplant

In the following months, Tim endured more hospitals, doctors and procedures. Then, at 5 a.m. on October 14, 2007, he received a call that would change his life. They had a liver for him. “I remember going into surgery at 2:30 that afternoon to receive a new liver and a second chance at life. My mind was filled with anticipation, but also with sadness, knowing that another family would be grieving the loss of their loved one.”

It has now been more than five years since his transplant, and Tim is living a full life. “I am back playing golf, taking longs walks and enjoying my family,” he said. “My wife, Donna, and I take nothing for granted. The future is bright with endless possibilities. But without my donor and his family, I would not be here today. I consider them heroes for selflessly helping someone they didn’t know.”

Tim is now an Advocates for Hope volunteer for Gift of Hope, urging others to become registered donors. “I encourage everyone to register today at GiftofHope.org,” he said.

30 Stories in 30 Days: Pain, Grieving and the Gift of Life

April 9, 2013
The last photo of Colby and his family.

The last photo of Colby and his family.

On March 31, 2005, a 1:30 a.m. phone call changed the lives of Tim and Mida Smith forever. “Our son, Colby, had been in an accident,” Mida recalled. “He had severe head trauma, and the doctors did not think he would survive.”

Colby with his wife and kids before a race.

Colby with his wife and kids before a race.

The worried parents immediately drove 800 miles from their home in Arkansas to St. Anthony’s Hospital in Rockford, Ill. There they met their daughter-in-law, Jen, and the doctors who said Colby’s death was imminent. “Our beautiful 33-year-old son lay there on a ventilator waiting to die,” Mida said. “We were devastated.”

Surrounded by their daughters and Jen, Tim and Mida prayed and waited, but they realized that some decisions had to be made. “We knew he would want to donate his organs to save a life or improve the quality of life for someone else,” Mida said. And the recovery team from Madison was called.

“The following days were a blur of pain and grieving,” Mida shared. She said the approach of Mothers Day was especially difficult. But the day before, they received a letter from the Illinois Eye-Bank stating that Colby had given the gift of sight to a young man in Michigan. Later they learned that Colby’s liver, pancreas and kidneys gave life to three other people through transplants.

“Our precious son is gone, but he lives on in his children and the gift of life he has given to others through his donated tissue, bone and organs,” Mida said. To honor Colby, the family hosts an annual fundraising run. “August 24, 2013, will be the sixth annual Colby Smith Memorial Four-Mile Classic,” Mida said. “To date, this event has raised more than $40,000 in scholarships for Aquin Catholic School students in Freeport, Ill.

Mida and Tim surrounded by their family in the summer of 2012.

Mida and Tim surrounded by their family in the summer of 2012.

30 Stories in 30 Days: A Clear Vision for the Future

April 8, 2013
Linda Ellerman

Thanks to a cornea transplant, Linda is able to see clearly.

Linda Ellerman is an advocate for organ and tissue donation and a staunch believer in miracles from God because she is “living proof” of the benefits of organ and tissue donation. Her story began nearly six years ago when she was diagnosed with an eye infection.

A specialist at University of Illinois Medical Center determined she had a corneal fungal infection that was causing her cornea to become cloudy. “It was destroying the cornea tissue and rendering me completely blind in my left eye,” she explained.

Another problem was high ocular pressure. She said it was so great that it made cornea surgery difficult. The doctor explained that it would be like trying to put a patch on an inflated balloon. “As soon as a cut was made to remove the damaged cornea tissue, the balloon would pop,” she said. “This would complicate knowing where to put the donated tissue because the cornea would shrivel as soon as it was cut.”

Tissue rejection also was a possibility, and she would likely need a second transplant, Linda said. Thankfully, this was not the case, and five years have passed since her surgery. “My life is completely normal,” Linda said. “I am still at risk for tissue rejection, but the risk is 1 percent or less.”

Linda’s experience moved her to become an advocate for organ and tissue donation. “It was something I had always supported before but did not know very much about. Now, I know quite a bit and I continue volunteering for the Illinois Eye-Bank and Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network.”

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