Through Knowledge Comes the Gift of Hope

April 28, 2014
Deb (left) is an active Advocates for Hope volunteer.

Deb (left) is an active Advocates for Hope volunteer.

“My son, Scott, was funny and crazy,” says Deb Juris. “He was a body-builder and a health nut. He read poetry. He stood guard over me at a Jimmy Buffet concert so I wouldn’t get stepped on. He was kind, warm-hearted, caring and a ‘help anybody’ kind of guy.”

But on February 14, 2004, came the phone call that every parent dreads. Scott had been in a horrible accident. “When we were told the extent of his injuries, we were in denial,” Deb says. The prognosis was worse than poor.

After 9/11, Scott decided to become a firefighter because he wanted to help people. “We spoke a lot about life and death, and he said he did not want to live on life support if anything ever happened,” she recalls. He also told her he wanted to be an organ donor. “Scott said that being an organ donor was sharing your love with others in need and this, of course, is what he was all about.”

The decision to let Scott go was the most difficult Deb ever had to make. “But, ultimately, it was the only decision because it was what he wanted. We let Scott go on February 18, 2004, and by his love for others he became an organ donor.”

Through their association with Gift of Hope, Deb and her family have met many wonderful recipients and learned their stories. “We are truly happy to hear how their lives were changed,” she says. “We pray that Scott’s recipients are doing well and living life to the fullest, just like Scott did.”

As an Advocates for Hope volunteer for Gift of Hope, Deb now shares Scott’s story with many people. “When someone says that one person cannot make a difference, we let them know that, yes, one person can,” she says. She urges her listeners to discuss with their families the benefits organ and tissue donation. “Through discussion there is education, through education there is knowledge and with knowledge comes the Gift of Hope for your fellow man.”


Peace and Purpose at Life’s End

April 25, 2014
Michelle and Brian

Michelle and Brian

Michelle Bernstein says that organ donation was of utmost importance to her brother, Brian, and, now, to her family as well. “For Brian, donating his organs helped to bring him peace and purpose at the end of his life,” she explains. This is Brian’s story as told by Michelle:

Brian had a tragic car accident in summer 2009, just weeks before his 18th birthday. The accident left him with a rare condition called “locked-in syndrome.” He was completely and permanently paralyzed from the neck down. He could not breathe, speak or swallow and depended on a ventilator and feeding tube to sustain him. Although paralyzed, he still suffered from constant pain. Yet, his cognitive abilities were fully intact. After much practice and patience, he learned to communicate by blinking his eyes and, later, mouthing words. Using these communication techniques, Brian conveyed his wishes to become an organ and tissue donor.

Brian was a fighter and persevered for nine months. However, realizing his situation would never change, Brian courageously decided that the time had come to be removed from life support in a way that his organs could be recovered for transplantation. Generously giving life to others was the one goal he could still achieve.

During his last days of life, Brian got two tattoos. He had the St. Michael the Archangel tattooed on his chest because he wished to be an archangel to those that he would be leaving behind. He also had the Donate Life logo tattooed on his right hand so that everyone paying final respects would see his silent message.

The night before Brian’s death, he consoled our mother saying, “Don’t cry, Mom. This is a good thing. I know what it’s like to suffer and lose hope. But tomorrow someone else will be getting good news.” Then in the hospital, when the organ compatibility tests were done and Brian learned who some of his likely recipients might be, he was pleased, but he responded, “I wish I could help them all.” That couldn’t be done, of course, but he saved and improved several lives by donating his organs and corneas.


In the end, Brian found a higher purpose that he expressed by giving life to strangers and inspiring those around him, while freeing himself from the torment of being trapped inside his own body. Our hearts are broken, and our lives are forever changed, but we will carry his mission forward and encourage those of you reading Brian’s story to do the same.

Gift of Life Unites Rivals

April 24, 2014
The Ehrenberg family

The Ehrenberg family

Terri Guzman is an Advocate for Hope volunteer with Gift of Hope because of the loss of her good friend, Jan Ehrenberg, 15 years ago. “Jan was a teacher, mother, daughter, sister and friend to so many,” Terri explains. And she was an ardent Chicago Cubs fan. In fact, she met her husband at Wrigley Field. But most important, Jan was an organ and tissue donor.

On April 11, 1999, Jan suffered a fatal head injury while playing a game of co-ed basketball. “She fought valiantly for four days, but on April 14th the doctors knew she was not going to recover,” Terri says. That’s when Vince, Jan’s husband, said “yes” to the question of organ and tissue donation. “Please know that telling your family that you want to be an organ donor is showing your generosity to them,” Terri says. “You can give comfort to your family that even in your passing you live on.”

After Jan’s death, her friends and family established the Jan Ehrenberg Scholarship Foundation (JESF) to continue Jan’s legacy as a teacher. Raising funds brought Terri to an event where Chicago White Sox players were signing autographs. “I am a true-blue Cubs fan, just as Jan was, so this was a stretch for me,” Terri says. But she had a baseball to be signed for the benefit, so she stood in line holding some brochures for JESF.

Jan and her kids

Jan and her kids

That’s when she met Mike Papineau, who asked about the brochures. Terri told Mike about Jan, and Mike told Terri about his kidney transplant. They shared the information they knew about dates and donor/recipient details. “We both knew right there what had happened,” Terri says. “I had randomly met my friend’s kidney recipient.”

Mike’s family and Jan’s family met a few weeks later — a group of die-hard Cubs and White Sox fans together at a barbeque. “They joked about the irony of the Cubs/Sox connection,” Terri recalls. Later they made a friendly wager: If the Cubs won the cross-town series, Mike would wear a Cubs hat at the JESF Golf Outing, and, if the Sox won, Terri would wear a Sox hat. The Cubs won.

In 2005, after five years of Cubs outings, JESF decided to do a Sox game instead. “Mike brought lots of friends,” Terri says. And strangely, later that year, the Sox won the World Series. “I think Jan had something to do with that,’ Terri says.

As One Life Ends, Another Begins

April 21, 2014


The message from two policemen at the door was every parent’s worst fear.

“Is Christopher Michaels your son? There’s been an accident,” one officer said.

Paramedics returning from another call were on the scene within moments after Chris was struck by a car Aug. 6, 2013. He was rollerblading home after volunteering at a local YMCA event.

Doctors at the hospital didn’t hold out much hope. Chris had suffered severe head trauma and was on a ventilator. He never regained consciousness. He was just 22. So strong, so handsome and so full of life.

Representatives of Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network asked if the family would consider organ donation for Chris — he was a registered donor. Their approach was gentle, but his mom, Jane, was in shock.

After a few hours, Jane was ready to honor Chris’ commitment. His brother, Dan, asked if the family could choose who would receive one of Chris’ kidneys — make a “directed donation” — if there was a match with the father of Dan’s close friend. He had been on the kidney transplant waiting list for some time.

The Gift of Hope representative took all of the information needed for a directed donation, and, later, the two families were thrilled to learn there was a match. The chances are rare.

The last good-byes were peaceful. Family had time alone with Chris to talk and pray. They walked arm in arm with Chris down the hall to the door of the operating room where Chris would offer the gift of life. Still, it was heartbreaking to let him go.

One lasting impression was that every member of the Gift of Hope team was extraordinarily kind and compassionate to the family. They always treated Chris with the utmost respect and dignity.

“They did, in fact, give us hope that Chris’ death was not a waste of a precious life, but that he will indeed live on in others,” Jane said. “He will always live in our hearts.”

Twenty years was just not enough time with Chris. He was born on March 22, 1991, on the island of Cebu in the Philippines and joined his family through adoption just after his second birthday.

Chris loved coaching a boys’ traveling soccer team after he graduated from high school and worked in a warehouse. He liked helping others and feeling like a big brother; he was the youngest of three children.

Dan and Jane had the wonderful opportunity to visit with the man who received Chris’ kidney, along with his family, and see how well the dad is doing and what a remarkable difference Chris has made in his life.

Dan’s friend is getting married this summer, and everyone looks forward to seeing his dad dance at the wedding. Chris was a good dancer. Perhaps Dan’s father will have some of Chris’ moves on the dance floor.

New Life on Easter Sunday

April 15, 2014
Ryan Landers

Ryan Landers

On Good Friday, April 6, 2007, Ryan Joseph Landers was severely injured in a head-on car accident on a two-lane road near Springfield, Ill. The 19-year-old automotive technology student was on his way to work, riding in his pride and joy — a 2000 Honda Civic SI.

First responders struggled to free Ryan from the wreckage for 45 minutes. One fireman climbed inside the mangled car to administer oxygen and calm Ryan. But he never regained consciousness.

Ryan was declared brain-dead on April 7. He had expressed his interest in being an organ and tissue donor to his family, and they complied with his wishes. They found Gift of Hope supportive and compassionate during an agonizing time.

On Easter Sunday 2007, Ryan offered the gift of life as an organ and tissue donor. He was able to donate four organs, and his tissue gifts have benefitted 61 people in 12 states and the Republic of South Korea. Recipients have ranged from a four-month-old boy to an 87-year-old man.

The 39-year-old man from Poplar Grove, Ill., who received Ryan’s right kidney and pancreas had been losing a 26-year battle with diabetes. In a note of thanks, he wrote, “Not a day goes by that I don’t say a prayer for my donor family and the gifts that they shared. Through the doctor’s skilled hands a miracle was performed. After 26 years, I am free once more.”

To honor Ryan, his parents, Pat and Jay, established the Ryan J. Landers Memorial Scholarship in Automotive Technology at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield. Since establishing the scholarship in spring 2009, six people have received academic awards. Pat and Jay have met most of the recipients, and Ryan’s story is always shared with them. And in their dedicated work as Advocates for Hope volunteers for Gift of Hope, they share Ryan’s story as often as they can to underscore the importance of being a registered donor and how that selfless decision can help others.

Ryan's parents, Jay & Pat, are active Gift of Hope volunteers.

Ryan’s parents, Jay & Pat, are active Gift of Hope volunteers.

Ryan’s friends remembered him as having a constant smile and being able to brighten their days. He excelled in art and enjoyed working with kids. He loved skateboarding, guitars and working on cars.

With Ryan’s sister, Kelly, and his brother, Chris, Pat and Jay have volunteered at many public education and special events to promote organ and tissue donation. The couple also co-chairs the Springfield Life Goes On committee and speaks on behalf of Gift of Hope.

The Landers Family never expected to be on this journey. “We wish we’d never met you,” is what they often say to other donor families when they get together. But amid the long shadow cast by the tremendous loss of a loved one, Ryan’s light shines brightly created by the legacy he left as of organ and tissue donor.

“He Will Always Be a Hero”

April 8, 2014
Lucy and her sisters

Lucie and her sisters

A friend once asked Lucie Gleason, “Is your hair naturally curly?” Her joking reply? “No, I had a really bad perm once.”

If the explanation were only that simple.

At age five, Lucie was a healthy, gregarious child with thick, straight hair. Like any child, she had her whole life ahead of her. Today, she is a healthy, gregarious teenager with curly hair. And her whole life remains ahead of her — thanks to a liver transplant.

Lucie prior to her transplant

Lucie prior to her transplant

Just before starting kindergarten, Lucie fell ill with a high fever that wouldn’t subside. After her stomach began to hurt, her doctors ordered a CAT scan. The results showed a rare and rapidly growing tumor in her liver. Lucie began intense chemotherapy to treat the cancer. As her hair fell out and her small body weakened, the tumor — the size of a small Nerf football — grew rapidly out of control. Her last and best hope was a liver transplant.

“We prayed so hard for a miracle,” says Lucie’s mother, Leah.

In July 2003, that miracle arrived: A donated liver for Lucie became available. Her cancerous liver was removed, and surgeons transplanted part of a liver donated by a man who had registered to become an organ donor upon his death. The larger part of his liver — the only human organ that can regenerate — was transplanted into a woman who had been on the transplant waiting list for some time, the Gleasons later learned. His generosity save two people’s lives.

Lucie today

Lucie today

After her transplant, Lucie returned to health. Her once-straight hair started to grow back curly, and she was strong enough to join her kindergarten class that fall.

Four years after her liver transplant, doctors told the Gleasons that Lucie was cancer-free. Today, 10 years after her transplant, she remains robustly healthy. A high school honor student who enjoys lacrosse, cake decorating and face painting, Lucie also volunteers for and promotes causes related to cancer awareness, liver disease and organ donation.

“Because of the transplant, Lucie can look forward to a long life,” says Leah, an Advocates of Hope volunteer with Gift of Hope.

Lucie recently received her driver’s permit and fully understands the significance of joining the state organ and tissue donor registry, which people can do when obtaining their driver’s licenses. “I cannot thank my donor and his family enough for giving me a second chance at life,” she says. “I think about him all the time and the unselfish step he took to register as a donor. He will always be a hero to me.”

Record-Breaking 2013: Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

February 5, 2014

Thank you.

Thank you to our donor families. Thank you to our volunteers. Thank you to our partner hospitals. Thank you to everyone who helped make organ and tissue donation possible in 2013.

Last year, was a busy year for Gift of Hope. We worked with thousands of families across Illinois and northwest Indiana to coordinate their loved ones’ donations. These families are, without a doubt, the embodiment of Gift of Hope and our mission.

In 2013, we were able to help save nearly 1,000 lives through organ donation and impact countless lives through donated tissue. These are both all-time highs for Gift of Hope.

But, none of this would be possible without the selfless gifts of more than 1,500 families that said “Yes” to organ and tissue. We cannot say “thank you” enough times to those who gracefully gave life to others in their moments of deep sadness.

Thank you infinitely.

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