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: Honoring Loved Ones Through Donation

April 18, 2013
Jim is very familiar with organ donation. One of his uncles was a donor and the other is waiting for a transplant.

Jim is very familiar with organ donation. One of his uncles was a donor and the other is waiting for a transplant.

James Pressley and his family are staunch believers in organ and tissue donation. James is a trained surgical technician in the U.S. Army and has been involved in many organ procurements during his 17 years in surgery. He also is an Advocates for Hope volunteerfor Gift of Hope.

James’ awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation began when he was aboy. His uncle, Sean Bruce, was thrown from a motorcycle while riding to work in Massachusetts and died from his injuries. Because James had chicken pox at the time, he was unable to travel to the funeral. “I never had the chance to say goodbye to my Uncle Sean,” he said.

When his parents returned from the funeral, they told James that his uncle had changed the lives of many people because he had donated his heart, kidneys, liver, eyes and bones.“At this young age, I decided that I would honor my Uncle Sean and register to be an organ and tissue donor,” James said. “If I could touch the lives of people the way my Uncle Sean did, I knew I would make him proud.”

Today, another uncle, Mitchell Bruce, is undergoing dialysis three times a week and waiting for a kidney transplant. Through his donation advocacy efforts, James is reaching out to educate people about organ and tissue donation with hopes that people like his uncle will receive the lifesaving transplants they need. “These magnificent people (donors) will never know about the many people they save,” James said. “It is up to us to spread the word and educate people about the importance of organ and tissue donation. Through my first-hand knowledge, I can say that organ and tissue donors are treated with the utmost respect and dignity.”

30 Stories in 30 Days: Amy and Jessica Cowin

April 5, 2013
Jessica (left) and Amy (right) Cowin share a special bond through living donation

Jessica (left) and Amy (right) Cowin share a special bond through living donation

Jessica Cowin was born with a rare heart condition, hypoplastic left heart syndrome. By the time she was five, she had endured three major surgeries. The initial results were good. “I was active in my youth,” she said, “but I eventually noticed that I wasn’t like most kids because I couldn’t keep up.”

When she was 13, she nearly collapsed one day doing some strenuous activities. “I couldn’t catch my breath, the room was spinning and my heart was pounding,” she explained. She went through another surgery to repair her heart and insert a pacemaker, but she continued to experience weakness and fatigue.

At 16, she learned that her only option was a heart transplant. After only three weeks on the transplant waiting list, Jessica had her surgery and afterward “felt healthy, full of breath and energy.” But three years later, she learned that her medications caused gallbladder problems, and she had another operation to remove that organ.

Amy and Jessica were close friends from the start.

Amy and Jessica were close friends from the start.

With no gallbladder and feeling great, she finished her liberal arts degree. But in 2008, she again had symptoms and learned that her kidneys were functioning at only 10 percent: She needed a kidney transplant.

Jessica’s sister, Amy, was a close match and insisted on helping as a living donor. “Amy’s left kidney now sits on my right side,” Jessica said. “I can’t take a photo with her standing on any side but my right because we are a pair of kidneys.”

Now Jessica helps create awareness for organ and tissue donation by telling her story and expressing her gratitude to her donors “for the lifesaving gifts I have received.”

Show Some Love for Organ and Tissue Donation

February 14, 2012

Supporters of organ and tissue donation are some of the most passionate and energetic advocates around. This Valentine’s Day, let’s focus that passion and energy on “showing some love for organ and tissue donation.” How can we show our love for donation? It’s simple . . . just follow these steps:

  1. If you haven’t done so already, take 30 seconds to register your decision to save lives through organ/tissue donation at DonateLifeIllinois.org.
  2. Let others know that you’re a registered donor! Tweet and post about why you support organ/tissue donation. Not a social media fan? No problem! Tell ten co-workers, friends, or family members about why you support organ/tissue donation and why they should register at DonateLifeIllinois.org.
  3. Become a Donate Life Illinois volunteer. Learn more about the Donate Life Illinois Volunteer Program at DonateLifeIllinois.org!
  4. Advocate for organ/tissue donation in the community and in your workplace. Encourage your employer to participate in the Donate Life Illinois Workplace Partners Campaign. Or, if you’re still in school, organize a Campus Campaign that will encourage your fellow students to register as organ/tissue donors!

Thanks for all of your love! Let us know how you “showed your love for donation” by posting on the Donate Life Illinois Facebook Page or tweet at us @DonateLifeIL!

An Invitation to Save Lives

November 22, 2011

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

Next week, our friends at Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network will start a new project to reach potential organ and tissue donors. They are “inviting” residents in Edgar, Greene and Brown counties to join the Illinois Organ/Tissue Donor Registry and help save lives through organ and tissue donation.

Over the next few weeks, residents of these counties will receive one of two direct mail pieces asking them to save lives by taking just 30 seconds to register as donors. One is designed to look like a party invitation and features Luke, a huggable young boy waiting for a liver transplant. The other looks like a thank-you card and features Drew, a cute little guy who’s now living an active life thanks to the heart transplant he received.

Gift of Hope chose Edgar, Greene and Brown counties for the direct mail campaign because of their manageable sizes and relatively low registration rates. For example, only of 47 percent of Edgar County residents have registered as donors compared with the statewide average of nearly 58 percent. We hope this direct mail campaign will help build awareness and register organ and tissue donors in each of these counties.

Here’s a look at the direct mail pieces being used for the campaign. Let us know what you think of them by leaving a message on our Facebook page. And if you’d like to see how your county’s donor registration rate compares with the statewide average, visit the interactive map posted on DonateLifeIllinois.org.

Register your decision to save lives through organ and tissue donation at DonateLifeIllinois.org!

Show Your Heart for Donation

February 21, 2011

Melissa, Heart Recipient

Throughout the month of February, health organizations across the country celebrate American Heart Month.  This month, Donate Life Illinois is encouraging our friends to take two steps.  First, we are asking you to learn more about heart health and heart transplants.  Second, we want you to “Show Your Heart for Donation” by letting others know about the overwhelming need for organ and tissue donors in Illinois.

Heart Transplant Facts:

  • In 1967, Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz advanced medical science by performing the first heart transplant at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. 
  • Last year, 2,135 heart transplants were performed across the country. 
  • Heart transplants are extremely successful as seen with recent increases in the five-year survival rates for recipients (73.1 percent for males and 67.4 percent for females). 
  • In the United States, 3,186 people (131 in Illinois) are desperately waiting for a lifesaving heart transplant. 
  • Potential heart recipients suffer from a variety of heart-related diseases ranging from cardiomyopathy (the weakening of the heart) to a myriad of congenital heart problems (diseases which patients are born with). 

How can you can you “Show Your Heart for Donation”?  Take 30 seconds to register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at DonateLifeIllinois.orgIf you are already registered, encourage others to make the decision to save lives through organ and tissue donation.  Be sure to use your social networks when telling others.  Create a Facebook post linking to the Donate Life Illinois Fan Page or tell others to learn more about donation by following DonateLifeIL on Twitter.

Want to learn more about heart health and heart transplants?  Check out the following websites:

Check out Melissa’s (pictured above) story entitled Open-Hearted at www.youtube.com/DonateLifeIllinois.


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