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 Mother’s Day Miracle

April 26, 2013
Jose feels blessed to receive a lifesaving gift!

José feels blessed to have received a lifesaving gift.

“I am one of the lucky ones,” said José Betancourt, a liver and kidney transplant recipient. “I needed a miracle, and I was blessed with a new life.”

José was diagnosed with chronic liver failure in January 2011. His health started deteriorating at lightning-fast speed, and in March he was admitted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Organ Transplant Unit, where he remained for several months. On April 12, he was placed on the organ transplant waiting list.

“My liver was giving out, and it began affecting other organs,” he explained. José’s kidneys began to fail, and he went on dialysis. “Each day, I grew weaker, but I refused to lose hope,” he said. “But instead of just needing a liver, I now needed a liver and a kidney.”

José was released from the hospital in May 2011 because caregivers could do nothing more for him until they received the call that transplantable organs were available. He was given about three weeks to live.

Jose commits his time to sharing his story and building donation awareness

José commits his time to sharing his story and building donation awareness

José’s homecoming was bittersweet. “I could go home and spend Mother’s Day with my family, but it was frightening because I was waiting for a call that may not come in time,” he said. José’s wife wished for a special Mother’s Day gift — the call from the hospital. It came a day after Mother’s Day at 1:30 a.m. “It was a miracle,” José said. “And I was blessed to receive my kidney and liver from the same donor. This was the beginning of my new life.”

José is now an Advocates for Hope volunteer with Gift of Hope, focusing his efforts on educating and informing the Latino community about offering the gift of life to others through organ and tissue donation. “The least I could do after God gave me a second chance is to help others,” he said.

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: An Organ Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

April 23, 2013
Pam Carpenter and her husband, Donald.

Pam Carpenter and her husband, Donald.
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times – Matt Marton

Pam Carpenter was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 1992. IPF is a debilitating lung disease that causes the air sacs, or alveoli, in the lungs to scar and harden. The cause of this chronic, progressive disease is unknown, and there is no known cure or medication available to improve the condition. The scarring of the lung tissue cannot be reversed, and, as the disease progresses, breathing becomes more and more difficult.

Statistics show that the life expectancy rate after IPF is diagnosed is two to five years. But Pam is quick to tell you she is not a statistic. “I have lived with IPF for 21 years,” she explained. “I am fortunate to have a caring church and a great family support system of sisters, aunts and nieces.”

Pam Carpenter continues to wait for a second chance at life. - Photo courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Time - Matt Marton

Pam Carpenter continues to wait for a second chance at life.
Photo courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times – Matt Marton

Pam currently is on oxygen 24 hours a day and is waiting for a double-lung transplant. “Each day is a new challenge,” she said. “That is why organ donation is so important to me, my husband, my daughter, my mother and my four grandsons.”

Pam is an Advocates for Hope volunteer with Gift of Hope and is encouraged “because the world of organ donation has evolved, and there are many new lifesaving techniques being explored and used,” she said. “I am also encouraged because people will read these stories and, hopefully, will feel compelled to take action about organ and tissue donation. An organ is a terrible thing to waste.”

30 Stories in 30 Days: In the Midst of Tragedy, a Bright Moment

April 19, 2013
Mary Iden and her daughter Jeanette.

Mary Iden and her daughter Jeanette.

Mary Iden will tell you she is the mother of two heroes. “The first is my son, Steve, who served seven years in the U.S. Army and two tours in Iraq and luckily came home safe. The second is my daughter, Jeanette, who died from a drug-induced heart attack and became an organ donor.”

Jeanette was gorgeous, full of life, kind, caring, with a wonderful smile and was friendly to everyone, Mary said. “She had an infectious giggle, and her nose would crinkle with this giggle. She loved fashion, high heels, make-up and Chanel Chance perfume.”

When tragedy struck, the ER physicians were able to get Jeanette’s heart beating again, but her brain had gone too long without oxygen, and she was declared brain-dead. She was put on a mechanical ventilator and sent to the intensive care unit. There, she was closely monitored by the ICU and Gift of Hope staff. “They were so compassionate and caring,” she said. “Our family and I were treated with respect and sympathy.”

Mary says that she is the mother of two heroes. The first is Steve, who served seven years in the U.S. Army. The second is Jeanette, who gave life through organ and tissue donation.

Then, in the midst of tragedy and grief, a bright moment arose, Mary said. The doctor told the family that because Jeanette was a registered organ and tissue donor, she would be donating many of her organs. “Wow! The darkness was lifted,” Mary recalled. “She will save lives and live on. I am now a proud donor mother, and Steve is a proud donor brother.”

A 49-year-old man received Jeanette’s left kidney and pancreas; a 47-year old man received her right kidney and liver. “I have a feeling that both recipients may be tempted to go out shopping for a Gucci handbag and some stiletto heels,” Mary said with a smile.

Mary also is an Advocates for Hope volunteer with Gift of Hope. Jeanette’s cousin, Anne, is an Advocate, too, in honor and memory of her “baby cousin. They are both working to encourage people to register as organ and tissue donors. “Donation benefits donors and their family members,” Mary said. “You can save lives and give your family a little bright spot during a tragic time.”


30 Stories in 30 Days: A Father/Daughter Donation Journey

April 17, 2013
The Taylor Family

The Taylor Family

“There aren’t many people who can say they grew up knowing they would be an organ donor,” said Quinetta Taylor. “For me, even as a little girl, I knew that, not only was organ donation important, but it was something very special that would mean a lot to someone. At that time, that someone was my father.”

Quinetta’s father was diagnosed with kidney failure before she was born. She grew up watching him go to dialysis three times a week. When she was 16, she saw the toll that long-term dialysis had taken on him and decided to give him one of her kidneys. “When I made this decision, my father was already listed,” she explained. “Before I could give him the gift of life, someone else did.”

Then things changed in Quinetta’s life. While at college she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. “I was entering a world I knew plenty about, but this time I was on the receiving end,” she said. “I could no longer help my father because somehow his lifestyle had now become my own.”

In November 2009, her father’s transplanted kidney began to fail, and he returned to dialysis. Two months later, Quinetta joined him. “When transplantation was first introduced to me, I needed to lose a little over 150 pounds,” she said. “After three years of hard work and losing 120 pounds, I was officially listed in March.” Her father is also going through the process of meeting eligibility requirements to being listed.

“That’s why National Donate Life Month is so special to me,” she explained. “Someone has the opportunity to give my father and me the gift of life.”

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=”http://vimeo.com/32631619″>MIRACLE ON SOUTH STREET: The Julie D Story (Trailer)</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/giannotta”>Giancarlo Iannotta</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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