“We Have to Dispel the Fears”

April 29, 2014
Sonji Woods

Sonji Woods

Ten years ago, realtor and U.S. Army Reserve veteran Sonji Woods was planning her wedding. Business was great. “I was just starting my life,” she recalls.

That’s when her doctor told her that her kidneys would eventually fail. She didn’t feel or look sick. She went on with life and wedding plans. But in November 2007 she woke up one day with dizziness that only grew worse. She drove to the hospital and was immediately admitted. “I was told I had enough toxins in my body to kill a six-foot, 220-pound man,” says petite Sonji, who stands just 5’2.”

She was put on kidney dialysis the next day. “It was a shock because no one in our family had ever suffered from kidney disease,” she says. “I was always thin, I was active and I ate right most of the time. How could I be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease?”

Without other physical issues, Sonji was told she was an excellent candidate for a kidney transplant. But her heart sank at learning it might be years before a kidney donor became available. She wondered: “Could I be on dialysis that long and maintain a decent quality of life? Would I even live that long?”

Over the next four-and-a-half years, Sonji suffered multiple internal infections, severe fatigue and anemia. She endured extended hospital stays and allergies from the drugs required to treat her infections. Her appearance changed. “It was bad! It was just as hard on my family. My marriage took a hit. But my mom stepped in, and she has been phenomenal.”

In what felt like the nick of time, Sonji says, the telephone call came: A kidney donor was available. She underwent a kidney transplant, and today, “I have gone back to full-time real estate sales, and I am doing great!” she reports.

As an Advocates for Hope volunteer for Gift of Hope, Sonji spreads an important message. “We have to dispel the fears and negative moral stigmas attached to organ and tissue donation, especially in our minority communities,” says Woods, who is African-American. “Minorities make up the largest group of people needing organs, so we should be the largest group of donors.”

Even before she needed a kidney transplant, Sonji had “organ donor” on her driver’s license. “I knew I wanted someone else to have my organs. Six years is just too long to wait for a lifesaving organ.”


Two People, Three Organ Transplants, Immeasurable Gratitude

April 23, 2014
Donna Ramusack -- an advocate for the Hospitals for Hope campaign.

Donna Ramusack — an advocate for the Hospitals for Hope campaign.

Donna Ramusack has been a registered nurse for 50 years, but none of her training prepared her for medical challenges she faced in her own family. The first came when her daughter, Leslie, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and learned she needed a heart transplant to live. “Her diagnosis sent shockwaves throughout our family,” Donna says. “Could this have been prevented? Would her name ever make it off the transplant list?”

They also wondered if other family members would face similar fates. Leslie was fortunate because, after being listed with a major transplant center, she had to wait only two months to receive her heart transplant on April 1, 2001. After her daughter’s recovery, Donna said she thought her family had put the worst of the disease behind them. “But I began to experience the same symptoms of breathing difficulties and fainting spells that I had watched my daughter battle,” Donna says.

After a complete workup at a transplant center, Donna was told that, in addition to a new heart, she also needed a kidney transplant. “I was fortunate to receive transplants after seven days on the transplant list,” she says. They both came from the same donor. It was June 17, 2004, only three years after her daughter’s surgery.

The Ramusack family

The Ramusack family

“I feel profound gratitude to my donor’s family,” Donna says. “I know that a difficult and emotional decision was made by the families for both of us.” Just eight days after surgery, Donna was discharged to begin rehab. “I credit my stellar surgical team and the nurses for providing exceptional care and helping to expedite my recovery process,” she says. “I also had tremendous support from my husband and family.”

Donna now makes the most out of every moment and never takes the things that life has to offer for granted. “A near-death experience makes you worry less about the little things and focus on the things that are important,” she says. “Life gives you may challenges, and you can either go down in defeat or rise up in victory. My daughter and I chose the latter.”

Donna is now an Advocates for Hope volunteer with Gift of Hope. She is promoting organ and tissue donation at the hospital where she works and at churches, schools and other organizations. “I find there are still many misconceptions about donation, and I hope to calm those fears,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that gift of life made by my donor family 10 years ago.”

Kidney Recipient Profile – Chicago White Sox Announcer Ed Farmer

July 29, 2009

Earlier this month we had the opportunity to sit down with Chicago White Sox play-by-play radio announcer Ed Farmer to chat about his kidney transplant. Ed used to be a pitcher in the major leagues prior to needing his transplant. Nearing death, Ed’s brother Tom saved Ed’s life by donating a kidney to him.

Check out the video below and you can also listen to a radio PSA Ed pulled together for us over here!

Thanks for sharing with us Ed!


*On the same topic, be sure to check out this story from WREX up in Rockford, IL about a woman who saved her sister’s life by donating a kidney.

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Glen Ellyn Teen Deemed “King of the Court”

August 25, 2008

I’m back! Overdue I know, but be sure to check out this great story on 17-year-old kidney recipient Ian Kamphuis who recently brought home a gold in tennis and a bronze in volleyball from the U.S. Transplant Games!

Way to go Ian!


Read full story from the Glen Ellyn Sun here or below.

Local teen takes gold at Transplant Games

August 15, 2008
By RON PAZOLA rpazola@scn1.com

Ian Kamphuis takes pride in his gold medals.

No, the 17-year-old student at Glenbard West High School isn’t an athlete in the Olympics, but the games he competed in are just as meaningful.

Kamphuis and his family recently returned from Pittsburgh, where he won a gold medal in tennis at the 2008 U.S. Transplant Games, presented by the National Kidney Foundation.

Joining this year’s 160-member Team Illinois, he also took a bronze medal in volleyball.

Kamphuis has been competing in the games since 2002 and in that time has racked up one silver and four gold medals in tennis.

The Transplant Games, modeled after the Olympics, are held every two years in cities throughout the United States. There’s also an international version, in which Kamphuis won his first gold medal in France in 2003.

Although he seems to be a magnet for medals, Kamphuis’ path to athletic stardom has not been easy.

“The first seven years of Ian’s life were precarious,” Sue Kamphuis of her son, who underwent two kidney transplant surgeries before his eighth birthday.

Kamphuis was born with end-stage renal disease, which causes the kidney to shut down. At only 22 months old, he was in desperate need of a new kidney and went on dialysis. His father donated one of his own kidneys, but the boy’s body rejected the organ two weeks later.

Then at age 7, he received a new kidney from the family of a young man who had died in a motorcycle accident. Ten years later, the kidney is still working, and Kamphuis is living a full life.

“I’ve been given a second chance at life,” said Kamphuis, who plays on several varsity teams at Glenbard West and is giving children tennis lessons this summer through the Wheaton Park District.

The Transplant Games provide a platform to celebrate the success of organ transplantation and call attention to the critical need for more organ donors in the U.S. All participants have received at least one lifesaving organ, including a kidney, lung, liver, heart or pancreas.

The Olympic-style games were held July 11 to 16, when athletes competed for gold, silver and bronze medals in 12 sports, including golf, swimming, 3-on-3 basketball, bowling, track and field, racquetball and tennis. The games attract athletes ages 2 to 85 from all 50 states. More than 6,000 people, including the families of organ donors and more than 1,300 athletes, gathered in Pittsburgh this year, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

“I don’t think Ian realizes all of the obstacles he has had, how far he has come and what an inspiration he is to others,” his mother said. “I have so much hope for his future.”

Kamphuis’ success at the games is a flame of hope for other transplant patients and serves as a reminder that in Illinois alone, there are more than 4,700 patients in need of lifesaving organ transplants, according to Donate Life Illinois – a coalition of agencies responsible for organ, tissue, eye, blood and marrow donation. In addition, more than 300 patients at the state’s nine transplant centers die each year waiting for organ donations.

Illinois established its new “first person consent” donor registry Jan. 1, 2006, to help save more of those lives by ensuring that a person’s end-of-life wish to donate is honored and cannot be overridden at the time of death.

Despite the concern that one day Kamphuis’ donated kidney may stop functioning, his mother is grateful for the quality time he has had so far.

“We are one of the most blessed families, there is,” she said. “Ian is able to live life to the fullest with the help of a donor family. It’s a gift you can never repay.”

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