La Vida de Uno Afecta a Muchos: The Life of One Affects Many

April 20, 2014
The McKean Family

Colin with his sister Katie and niece Elli

Colin McKean was only 14 when his body started to tell him something was wrong. “I had a rash on my chest, had begun to grow a ‘beer belly’ and my platelet level was extremely low,” he says. After two years of monitoring these symptoms, jaundice set in, and a CT scan revealed his spleen was significantly enlarged. Further tests revealed that Colin had liver disease and cirrhosis.

“The prognosis was not good,” he recalls. “About 88 percent of my liver was compromised, meaning my case was extremely advanced.”

The only solution was a liver transplant.

Colin barely understood the transplant concept, but he did understand that, for him to survive, someone else had to die. “I remember being so overwhelmed by that thought,” he says. “How do you respond to that? You certainly don’t pray for it to happen, but when you pray for your own health, are you not praying for someone else to lose his or hers?”

In May 1996, Colin received his life-giving call, and within 24 hours he had a new liver. “Once I got past the first 48 hours, I was able to reflect on the series of events,” he says. “I remember asking the nurses about my donor, but they could just give me some basic details, nothing traceable.” Later, Colin wrote a thank you note to the family telling them “who I was, where I was from and how I planned to make the best of this opportunity granted to me by their loved one’s selfless choice to be an organ donor.”

Colin went on to graduate from college and today works as an engineer. “I also volunteer with Gift of Hope and other organizations, spreading the important message of organ, tissue, eye and blood donation,” he says.

Colin remembers reading a saying during one of his visits to the transplant clinic after receiving his first transplant: La Vida de Uno Afecta a Muchos: The Life of One Affects Many.

“There are very few days that pass when I don’t think about that saying, how blessed I have been and all of the wonderful, caring people who have made it possible for me to be alive today,” he says. “In the end, the message is quite clear: La Vida de Uno Afecta a Muchos.”


“The Greatest Hero I Never Knew”

April 19, 2014
Shelby and her sister Riley

Shelby and her sister Riley

The second of three girls in her family, Shelby Martin today is a normal, energetic 12-year-old girl “who likes to annoy her big sister,” says her older sister, Riley.

But Shelby once faced an uncertain future: At just 10 weeks of age, she was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a liver disease that affects infants. Its cause is unknown, and treatment options are limited. She needed surgery immediately, or she wouldn’t survive. And her family knew a lifesaving liver transplant would likely be Shelby’s only hope one day.

Shelby with her dad and sisters

Shelby with her dad and sisters

That day came in summer 2011 when Shelby started having breathing problems that grew progressively worse. In October, she had to drop out of school; by December, she was hospitalized and on the waiting list for a liver transplant. She was able to go home in February 2012, but she soon returned to the hospital — confined to an intensive care unit bed and hooked up to oxygen required for survival.

“It was all like a dream,” Riley says. “I would go to school each day and pretend it was all okay. I would laugh and talk and hide my sadness.”

After visiting Shelby in the hospital in April 2012, Riley recalls coming home and thinking over and over, “Seven months, one week and one day.” That was how long Shelby had been waiting for a liver transplant — for “someone to rescue her from her prison.”

Shelby as she waits

Shelby as she waits

The rescue call came in at 4 o’clock the following morning: A donated liver for Shelby had been found. About 12 hours later, Shelby went into surgery to receive her liver transplant. The Martins later learned that Shelby’s donor was a man named Dave, who was a husband and a father of two children.

“That day, he saved her life,” Riley says. “My sister is healthy and alive as can be today because of this man’s gift. I want to thank the family who whose loved one gave Shelby the precious gift of life. But, most of all, I want to thank Dave for being the greatest hero I never knew.”


A Giving Nature Endures Through Donation

April 16, 2014
Javier in Chicago

Javier in Chicago

Javier Nuñez was a big man with a big heart — as big as all outdoors. “He cared a lot about his family and friends and helped them any way he could,” his younger sister, Angie Merryman, recalls. “Many times he helped me with my college expenses. But he preferred to go unnoticed for the good he did.”

He also loved the outdoors, especially cycling. “He biked to work in Chicago every day, rain or shine, sleet or snow,” Angie says.

Tragically, Javier was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver at the stunningly young age of 37. “At the time, they attributed it to having a fatty liver, which is very common among Hispanics,” says Angie. “My aunt on my mother’s side passed away from liver disease. I was told Javier had a 50 percent chance of surviving three months. It was devastating for our family.”

However, Angie, her parents and her four brothers and sisters rallied around Javier, working tirelessly to keep him well enough to be considered for a liver transplant. Finally, 10 months later, in December 2010, he was placed on the transplant waiting list. “But we could tell Javier was becoming much sicker,” Angie says. “He ended up in the ICU, hanging on to life.”

On Javier’s 39th birthday, doctors were notified of a matching donor. But just four days later, joy turned to tragedy when Javier died of a massive brain hemorrhage.

“It was tremendously heartbreaking, of course,” says Angie. “But knowing he had registered as an organ donor, my father immediately asked, ‘Can any of his organs be donated?’ This is how we found comfort during this difficult time.”

Ultimately, Javier’s corneas were recovered and transplanted, and his tissue gifts have been used in 46 procedures. Even in death, Javier’s giving nature endured.

Javier and his family celebrating Thanksgiving in 2009

Javier and his family celebrating Thanksgiving in 2009

“I kept my brother’s driver’s license, and when I look at it I think of the quick signature, the few keystrokes it takes to register as a donor,” says Angie. “Those simple actions are tremendously powerful and carry so much meaning, not only to the individual, but to all those who love and care for that person. They mean a miracle. They mean hope.”

Tragically, hope was lost for Angie and Javier’s mother, who was diagnosed with cirrhosis the same month Javier died in 2011. While on the waiting list for a liver transplant, his mother died of end-stage liver disease on March 8 of this year. “The statistics say 18 people die every day waiting for a transplant,” Angie says. “Last month my mother became one of those statistics.”


30 Stories in 30 Days: Hope, Disappointment and Joy

April 28, 2013
Jonathan and his father.

Donovan and his father after surgery.

Donovan Degelau was overjoyed when he learned he was a living donor match for his father, who needed a liver transplant. “The liver is not nearly as picky as some organs,” he said. “And lucky for us, we got the green light.”

Donovan’s father was suffering from primary sclerosing cholangitis, a chronic disease that damages the bile ducts of the liver and slowly causes the liver to lose its ability to function. “Dad’s disease could only be helped by a liver transplant, and he was not moving up the list quick enough to keep him from losing to its damage,” Donovan explained.

Donovan expected the surgery to take seven or eight hours, but he was greatly disappointed when he awoke to learn that the procedure had been aborted because of a problem with his portal vein and atypical branches in his liver. “They had to close my father up with his failing liver still in him,” he said. At that point, Donovan’s father had only two to three days to receive a liver that would save his life.

Donovan's dad is alive today thanks to a selfless donor.

Donovan’s dad is alive today thanks to a selfless donor.

“We needed a gift, and our prayers were answered the next evening,” Donovan explained.

A 50-year-old woman had lost her life that night. Donovan said that her courage to be a donor had given life back to his father.

“On December 18, 2003, my father got his transplant and began his path back to a life he could enjoy with his family,” Donovan said. “It has been almost 10 years, and my dad is doing great. He knows that every day is a gift that must be cherished.”


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 Mother’s Gift of Life

April 25, 2013
Micaela is now able to run, jump, swim and play

Micaela is now able to run, jump, swim and play.

Micaela Prunty was born a normal, healthy, beautiful baby girl. But at three months of age, her mother, Isa Rodriguez, noticed something was “just not right.” Micaela’s tummy was distended, and her skin color was changing, Isa said.

Micaela was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare liver disease where the flow of bile from the liver to the gallbladder is blocked. It affects only one in 10,000 live births. By the time Micaela was five months old, doctors determined that her liver would not function properly and she would need a liver transplant. She was placed on the transplant waiting list.

Shortly after Micaela went on the list, her health began to fail, and her mother asked to be tested as a potential living donor. “By God’s grace, I was a perfect match,” Isa said. “I was able to donate a portion of my liver to Micaela.”

Micaela Ballerina

Micaela

On May 31, 2001, at eight months of age, Micaela received her liver transplant. “She did really well in her recovery,” her mother recalled, “and on June 15, only 15 days post-transplant, Micaela came come.” Isa said Micaela had to deal with a few bouts of rejection, but she overcame every obstacle.

Today, Micaela is 12 years old and in sixth grade. She likes to play the piano and read books. “She’s doing all the normal things that 12-year-old pre-teens do,” Isa said. “Someday she wants to work for NASA and, knowing how strong she is, I believe her hopes and dreams will all continue to come true.”


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.


%d bloggers like this: