The Gift of Life: Better Than Any Diamond

April 22, 2014
Latrisha and her boyfriend Chris

Latrisha and her boyfriend Chris

Better than any diamond, Latrisha Beckwith received the ultimate gift of love from her boyfriend, Chris, on Valentine’s Day 2012.

“Most girls get a ring. I got a kidney,” she says with a smile.

The couple met two years before, soon after Latrisha relocated to Chicago from California. Stress from the move, finding a job and adjusting to a new city left her feeling ill with little energy left over to think about dating.

“Love was the farthest thing from my mind, but Cupid was already busy working,” she recalls. “I fought it, but Chris was vehemently persistent as if he knew something that I did not.”

Latrisha found a job, but she continued to feel ill. During a health screening at work, her blood pressure was alarmingly high. She was admitted to a hospital, where tests showed she had been living with lupus for some time. The disease left both kidneys with minimal function. She was just 30 years old.

“Chris and I had only been together for four months,” Latrisha says. “I didn’t expect him to stick around after all of the physical changes, like the loss of my hair due to medication. But he proved me wrong. He was with me at the hospital every single day.”

Chris even offered to donate his kidney: He was a donor match.

Latrisha and Chris on Valentine's Day prior to surgery.

Latrisha and Chris on Valentine’s Day prior to surgery.

Instead of pursuing that course, Latrisha, a “silent skeptic,” decided to sign up for the organ transplant waiting list, preparing for a wait of three to five years. Nearly two years of challenging and draining dialysis treatments followed. She tired easily and had to coordinate her life around dialysis treatments and restrictions needed to stay alive.

By Valentine’s Day, Latrisha decided to accept Chris’s offer, her name was officially removed from the transplant list and Chris gave Latrisha the gift of life as a living donor. The two recovered well from the surgeries, and Latrisha has noticed a remarkable difference since receiving her transplant.

The final glance between Chris and Latrisha prior to transplant.

The final glance between Chris and Latrisha prior to transplant.

“I’ve got get up and go now,” she says. “Before, I would get tired walking a few blocks or even up a flight of stairs. Now, I feel better than ever. I enjoy life without limits.”

Latrisha says she wants to share her story and make people aware of the urgent need for donors. “Every 10 minutes, another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list, and more than 120,000 people, including 5,000 in Illinois, are waiting for transplants. Sadly, 18 people die each day waiting.”

Everyone can help by becoming a registered organ and tissue donor, Latrisha says. “Say ‘yes” when you get or renew your driver’s license or register your decision at GiftofHope.org.”

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A Father’s Lasting Gift of Life and Love

April 11, 2014

 

Erin and her dad at the Transplant Games.

Erin and her dad at the Transplant Games.

Erin Fitzgerald arrived two weeks early on June 28, 1996, a petite 5 pounds, 1 ounce and 18 inches long. Everything seemed to be fine, except for her poor appetite.

She began losing weight, and her doctors ordered all kinds of tests, which determined she had dysplastic kidneys. Her kidneys were not completely formed and had very little function. She was just two weeks old.

A nephrologist told Erin’s parents she would be on dialysis within six months. Her best hope for survival was a transplant, but for her tiny body to receive an adult kidney, she had to weigh 20 pounds. It was devastating news.

Erin’s parents worked diligently to fatten her up. They tucked a bottle in her mouth as she slept so her sucking reflex kicked in and she took in a few ounces. Weight gain was slow, so doctors recommended a feeding tube.

“We would feed through a tube in her stomach several times during the day, and a pump would run formula into her all night,” her mom, Jamie, recalls. “She did start to gain weight, but she was so sick all of the time. She threw up constantly. It was a struggle to keep the weight on.”

Erin’s parents were thrilled their daughter’s kidneys continued to function until fall 1997, but they realized a transplant deadline fast approached when her ongoing test results showed a decline in her health status. As desperation levels rose, Erin’s dad, Pat, was tested as a potential living kidney donor.

He was a match.

Although Erin weighed just 18 pounds at 18 months of age — two pounds under the target weight for a transplant — her doctors said the time was right. The transplant surgery was performed on Dec. 29, 1997, at Children’s Memorial Hospital of Illinois at OSF St. Francis Medial Center in Peoria, Ill.

Erin on dialysis with her dad.

Erin on dialysis with her dad.

Erin’s family rejoiced that the transplant was a success. Some complications arose, and Erin spent a month in the hospital. And more surgeries followed to repair a renal artery and two bowel obstructions. But she overcame all obstacles she encountered.

Since then, Erin has made the most of life, winning medals in four U.S. Transplant Games and enjoying soccer, basketball, softball and snowboarding. Now s a senior in high school, she works to promote organ donation as an Advocates for Hope volunteer with Gift of Hope and plans to attend college, thanks to the generous gift from her dad.


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 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: A Brother Lives On Through His Priceless Gift

April 15, 2013
Laura is alive today because of a lifesaving gift from her brother, Raul.

Laura is alive today because of a lifesaving gift from her brother, Raul.

Laura Barajas was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 10. She controlled it for 20 years before she went into renal failure and had to begin dialysis. “I thought that was the end for me since at that time the waiting list for a kidney transplant was about five years,” she said.

Laura’s brother, Raul, a Marine, told her, “Don’t worry. I’ve got your back!” On September 3, 2009, Raul gave Laura a second chance at life as a living donor. “He gave me the most priceless gift in the world,” she said. “He donated his kidney to me and saved my life.”

In a tragic turn of events, three months after Raul gave Laura new life, he lost his own: He was shot and killed. But he lives on in Laura. “He left me a piece of himself that lets me wake up every morning,” she explained. “His gift is what gives me the strength and courage to speak about organ and tissue donation as an Advocates for Hope volunteer for Gift of Hope.”

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Diabetes was still a threat to Laura and her new kidney, and after a year she was put on the waiting list for a pancreas transplant. “I kept my faith and prayed,” she said. “In February 2011, I received my pancreas from a young boy, who now lives on in me, too.”

Today, Laura is doing well and has dedicated herself to educating Hispanic communities on the importance of organ and tissue donation. “I want everyone to know they can give others a new chance at life,” she said. “By registering as an organ and tissue donor, one person can save up to 25 lives.” 


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.”


30 Stories in 30 Days: The Ecstasy of Giving

April 2, 2013

Advocate Amber Sanders and her mother

Amber Sanders had planned to be an organ donor but not a living one. Things changed when her mother went into kidney failure.

Amber said she was raised knowing family is the most important thing, and if someone in the family is in need, “You do everything you can to help.” When it was clear that her mother needed a kidney transplant, Amber said, “I instantly knew I would be her donor.”

Amber thought of donating her kidney as an act of giving back. “I never looked at this as me giving Mom my kidney,” she said. “This was always her kidney. I was holding onto it for this exact moment.”

Sheila&Amber

Amber and her mother prepped for transplant

Although it is uncommon for a parent/child to be an exact match, the tests were positive. “To have us be a perfect match confirmed this was the right thing to do,” Amber said. “I was ecstatic!”

The donation process was tedious, but in the end Amber said, “Every bit of it was worth it to see my mom healthy.” She pointed out that having the support of her family, friends and church community helped.

“The best part is that now my mom says she no longer feels like she’s 63,” Amber said. “Now that she has a 30-year-old kidney, she’s found the fountain of youth.” Amber is now an Advocate for Hope for Gift of Hope. “I want people to know that living organ donation is truly a gift. And to be a blessing to someone else is the best way to live your life.”


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