Kelvin’s Big, Loving Heart

January 27, 2014

Kelvin Martin is many things. He’s a deejay (DJ Flash … watch out for him), a father, a husband and a heart transplant recipient.

Last summer, Kelvin burst through the front doors of Gift of Hope for his first Advocates for Hope training. Since then, he’s inspired the Gift of Hope team with his boisterous, loving personality. He has reminded us of why our work is so vital to countless people across Illinois and Indiana.

On January 27th, Kelvin walked out of Rush University Medical Center as a new man with a new lease on life. We thank the selfless donor that allowed Kelvin to keep his beat going.

You can make a difference for others, like Kelvin, by registering as an organ and tissue donor at!


How You Can Help Sarah and Others Like Her

June 7, 2013
Sarah Murnaghan has just weeks, or even days, to live unless she receives a lung transplant. Photo courtesy of & Murnahan family

Sarah Murnaghan has just weeks, or even days, to live unless she receives a lung transplant.
Photo courtesy of & Murnahan family

Over the past week or two, the nation has become enthralled by the story of Sarah Murnaghan, a 10-year-old with end-stage cystic fibrosis. Doctors say that Sarah has only weeks, or possibly days, to live unless she receives a lifesaving lung transplant. The images of Sarah are remarkably gripping as she lies with her friends and parents while on an oxygen machine. Our hearts truly go out to Sarah and her family.

But, the story hasn’t necessarily been centered on Sarah and her wait; rather, news media have focused on the system for organ allocation that is established by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). OPTN guidelines for transplantation are extremely intricate and complex, but one area that has drawn particular attention has to do with the age of potential recipients. To make a long explanation short, OPTN guidelines allow Sarah to receive lungs from a child but restrict her ability to receive a transplant from an adult. This drastically decreases the potential for Sarah to receive a lifesaving transplant.

The media coverage and national discussion surrounding the OPTN rules have created a storm of controversy which has prompted a U.S. District Court Judge to order an exception to the current organ allocation rules to allow Sarah to receive adult lungs if an appropriate match becomes available.

The Murnahan family as they wait for a second chance at life for Sarah.

The Murnahan family as they wait for a second chance at life for Sarah.

Unfortunately, a relatively small portion of this discussion has focused on the overwhelming need for Americans to register as lifesaving organ and tissue donors. The fact of the matter is that the supply of transplantable organs is vastly insufficient because not enough people say “Yes” to donation. Right now, there are thousands of families across the United States who are desperately waiting – just like Sarah and her family – for a lifesaving transplant. And, unfortunately, many of these families will needlessly lose their loved ones because they did not receive a donated organ in time. This is a problem that we can – and should –  fix.

So, if you’re outraged that someone like Sarah may not receive a lifesaving transplant, I’d encourage you to look at your license and reflect on whether or not you’re a registered donor. We can’t help kids – or adults – like Sarah unless all of us take the time and effort to make the selfless decision to help others through organ and tissue donation.

Until then, we will continue to read stories about those waiting and see images of kids and adults barely hanging onto life while hoping for a selfless donor.

Read more about Sarah and her wait for a lifesaving transplant at Register to be an organ and tissue donor at or

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

30 Stories in 30 Days: A Lifesaving Decision

April 28, 2013
Otto and Patti Abel

Otto and Patty Abel

Otto Abel was only 50 years old when a sudden stroke took his life in November 2007. His wife, Patty, and his two children, Natalie and Nathan, were shocked and devastated.

Otto was an avid hunter and fisherman, an active board member of the Harvard Sportsman’s Club and an ardent nature lover. “He was young, and his death was so unexpected, “ Patty said.

As an employee of OSF Home Care, Patty is no stranger to end-of-life issues, but she had never discussed the subject with her husband. When the hospital staff asked if Otto was a registered donor, Patty said she didn’t know. “And deciding for him wasn’t possible when I was trying to come to terms with the fact that he was gone,” she explained.

Otto enjoying a day on the lake.

Otto enjoying a day on the lake.

But Otto saved Patty that heartache because he had registered as an organ and tissue donor. “The hospital staff looked him up in the donor registry and confirmed his intentions,” she said. “This relieved me of the burden of making that decision for him.”

Otto’s decision had wonderful results. Steve Heller is alive today because Otto registered to be a donor. At the time of Otto’s death, Steve had been ill for 11 years and on dialysis for more than a year. After undergoing transplant surgery and receiving Otto’s kidney, Steve no longer needs dialysis and is living a happy, normal life.

“Our family will always carry the pain of losing Otto,” Patty said. “But his gift to Steve has brought us comfort because we know that in his death Otto saved Steve’s life.”

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: The Prangl Family

April 6, 2013
The Prangl Family

Julie Prangl and her family

When Julie Prangl took her son, Nick, for his driver’s license, they saw a sign for organ and tissue donation. It read: “I AM. ARE YOU?” Nick joked about recycling everything and signed up. This was important because Nick’s sister, Lindsey, was wait-listed for an ankle transplant.

The family’s concern was always about Lindsey as a recipient. But the spotlight shifted to 17-year-old Nick when, in 2007, an automobile accident left him brain-dead. Julie remembered that Nick always wanted to make a difference. But she never imagined it would be like this.

Nick Prangl

Nick Poto

“I was praying for a donor for Lindsey,” Julie explained. “And then they were checking Nick’s ankle as a match.” It wasn’t, but it was a match for a college basketball player. Nick’s heart went to a father of four, his liver saved a nine-year-old girl’s life, one kidney went to a 24-year-old woman, and the other kidney helped a 15-year-old girl.

Later that year, Julie learned they had a match for Lindsey. “We were hopeful that there would be an end to her pain,” Julie said, “but our hearts were breaking for the donor family because we knew what they were going through.” Although the transplant procedure for Lindsey failed, she had a second, successful transplant later. Now she has a full-time job, minimal pain and walks without crutches.

As an Advocates for Hope volunteer for Gift of Hope, Julie shares stories of Nick and Lindsey. “I have experienced the heartbreak, loss, hope and awe that come from being on both sides of donation,” she explained. “I realize it’s not just a gift to the recipient and their loved ones, but also to the loved ones like us, left behind, choosing to say, ‘I am. Are you?’”

Illini Stories: Laura DeBruler

August 24, 2012

All-American athlete Laura DeBruler received donor tissue which allows her to continue playing the game that she loves.
Photo courtesy of the Daily Illini

Laura DeBruler is a decorated athlete and currently the volunteer assistant volleyball coach at the University of Illinois. In 2009, DeBruler was named a First-Team All-American volleyball player in her junior year.  Unfortunately, her career was cut short midway through her senior season when she tore her ACL in a match against the University of Michigan.  Laura continued to have knee issues even after the ACL was repaired. It was then that doctors told DeBruler that she needed donor tissue to reconstruct her knee. “As a result of my injury, I needed donor tissue to fill a nickle-sized hole in my cartilage. Now, because someone said ‘Yes’ to organ and tissue donation, I hope to get back on the court and enjoy the game that I love.”

Help Gift of Hope and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign set the Guinness World Record for most organ donor registrations in a day. You can stop by the Gift of Hope booth on the Quad on August 26th or you can register online TODAY at

-Josh Muller, PR/Marketing Coordinator with Gift of Hope

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