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!


Vikki’s Donation Story

April 23, 2012

Vikki Tulcus is an amazing advocate for organ and tissue donation. She has spent the last 10 years of her career building organ and tissue donation awareness and encouraging Illinois residents to register as lifesaving donors. Vikki’s journey within the field of donation became very personal in 2009 when she was diagnosed with a renal disease that will eventually require a kidney transplant.

Throughout April, Vikki is featured in Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s commercial to promote organ and tissue donation. Below, Vikki tells her story in both video and print. 

For the past 10 years, I have worked within the field of organ and tissue donation. My roles have, primarily, allowed me to work with donation recipients and donor families to promote organ and tissue donation throughout Illinois. I began my career with Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network where I gained valuable insight into donation and my eyes were opened to the overwhelming need for registered organ and tissue donors.

In 2007, I joined the Illinois Secretary of State Organ/Tissue Donor Program as the Community Outreach Coordinator for Chicago where I continue to work tirelessly to build organ and tissue donation awareness. My job responsibilities have me traveling the state and working closely with Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to encourage Illinois residents to register as lifesaving organ and tissue donors.

My personal and professional lives became enmeshed on November 13, 2009, when I became extremely ill. I knew something was drastically wrong when breathing became difficult and I grew too weak to walk. I thought it was just an extreme asthma attack and went to the emergency room after my condition worsened. My situation was critical, and doctors worked to save my life. Within hours, I was diagnosed with Wegner’s Syndrome—a rare, autoimmune disease that is chronic and can be fatal. I was told that I was in renal failure and required immediate dialysis. 

Since that day, my life has changed dramatically. I continue to work full time for the Illinois Secretary of State and juggle the responsibilities of daily life. But, each night, I hook myself up to a machine that spends the next 10 hours doing the work that my kidneys no longer can do. My name has been added to the national transplant waiting list for a kidney. Each day, I hope for my lifesaving gift. Unfortunately, in Illinois, the average wait time for a kidney transplant is approximately seven years.  

As I wait for a new kidney, I find hope in the stories of recipients who are grateful for their second chance at life. When I search for a meaning for my illness, I am inspired by stories of heroes who have selflessly donated their organs and tissue to save others. Each day that I wait, I am hopeful that a donor will save my life.  

– Vikki Tulcus, Community Outreach Coordinator, Illinois Secretary of State’s Organ/Tissue Donor Program

Give Vikki and more than 5,000 Illinois residents a second chance at life by registering your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at! Learn more about Vikki and the Illinois Secretary of State’s Organ/Tissue Donor Program at

National Healthcare Decisions Day

April 16, 2012

Today, April 16, is National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHCDD). NHDD is dedicated to encouraging Americans to take a few moments to talk with their families about future healthcare treatment and complete the necessary documents (advance directive, register as an organ/tissue donor, etc.) to ensure that end-of-life decisions are known and upheld.

We are encouraging Illinois and northwest Indiana residents to take a few moments to register as lifesaving organ and tissue donors and discuss this decision with family members. You can register your decision online at or in a matter of seconds.

Also, be sure to ask your friends and family members about their end-of-life decisions. Learn more about NHDD at

– Josh, Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network

Donate Life Illinois Featured in “I Am Hope” Campaign

February 24, 2012

Next week, Donate Life Illinois will be featured in the national “I Am Hope” campaign. The “I Am Hope” initiative is part of Donate Life America’s “20 Million in 2012” campaign focused on registering 20 million Americans as organ and tissue donors in 2012.  Each state (plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico) has been assigned a week of the year to feature seven local inspiring stories, one for each day of the week.

“I Am Hope” Video from Donate Life America

From Sunday February 26 to Saturday March 3, Donate Life America will feature stories from Illinois. We will be sharing stories of donation experiences from Illinois with Donate Life America and its Donate Life partners throughout the country.

Check the Donate Life Illinois Facebook Fan Page to view our “I Am Hope” stories next week!

Illinois Partners with Donate Life America to Register 20 Million in 2012

January 11, 2012

We need your help to register 20 million Americans as organ and tissue donors in 2012!

Jessica Melore celebrated her 30th birthday on January 4, a milestone she wasn’t sure she’d live to experience. At 16, Jessica received a lifesaving heart transplant. Her story of hope and survival helps to launch Donate Life America’s bold new initiative: “20 Million in 2012.

Donate Life America — the national organization promoting organ, eye and tissue donation in the United States – designed its “20 Million in 2012” initiative to focus on dramatically increasing the number of people registered in state donor registries. This official launch of the campaign comes on the heels of DLA’s announcement during the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena  where it has sponsored the Donate Life float each year since 2004. This year’s float again featured inspirational stories of organ donors and their families, a tradition that the “20 Million in 2012” campaign will continue as it features powerful stories of people affected by organ, eye and tissue donation.

“I am so proud to be a part of the campaign’s “I am HOPE” storytelling project,” says Melore. “Real-life stories like mine often inspire people to sign up to be organ, eye and tissue donors.”

By registering your decision to be an organ and tissue donor, you can give hope to more than 112,000 Americans—more than 5,000 Illinoisans—waiting for lifesaving transplants. “We are committed to saving and enhancing as many lives as possible through organ and tissue donation,” says David Bosch, Director of Communications for Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, which coordinates organ and tissue donation in Illinois and northwest Indiana. “Nearly 6 million Illinois residents have registered their decisions to save and enhance lives through organ and tissue donation. In 2012, we hope to inspire and motivate thousands more to make this ordinary decision that can produce extraordinary results.”

Gift of Hope and other Donate Life Illinois coalition members will support the “20 Million in 2012” campaign’s four featured national events:

  • The Donate Life Flash Mob on March 24
  • Donate Life Blue and Green Virtual Fashion Show on April 20
  • Donate Life Champions in Fall 2012
  • Donate Life Linking Hands for Life being held all year long

For more information about the “20 Million in 2012” campaign, visit To register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor in Illinois, visit

Donate Life Rose Parade Wrap-Up

January 5, 2012

Last week was an amazing time for organ and tissue donation advocates across the country and throughout the world.  Donate Life organizations partnered to build and enter the “One More Day” Donate Life Float in the 123rd Tournament of Roses Parade.  The float generated hundreds of donation related stories in the media and showed the estimated 70 million people watching the Rose Parade that organ and tissue donation saves lives.


This year’s Rose Parade was an especially significant event for organ and tissue donation advocates here in Illinois.  The Donate Life Float featured two riders who call the great state of Illinois home. Alex Rodriguez, of Cicero, was sponsored by Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network riding in honor of his brother Francisco “Paco” Rodriguez.  The second rider, Linda Henning, resides in Crossville and was sponsored by Donor Alliance of Denver, Colorado.  Linda rode in honor of her son, Marc, a former cadet in the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Alex Rodriguez and Linda Henning in front of the Donate Life Float

Both Alex and Linda spent their time in Pasadena building awareness for organ and tissue donation and networking with donor families and recipients from across the United States.  It was truly an amazing time to honor loved ones, make life-long connections, and celebrate the “Gift of Life” that is organ and tissue donation.

Alex Rodriguez sitting next to Paco's heart recipient, Alexis Sloan, on the Donate Life Float

If you would like to learn more about the Donate Life Float and the Rose Parade, check out the links to news stories and resources at the bottom of this post.  To see more pictures of our Illinois float riders, visit the Donate Life Illinois Facebook Page or go to the Donate Life Float Media Center.

National Media Surrounding the Donate Life Float – The parade of life – Two families bond after child’s death saves another

Regional Coverage of Illinois riders and honorees

Fox Chicago News –Friends and Family Honor Boxer Paco Rodriguez

ABC Chicago – Late Chicago boxer to be honored at Rose Parade

Univision Chicago – Niño Azteka será honrado en Los Ángeles

Telemundo Chicago – Murió en el cuadrilátero, pero sigue viviendo

The Denver Post – Organ donors’ families celebrate gift of life at Calif. Event

Carmi Times – Phillipstown represented in Rose Parade

More Resources

Visit the Donate Life Facebook Page for photos of the Illinois riders and honorees.

Go to for more information on the Donate Life Float.

Register your decision to save lives through organ and tissue donation at!

Celebrate the Gift of Life on Child Health Day

October 4, 2011

Monday, October 3, marked the 83rd annual celebration of Child Health Day. This brings to mind many stories of lifesaving organ transplants given to children in need. During April, we featured the story of Mia Royer, a one-year-old girl who received a lifesaving intestine transplant in 2009. Today, she is fully recovered and living the life of a healthy, happy three-year-old.

Mia and the Royer Family

Our friends at Children’s Memorial Hospital have featured the stories of several children waiting for and receiving lifesaving organ transplants. Mackenzie Tannhauser, a 17-year-old girl from Crystal Lake, posted a video diary of her wait for a heart transplant. Her series of videos shows the “ups and downs” associated with waiting for the gift of life. Thankfully, she received a transplant last month and is on the way to leading a healthy, productive life.

There’s also the story of Drew Boedigheimer, a two-year-old boy and Cubs fan who received two life-changing gifts—a new heart from a selfless donor and a visit from his favorite Cubs player, Darwin Barney. After his transplant, Drew’s doctor encouraged the Boedigheimer family to contact the Cubs to set up a visit from Barney, their rookie second baseman. The Cubs were more than happy to accommodate the request, and Barney paid a visit and help raise Drew’s spirits. Watch Drew’s story at

Todd & Drew Boedigheimer

Stories like this are made possible by people who make the decision to be registered organ and tissue donors. Learn more about how you can help save lives through organ and tissue donation at  It takes just 30 seconds to register. It’s an ordinary action that can produce extraordinary results.

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