Donation Offers Breath of Life

April 5, 2014
Jason wasn't supposed to see his first birthday. Here he is celebrating his 30th.

Jason wasn’t supposed to see his first birthday. Here he is celebrating his 30th.

Diagnosed at birth with cystic fibrosis — a disease that critically affects the lungs — Jason Wiltfang was expected to live two weeks. He is 33 today, thanks to organ donation.

Jason beat the early odds to live a relatively normal childhood, taking part in active sports like baseball and wrestling. But as he reached his mid-20s, his health declined, and he was placed on the lung transplant waiting list. In November 2011, his family received the call that a possible donor was available. At the hospital “the doctor came in to tell us that the lungs were a match,” recalls his sister, Kristina.

After the transplant, Jason was able to go bowling again, attend family get-togethers and go places with friends. “We were overjoyed but devastated for the family of the donor because that could have been us — we could have lost someone we love,” Kristina says.

Jason and his family as the prep for his lung transplant.

Jason and his family as the prep for his lung transplant.

In July 2013, Jason again was rushed to the hospital. His transplanted lungs had given him all the new life they could, and he needed another transplant. “We hoped and prayed every night for a new donor match for Jason,” Kristina says. “At the same time we felt bad for the loss that had to come.”

Months passed, and Jason’s body started to give up. Even worse, he began to lose hope. “My husband and I went to visit him,” Kristina says. “As I was leaving, I thought that was it. I thought I was saying goodbye to my best friend for good.”

Two days later, the family was called to the hospital. A lung donor had been found. “The best part of the day was seeing the huge smile on Jason’s face and his will to fight restored,” Kristina says.

Jason shortly after his transplant.

Jason shortly after his transplant.

Jason received his transplant and today is recovering and beating all odds against him, his sister says. “Imagine lying in that hospital bed, day in and day out, waiting to take your last breath. Now imagine being able to get out of it after seven months. Because of organ donation, my hero will be able to do that soon.”

Organ donation is a true gift of life and a large benefactor in Jason’s life, Kristina says. “That is why I’m an Advocates for Hope volunteer for Gift of Hope, and I hope to have my brother get involved with me as soon as he is able.”


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.”


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.”

Show Some Love for Organ and Tissue Donation

February 14, 2012

Supporters of organ and tissue donation are some of the most passionate and energetic advocates around. This Valentine’s Day, let’s focus that passion and energy on “showing some love for organ and tissue donation.” How can we show our love for donation? It’s simple . . . just follow these steps:

  1. If you haven’t done so already, take 30 seconds to register your decision to save lives through organ/tissue donation at
  2. Let others know that you’re a registered donor! Tweet and post about why you support organ/tissue donation. Not a social media fan? No problem! Tell ten co-workers, friends, or family members about why you support organ/tissue donation and why they should register at
  3. Become a Donate Life Illinois volunteer. Learn more about the Donate Life Illinois Volunteer Program at!
  4. Advocate for organ/tissue donation in the community and in your workplace. Encourage your employer to participate in the Donate Life Illinois Workplace Partners Campaign. Or, if you’re still in school, organize a Campus Campaign that will encourage your fellow students to register as organ/tissue donors!

Thanks for all of your love! Let us know how you “showed your love for donation” by posting on the Donate Life Illinois Facebook Page or tweet at us @DonateLifeIL!

Dan’s Second Chance at Life

June 6, 2011

Dan D. is a recent liver recipient from the Chicago Metropolitan Area.  On March 1st of 2011, Dan was given an amazing gift of life from a selfless donor.  Now, Dan is committed to dedicating his time and talents to building organ and tissue donation awareness and registering donors.

Dan and his wife Nancy

I was one of the lucky ones.

In 2001, I lost consciousness on a commercial flight from Denver to Chicago. My first thought was that I had a severe case of the flu. Upon landing in Chicago, I was taken to the hospital and immediately admitted. After two days of testing, doctors found that I was anemic from bleeding stomach ulcers caused by aspirin, which I had used regularly since turning 50.

They also found something else that was both urgent and potentially life-threatening. Tests revealed that I was experiencing elevated liver profiles caused by cirrhosis of the liver. I was fortunate because they found the issue early while I still had a high-functioning liver. However, my team of doctors and I were determined to limit any further damage.

We decided that the best course of action was to schedule me for an abdominal scan every six months to check for liver cancer. In 2008, the liver team found a small, potentially cancerous lesion on my liver. After three biopsies done over several months, I was informed on September 9, 2009, that I had liver cancer and would need a liver transplant to stay alive. Within days, I was on the national transplant waiting list.

Dan enjoying his second chance at life.

My situation forced my family and me to learn about life on the transplant waiting list. My wife Nancy, my two grown daughters and I researched my disease and treatment. We also reached out to friends who had received transplants and those like me who were waiting. After months of diligent research, I felt I was one of the most informed patients on the waiting list and that everything would be all right.

The next 18 months were a combination of waiting and preparing. I was called to the hospital three times and prepared for surgery. Each time I was told the liver was not a good match. On February 28 of this year, I received a call I will never forget. There was another potential match. Luckily, this call was not a false alarm—I received a new liver and a new lease on life.

Dan at work shortly after his transplant.

My recovery went quickly, and I was back at work after 30 days and back into my normal, active routine after only 90 days. I was blessed with the support of a wonderful family and a talented transplant team that was fully dedicated to saving my life. But none of this would have happened, and I would still be waiting if my donor hadn’t decided to register his or her decision to give life through organ donation. Someone unselfishly decided that he or she wanted to save someone’s life by registering as an organ and tissue donor. This was truly a gift of life that I will treasure forever. My family is eternally grateful to the family—and the donor—that decided to give me a second chance at life.

Now that I’ve had a chance to reflect, I’m amazed at how little my family and I thought about organ and tissue donation before I learned that I would need a new liver. I now realize how important it is to give the gift of life through donation. After reading my story, I hope you do, too. Please take a few moments to learn more about donation and to register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at

Dan D.

To learn more about organ and tissue donation and to register your decision to donate life, go to  For more information on Dan and his transplant, visit Dan’s Liver Blog.

Andy T. – A Life Renewed

May 19, 2011

Hepatitis C is a debilitating illness that can require patients to receive liver transplants. Andy T. is a Donate Life Illinois volunteer who contracted hepatitis C from a blood transfusion due to his life with hemophilia. Hemophilia is a rare bleeding disorder in which one’s blood does not clot normally causing patients to need many blood transfusions.

Andy shares his inspiring story of living with hepatitis and of a life renewed through a lifesaving transplant.

Andy and his wife

I was exposed to hepatitis C during a routine dental procedure while in my late 20s. I was given a precautionary blood transfusion for this very simple medical procedure. Unfortunately, the transfusion was contaminated with hepatitis C, a disease that would ultimately threaten my life.

Hepatitis C slowly attacks the liver. My doctor once told me that I was a man “living with a ticking time bomb” inside my liver. We treated liver disease aggressively for eight years, trying a variety of treatments, including three rounds of Interferon. Each Interferon treatment lasted a full year, and all eventually were unsuccessful. At the age of 56, I was desperate for a cure.

Finally, the combination of my hemophilia and hepatitis C proved to be too much for my liver—doctors told me I needed a new liver to stay alive. My only option was a transplant. After much testing and preparation, I was placed on the transplant waiting list on Dec 24, 2009. I considered it an early Christmas present. My health continued to worsen to the point where I required emergency surgery in March 2010 due to complications from the disease.  

On March 2, I was rushed into surgery. On our trip to the hospital, my wife turned to me and said, “If you ever receive a liver, I will not even cry. I am just so ready for this to all be over.” After a four-hour surgery the doctor spoke to my wife and daughter. He said he had some bad news and some good news. His bad news was that my health was in a steady decline due to the disease. The good news had two parts. The first part was that the emergency surgery was successful and had saved my life. The second part was that Gift of Hope, the organ procurement organization in Illinois, had called the hospital with news of a potential match for a donor liver. This was the best news my family ever could have received.

The medical team quickly left to evaluate and recover the donated liver. While I lay in recovery, my medical team took the most important trip of my life. After a few hours, they called and said it was a match. I was going to receive a new liver and a second chance at life!

What has this gift meant to me and my family? It is difficult to put into words. This year I will be able to walk my daughter down the aisle as she gets married to the man of her dreams. My other daughter was just nominated as the Young Teacher of the Year at her school. I am able to look forward to seeing both of them complete their master’s degrees. And, last but not least, my wife and I look forward to celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary next year.

Andy's Daughters

I now have the opportunity to share my story about the “Gift of Life” through organ and tissue donation. I am thankful every day of my new life for this amazing gift. I am healthy for the first time in years and have the energy to really live life again. No longer am I tired, sluggish, chilled, confused, or generally not feeling well.

I wake up looking forward to the day and wanting to live life to the fullest. I try to find opportunities to say “thank you” to everyone and every organization involved in health care and organ donation and, especially, to the family that made the decision to save my life though organ donation. My faith is now stronger than ever, and I am committed give back to those who have given to me.

– Andy

Register your decision to give life through organ and tissue donation at!

Share Your Story: Part 2

April 14, 2011

“Will to Live” (submitted by Kim McMahon)

William "Will" McMahon

My son William “Will” McMahon was an active, healthy, 16-year-old honor student. During the last week of 2004, he suddenly developed flu-like symptoms. Less than a week later, Will was diagnosed with inexplicable liver failure.

He was flown to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla., in critical condition. We were told that, without a liver transplant, he had just 24 hours to live. Miraculously, he received a donated liver in time to save his life. Following his transplant, Will fought bravely to recover and successfully returned home to resume his school work along with his passions of surfing and playing the  guitar. However, five months later, Will developed complications and was relisted on the national transplant waiting list—he needed a second liver transplant. Will was not so lucky this time. A donor liver never arrived, and he passed away on May 19, 2005, as he waited.

My experience has made me an enthusiastic advocate for donation. Following Will’s passing, I founded Donate 4 William, a not-for-profit foundation, in my son’s memory with the goal of educating others about the overwhelming need for registered donors. I spend much of my time speaking to schools, civic groups and other audiences to encourage everyone to register as organ and tissue donors. I also am honored to serve on the United Network for Organ Sharing Patient Affairs Committee where I work to make a difference in organ donation policy and procedures on behalf of patients.

I am motivated to spread awareness about the need for organ and tissue donation because I know that every day 18 people die waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant and more than 110,000 Americans currently are on the national transplant waiting list. Regrettably, fewer than half of the eligible registrants in the United States have decided to be organ and tissue donors. We can save the lives of those in need by registering ourselves and encouraging others to register as organ and tissue donors. It takes less than one minute to register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at DonateLife, the Donate Life America Web site, or at the DLA-affiliated donation advocacy organization in your state. In Illinois, that organization is Donate Life Illinois.

For more information on Will and his story, I encourage you to view the short documentary Will 2 Live.

Kim McMahon

Register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at

The Gift of Perspective

March 7, 2011

Jeff Govednik is an avid volunteer for Donate Life Illinois. His resolute passion for spreading awareness of organ and tissue donation is the product of a life changed by the gift of sight through cornea transplantation. Jeff is a shining example of how organ and tissue donation changes the lives of those who are so fortunate to receive a lifesaving or life-enhancing gift. We are fortunate that Jeff graciously agreed to share his story to celebrate March as National Eye Donor Month.

Initially, I thought that my eyesight was just getting a little weak. I had problems playing baseball and lost a few golf balls. I also strained while reading or driving. With time, my eyesight gradually worsened. Upon visiting the optometrist to get a pair of glasses, I was told that I needed to see a specialist.

I remember the first time I heard the word “keratoconus.” The doctor explained to me that Keratoconus is a degenerative disease of the corneas that causes patients to gradually lose the ability to see detail. My doctor was able to slow the progression of the disease for a time, but eventually it evolved to where I was unable to see with my left eye. It became apparent that a cornea transplant was the only treatment that could restore my vision.

It was a sobering moment when my doctor called the Illinois Eye-Bank. I was no longer worried about sports or long weekends. I was now scared that I would lose my job as a pharmacist. Would I be able to participate in all of the hobbies that I enjoyed? How would my life change?


Cornea recipient's vision before and after transplant.

My first cornea transplant was in 1999, and my second was in 2009. I was given more than the gift of sight—I was given perspective. I now savor every sunset, value every walk and appreciate every bike ride. Did my life change? Absolutely. Can I do everything that I did before? No, but I gained an appreciation for the things that I could do. I am still a pharmacist, and I am able to continue pursuing my love of sports.  

When you register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor, you do so much more than save lives. You are giving the gift of future experiences. This is a gift so great that it is truly incomprehensible. My donors touched my life as well as the lives of all those around me. Through cornea transplantation, I was given the gift of sight as well as the gift of perspective.

Please, take 30 seconds to register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor at


 Jeff Govednik

To learn more about cornea transplantation and the gift of sight, visit the Illinois Eye-Bank Web site. You can also join their NEW Facebook Fan Page.


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