The Best Birthday Gift Ever!

April 28, 2014
Melody with the Advocate Lutheran General intensive care team that treated her during her wait for a heart transplant.

Melody with the Advocate Condell intensive care team that treated her during her wait for a heart transplant.

“Prayers do get answered,” says Melody Hickman McIntosh. On her 40th birthday, she was “barely holding on to life,” and on her 41st birthday she received the gift of life. “In a million years, who would expect someone to die on your birthday to allow you to receive a heart transplant?” she asks. “I can’t explain it. All I know is that prayers do get answered, and this was the best birthday gift ever!”

Melody with her LVAD just days before her transplant.

Melody with her LVAD just days before her transplant.

A year earlier, Melody had suffered a massive heart attack and was on life support. Before the heart attack, Melody was like any other woman. “I was healthy and living life to the fullest,” she says. “My husband and I were excited about starting a family.”

But then the unexpected happened with the heart attack and, afterward, she lay in a coma for nearly a month. “I was on 24-hour dialysis. Everything had shut down,” she says. The healthcare team at the hospital told her husband, Arthur, to gather the family and prepare to say good-bye.

Fortunately, the family did not have to say good-bye. Instead, Melody was transported to another hospital where a left ventricular assist device — a bridge to heart transplantation — was implanted, and she was placed on the heart transplant waiting list.

Melody and her husband Arthur

Melody and her husband Arthur

Melody was on the LVAD for nearly a year when the miracle happened. On her 41st birthday. she received the birthday gift of a new heart. “I’m so thankful, so much so that I want to do something for someone else because someone gave me a second chance at life.”


Through a Donor’s Gift, He Celebrates

April 17, 2014
Mike and his kids

Mike and his kids

In September 2011, Mike Lund and his family set off for vacation on Washington Island in northern Wisconsin. There, they gathered with extended family to celebrate three birthdays: his wife’s 40th, his brother-in-law’s 40th and his niece’s first.

Yet, Lund was feeling sore and exhausted. He then suffered a heart attack.

He was ferried off Washington Island to a small hospital where he was stabilized and then was rushed to a hospital in Green Bay. There, he received a heart stent, a small tube to help blood flow to his heart. “They mentioned they placed a green and gold one, just so I could represent them in Chicago,” jokes Mike, a staunch Chicago Bears fan.

With each beat, a normal heart pumps out about 60 percent of blood in a filled ventricle to the body. It’s called an “ejection fraction rate.” In Green Bay, Lund’s ejection fraction rate was just 25 percent. After returning to Chicago, his rate declined to 15 percent and then to just 5 percent by Halloween 2011. He was told he needed a heart transplant. To increase his chances of surviving long enough for a donated heart to become available, doctors implanted a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to help his failing heart.

Over the next 14 months, Lund waited for the gift of life. The LAVD improved his health and strength, “which is extremely important for a good transplant outcome,” Mike says.

One day in January 2013, Mike’s sister called. Their mother was in the emergency room, so he and his wife headed to the hospital. On their way, Mike received another call, the one he had been waiting for — a donated heart was available.

The Lund Family

The Lund Family

His mother’s condition turned out to be non-life-threatening, and Mike received his heart transplant. Since then, “I have been feeling better and better,” says Lund, now an Advocates for Hope volunteer for Gift of Hope. “I have written to my donor’s family, and I thank my donor every day,” he says. “I do not know who they are, but, without their gift, I would not be here.”

More than 15 months after a life-giving donor helped him “in the most profound way,” Mike is alive to celebrate his wife’s birthday and many more to come. “I can work full time, play with my three children and celebrate their birthdays,” he says. “I am grateful to have celebrated my 23rd wedding anniversary with my wife.

“Thank you to all past, current and future donors. You make the ultimate difference.”


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 http://www.GiftofHope.org!


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 http://www.MelissaSimon.org.


30 Stories in 30 Days: A Second Life

April 24, 2013

Norvelle Smith’s story started more than 15 years ago when, at the age of 24, he had two minor heart attacks and two strokes in one week. “I never had any health problems,” he explained. “I was very active as a child, playing football and basketball and even doing some weight lifting.”

Norvelle maintained a very active lifestyle well into his 20s. “I never used any type of drugs or drank much alcohol,” he said. “But I suppose medical conditions don’t always happen because of the life you live.”

After his health issues arose, Norvelle learned that his heart was functioning at only 33 percent of capacity and was enlarged. “I also learned that the strokes and heart attacks were caused by blood clots in my heart chambers,” he explained. “I lived day to day, taking many medications to control high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.”

LVAD2

Norvelle is alive today because an LVAD was able to sustain him until he received a lifesaving heart transplant.

This continued until Norvelle was 35 when his condition deteriorated further. He was admitted to the hospital where he received an LAVD (left ventricular assist device), which acts like a mechanical heart that takes over for a weakened or nonfunctioning heart and pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. Norvelle was hospitalized this way for four months before he received a successful heart transplant. “I have been living for the past four-and-a-half years with my new heart and doing very well,” he said.

Like so many organ and tissue recipients, Norvelle said he received a “second life” due to the generosity of a donor. In many cases, donation also benefits families of donors and helps them manage their grief by knowing that someone lives because of their loved one’s selfless act.


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.”


How the Affordable Care Act Could Affect Organ Transplantation

June 28, 2012

The hottest topic of the day is undoubtedly the United States Supreme Court’s ruling that upholds the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act has major implications for almost all areas of healthcare and medicine. As you would expect, it will likely have an impact on organ transplantation.

We believe that the Affordable Care Act could give hope to individuals in need of lifesaving organ transplants. Currently, there is a small pool of Americans who struggle get placed on the national transplant waiting list because they lack insurance and are unable to afford post-transplant medications that are vital to the long-term health of the transplanted organ and the individual. Right now, states pay for transplants for uninsured patients through Medicaid. But, a patient’s inability to pay for post-transplant medications can lead to delayed placement (or denial of placement) on the national transplant waiting list.

The Affordable Care Act could bridge the gap that these patients face in funding post-transplant medications by providing affordable health insurance. The act could lead to these patients being added, in a more timely fashion, to the national transplant waiting list.

What do you think? We want to hear your opinions on the Affordable Care Act and how it could affect organ transplantation. Let us know by leaving a comment or posting on the Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network Facebook page.


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