Because Democracy Lives, So Does Charles

April 14, 2014

Charles Kittles with Gift of Hope CEO Kevin Cmunt receiving a Lifesaving Partners award.

Charles Kittles with Gift of Hope CEO Kevin Cmunt receiving a Lifesaving Partners award.

Gift of Hope Advocates for Hope volunteer Charles Kittles might consider donating his body — minus its viable organs and tissue, of course — to medical science someday. That’s because this 73-year-old retiree, who was released from Loyola University Medical Center with his life-renewing kidney transplant on New Year’s Day 2006, is nothing short of a scientific miracle.

On top of the diabetes and high blood pressure Charles believes caused his kidneys to fail, from 2000 through 2005 he underwent neck surgery, received treatment for prostate cancer, had a cancerous kidney removed, had a three-month nursing home stay and suffered an infection that necessitated the removal of his colon. Yet Charles, a member of Gift of Hope’s African-American Task Force, remains remarkably upbeat and enthusiastic while spreading the good news of organ and tissue donation.

“My doctor used to tell me, ‘You don’t understand that you’re sick,’” Charles recalls. “Well, I never considered myself as sick through any of this. I was just in the shape I was in. You know, we all deal with things in different ways.”

His four children were tested as potential kidney donors. A long-distance blood sample revealed that his daughter, Peggy Jacobs, who­ lives in California, was an ideal match. “There was no discussion,” Charles says, laughing. “This all took place during the time my colon was being removed, and I was in a coma in the hospital. I knew nothing about any of this.”

Charles was concerned about his daughter. “But she told me, ‘You remember when we used to talk around the dinner table, and you always stressed that we live in a democracy and the majority rules? Well, we outvoted you! You have to accept this!’ The best part was that we were in the same room together at Loyola.”

Charles became involved with Gift of Hope after speaking at Loyola’s annual candlelight ceremony in 2006. “Prior to my transplant, I had no idea this world existed,” he says. “Volunteering has given me the opportunity to meet so many truly caring and dedicated people.” While he says he rarely tells his own story anymore — “Truth be told, it gets boring after a while.” — he shares an important message of prevention.

“When you’re told something is wrong with you and your doctor gives you a plan, follow the plan, period,” says Charles. “Don’t groan and moan about it. If you’re told, ‘You can do this, but you can’t do that,’ then don’t do that.”

Master of the Second Act

April 4, 2014

Brian Brandt knows a thing or two about reinventing oneself. After a successful career in marketing and advertising that included stops at Marshall Field’s, Rust-Oleum Corporation and legendary Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett, he left the business world in 1993 to become a vocational teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system.

“Everybody in my family was very supportive,” Brian says, “and, fortunately, I could afford the career move. But I saw the good, the bad and the ugly — often in the same day.”

Brian prior to transplant.

Brian prior to transplant.

Perhaps nothing was uglier than another life-changing decision he made eight years ago, though, when his family doctor determined he was suffering from ascites (eh-SITE-ees), a condition where fluid accumulates in the abdominal cavity because the liver is malfunctioning. “He suggested having my esophagus scoped to see if pressure was building in my veins,” Brian recalls. “I just thought I was getting fat or something. I ignored his advice, and life went on.”

Sort of. Until the day he passed out at home. “A vein ruptured in my esophagus,” Brian explains. “I could have bled to death, but my daughter called the paramedics, and doctors were able to seal off the vein below the rupture.”

That time, Brian got the message: He had a severe liver problem.

As his ascites worsened and his liver continued deteriorating, Brian was having six to eight liters of fluid removed from his midsection twice a week. “I couldn’t bend over to tie my shoes,” he says.

Then fate intervened.

In early 2011, a friend from Brian’s church visited him at home, observed his condition and put him in touch with an acquaintance connected with the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison. The acquaintance invited Brian to meet the members of the UW transplant team. “I’ll never forget the words they said: ‘You are now part of our family.’”

The Brandt family after Brian's transplant.

The Brandt family after Brian’s transplant.

Brian was added to the transplant waiting list in late spring 2011 and, after what he describes as a “dreadful” summer physically, in August he received another opportunity for a major life change — a matching liver was found.

“My transplant took place on August 12, 2011,” says Brian, now retired and an enthusiastic advocate for organ donation. “Aside from my birthday, it’s the most important day of my life.

After his transplant, Brian considered himself to be the luckiest guy in the world. “Today I say, ‘Well, I may not be the luckiest guy, but I still feel like I’m nationally ranked!’”

A Road Trip to Life and Love Beyond Any Other

April 1, 2014
The Stalinski Family

The Stalinski Family

Cathy Stalinski is the mother of an infant organ transplant recipient and a fervent advocate for Gift of Hope and organ and tissue donation. When her baby daughter Kateri was barely three months old, Cathy and her family started on that long journey familiar to so many families waiting for organ transplants.

This “road trip,” as Cathy calls it, started with tests and Kateri’s first surgery. “It gave us some time, but we soon realized her liver was still failing,” Cathy said. She and her husband did their research and learned that the liver can regenerate. “So a person can give a part of their liver, and it will regrow in both people.” Cathy was a blood match and ready to undergo the needed evaluation — “ready to do anything to save my baby,” she said.

Princess Kateri

Princess Kateri

But hopes were shattered when she learned Kateri was not a candidate for a living donor. “The waiting list now was the only chance of life for our daughter,” Cathy said. “My heart was filled with sorrow as I read that 18 people die every day waiting for the gift of life,” Cathy remembered. “Fearing that someone would be our baby chilled us to the bone.”

Cathy and her family knew that the only way to save Kateri’s life was through the selfless gift of an organ donor. The wait seemed endless, but one day they had an organ offer. “My feelings were everywhere,” Cathy explained. “Overjoyed for my baby, heartbroken for the other family’s loss, humbled knowing others were still waiting, anxious for the coming surgery, at peace that Kateri was in God’s hands.”

Cathy said that they were blessed that someone made the choice to give Kateri new life. “It changed the course of our journey — with life given instead of just tragedy for two families,” she said. “The compassion of an organ donor and the family is beyond any other love in human capacity.”

Since the transplant surgery, Kateri has been thriving. She is home with her family, dancing and playing with her brothers. Cathy said that now the family can plan for a different kind of road trip, a trip where there are no hospital waiting rooms and the stakes aren’t so high. “It’s a road trip where we have the open road in front of us and three healthy children singing silly songs. And no one is thinking about anything other than fun.”

Kateri writing her donor family.

Kateri writing her donor family.

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


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