La Vida de Uno Afecta a Muchos: The Life of One Affects Many

April 20, 2014
The McKean Family

The McKean Family

Colin McKean was only 14 when his body started to tell him something was wrong. “I had a rash on my chest, had begun to grow a ‘beer belly’ and my platelet level was extremely low,” he says. After two years of monitoring these symptoms, jaundice set in, and a CT scan revealed his spleen was significantly enlarged. Further tests revealed that Colin had liver disease and cirrhosis.

“The prognosis was not good,” he recalls. “About 88 percent of my liver was compromised, meaning my case was extremely advanced.”

The only solution was a liver transplant.

Colin barely understood the transplant concept, but he did understand that, for him to survive, someone else had to die. “I remember being so overwhelmed by that thought,” he says. “How do you respond to that? You certainly don’t pray for it to happen, but when you pray for your own health, are you not praying for someone else to lose his or hers?”

In May 1996, Colin received his life-giving call, and within 24 hours he had a new liver. “Once I got past the first 48 hours, I was able to reflect on the series of events,” he says. “I remember asking the nurses about my donor, but they could just give me some basic details, nothing traceable.” Later, Colin wrote a thank you note to the family telling them “who I was, where I was from and how I planned to make the best of this opportunity granted to me by their loved one’s selfless choice to be an organ donor.”

Colin went on to graduate from college and today works as an engineer. “I also volunteer with Gift of Hope and other organizations, spreading the important message of organ, tissue, eye and blood donation,” he says.

Colin remembers reading a saying during one of his visits to the transplant clinic after receiving his first transplant: La Vida de Uno Afecta a Muchos: The Life of One Affects Many.

“There are very few days that pass when I don’t think about that saying, how blessed I have been and all of the wonderful, caring people who have made it possible for me to be alive today,” he says. “In the end, the message is quite clear: La Vida de Uno Afecta a Muchos.”


“The Greatest Hero I Never Knew”

April 19, 2014
Shelby and her sister Riley

Shelby and her sister Riley

The second of three girls in her family, Shelby Martin today is a normal, energetic 12-year-old girl “who likes to annoy her big sister,” says her older sister, Riley.

But Shelby once faced an uncertain future: At just 10 weeks of age, she was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a liver disease that affects infants. Its cause is unknown, and treatment options are limited. She needed surgery immediately, or she wouldn’t survive. And her family knew a lifesaving liver transplant would likely be Shelby’s only hope one day.

Shelby with her dad and sisters

Shelby with her dad and sisters

That day came in summer 2011 when Shelby started having breathing problems that grew progressively worse. In October, she had to drop out of school; by December, she was hospitalized and on the waiting list for a liver transplant. She was able to go home in February 2012, but she soon returned to the hospital — confined to an intensive care unit bed and hooked up to oxygen required for survival.

“It was all like a dream,” Riley says. “I would go to school each day and pretend it was all okay. I would laugh and talk and hide my sadness.”

After visiting Shelby in the hospital in April 2012, Riley recalls coming home and thinking over and over, “Seven months, one week and one day.” That was how long Shelby had been waiting for a liver transplant — for “someone to rescue her from her prison.”

Shelby as she waits

Shelby as she waits

The rescue call came in at 4 o’clock the following morning: A donated liver for Shelby had been found. About 12 hours later, Shelby went into surgery to receive her liver transplant. The Martins later learned that Shelby’s donor was a man named Dave, who was a husband and a father of two children.

“That day, he saved her life,” Riley says. “My sister is healthy and alive as can be today because of this man’s gift. I want to thank the family who whose loved one gave Shelby the precious gift of life. But, most of all, I want to thank Dave for being the greatest hero I never knew.”


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!’”


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