My Renewed Life

By Tracy Reifer, liver recipient

I love spring and the newness of life it brings – the grass turns green, flowers begin to bloom and birds energetically sing! It’s also a time for Easter, many family birthday parties and Mother’s Day. All things I love, but in the spring of 2015, instead of preparing for the new season, I was fighting for my life.

Let me go back to almost ten years earlier, in 2006, when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune liver disease – Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC). In most cases, people with PBC can live long lives and never need a liver transplant. However, my case was severe and doctors informed me I would need a transplant to survive. I was shocked.

Fast forward, my health had been mostly okay with only the occasional hospital stay. Suddenly, my health began to deteriorate. Even though I looked healthy on the outside, inside my liver was losing its fight with my immune system. At this point my doctor diagnosed me with end stage liver disease and recommended I be evaluated for a possible liver transplant. I went through the various tests and was placed on the national liver transplant waiting list in April 2015.

Before transplant and after

I began rapidly losing weight, strength, and hope – I was so weak I could barely climb the flight of stairs to my bedroom. I had no choice but to go on disability from work. I simply didn’t have the strength to keep up with the career I loved and had worked in for more than 20 years.

The effects of cirrhosis began taking a toll on my kidneys, and I was retaining a large volume of fluid which required weekly six-hour round trips to the hospital for my abdomen to be drained. At times, as much as five-liters were drained in a session. Imagine two and a half, two-liter bottles of soda! Only after this procedure did I actually have room for any food in my stomach. I was able to eat, on average, one good meal per week.

As spring was fading into summer, I was beginning to lose hope. I had only been on the transplant waiting list a total of seven weeks, and even though it doesn’t sound like a long time, it was very difficult.

But! On the first day of summer in 2015, I received the call I had been so desperate for – a liver had been found for me! I received the transplant the next day and when I woke up, I remember feeling incredible. As soon as I could, I began walking the halls of the hospital.  What once had been a struggle was now a joy!

By early winter of 2015, I was doing a more intense exercise routine, and decided to try running.  I spent the next spring running 5K races and training for the Transplant Games of America. By the end of that summer, I was an Olympic bronze medalist in the women’s 1,500 meter and 800 meter runs! Since then, I have participated in more than 25 5K’s and have also participated in the World Transplant Games.

I’m alive and thriving today because of my donor – my hero! Just this past spring we welcomed our third granddaughter, who I would have never been able to meet if not for my donor. I also turned 50, an age I wasn’t sure I would reach. But, thanks to my donor, I did. He has given me my life, my health and so much more.  He has given me everything.

I know misconceptions can keep people from registering. I learned my donor was on kidney dialysis at the time of his death and he was still able to donate his liver to me. Everyone has the power to be someone’s hero. All it takes is saying ‘yes’ to being a registered organ, eye and tissue donor.

Steve’s Unselfish Gifts

By Nancy Wharton, donor wife

Beloved husband. Best friend. An amazing man who had a positive outlook on life. That was my Steve. He and I met our freshman year in college and were together ever since – more than 40 years. This year would have been our 36th wedding anniversary.

Steve never met anyone who didn’t instantly become a friend. He was quick witted and had a great sense of humor. He loved his nieces and nephews as his own, was an avid outdoorsman and just an overall great person.

In my thoughts, Steve and I had many, many more years together. However, that was not meant to be. This past Memorial Day, he didn’t wake up. I called paramedics and he was rushed by ambulance to St. Ann’s Hospital. Despite the heroic efforts of the incredible medical staff, Steve was unable to recover from irreparable brain damage due to lack of oxygen, and passed away.

Steve and I had been registered donors since we were 16. It’s something we were both aware of, but hadn’t discussed all that much. It wasn’t until I was told Steve would never recover that I began to have conversations about honoring his wish to be a donor if at all possible.

He was able to donate corneas, bones, ligaments, tendons, nerves and skin. We know he’s given sight to two and healed dozens of others through tissue donation. It is a hope of mine to someday meet the people my husband has helped. It means the world to my family and I that Steve was able to make such an impact on total stranger’s lives.

As I reflect on my life with Steve, I find myself asking what God’s purpose was with this. And then I think of all the people he so unselfishly gave to. All of the people he is saving through his untimely death. It does my heart good to know he was thoughtful and caring enough to be a registered organ, eye and tissue donor.

I ask you to consider registering today to be a hero of donation, as my husband was. His gifts of sight and tissue were not just healing for his recipients, they are also healing for me as well.



A Sweet, Second Chance

By Michael Gray, transplant recipient

In August 2016, to my utter and total surprise, my health took a serious turn for the worse. For being 71 years-old, I had always been fit, relatively healthy and in good shape.

On August 8, I began to vomit blood and had to be rushed to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. I was admitted and after a nine-day stay, doctors discovered three cancerous tumors in my liver, which was not functioning well. Out of nowhere my health was spiraling downward.

I was diagnosed with NASH – non-alcoholic sclerosis of the liver – and began chemotherapy. At the same time as chemo, I was undergoing a battery of testing to see if I would quality for the national liver transplant waiting list.

Everything was happening so fast. In January, I completed and passed all the medical examinations and was added to the transplant list. My wait began. I had no idea how long it would be, but my wife Betty, my friends and family and my faith in God carried me through.

And carry me through, He did. About a month after being added to the list I received the call! It had been a typical February day. As my wife and I were getting ready for bed, I remember thinking about where to go for our St. Valentine’s Day dinner when the phone rang. It was my transplant coordinator telling me a donor had been found! I was at the hospital and being prepped for surgery 45 minutes later. It all happened so quickly, I didn’t have time to worry, only to pray.

My transplant surgeon and I.

I received my new liver on Valentine’s Day, and awoke five days and three surgeries later with a fresh lease on life. After an additional week recovering in the hospital, I was able to go home and begin my new life. Now, at 72 years-old, my recovery process has been excellent! I still can’t exercise how I used to be able to, but I feel great! All thanks to my donor and my God.

While I don’t know anything about my donor, I have sent their family a letter through Lifeline of Ohio. I expressed my deep condolences and also thanked them for this incredible gift. I am alive today because of their loved one.

In honor of my anonymous donor, my hero, I ask you to consider becoming a registered organ, eye and tissue donor. You could save and heal so many.

Chance Gave Me a Chance

By Tom Ioia, transplant recipient

Growing up, my dad was relatively healthy despite having an inherited condition, Familial Adenomatous Polyposis, which causes polyps to develop in the colon. He deal and dealt with, and managed, the syndrome for years.

In high school I was tested to see if I also carried the gene – I did. Although I had the same condition as dad, mine was different. My polyps were pre-cancerous and in 2005 a portion of my large intestine was removed to lessen of the risk of colon cancer.

For the next three years my life was semi-normal. I went to college and got married. I didn’t know my health would begin to take complete control over my life.

In 2008, large benign tumors were found growing in my abdomen, constricting my organs. I endured 13 months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumors. Then, from 2011-2014, I experienced eight bowel obstructions. My health was progressively getting worse, when finally in May 2014, my doctor suggested I may be a good candidate for an intestinal transplant.

I first thought, “why me?” I was raising a young daughter with my wife, working and trying to be a productive member of society. I was only 30.

My first walk post-transplant!

I met with the transplant team at Indiana University Hospital and went through testing to be listed, but it wasn’t until my health declined further in January 2016 that I was placed on the national transplant waiting list.

On April 7, 2016, I was taking a break with my co-workers when I thought I heard my phone ring. I checked and I had missed a call from Indiana University. I immediately called back and was informed there was a match and needed me in Indiana as soon as possible. I was elated!

After the rush of realizing my time had come to receive a transplant, I became nervous of what lay before me – surgery, recovery and returning to health. I was also thinking of my donor, their family and what they must be going through in their time of tragedy.

My transplant surgery went smoothly and two days later I was walking down the hall. My new life had begun! I wanted to get home so badly to be with my wife and daughter – I was so thankful for this gift and I wanted to share it with my family.

Shortly after the one-year anniversary of my transplant, I wrote a letter to my donor family. They wrote back and I learned my donor was a young boy named Chance. I am so thankful Chance’s family made the decision to donate his organs, giving others like me a new lease on life.  He is my hero.

I am living proof of organ donation and grateful for this second chance. I ask you to consider registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor. Because of Chance and this gift, I can now watch my daughter grow up.

Donation Education Comes to ALL Ohio Schools!

Have you heard?  Our community education team is excited to start the 2017-18 school year under the new Ohio state mandate which includes organ, eye and tissue donation in the Health curriculum!

The Ohio House of Representatives has passed a bill which mandates Ohio high school Health classes must ” include instruction in: (g) the process of making an anatomical gift under Chapter 2108 of the Revised Code, with an emphasis on the life-saving and life-enhancing effects of organ, eye and tissue donation.”  This is a very important piece of legislation for the donation community and was inspired by a request that Donate Life Ambassador, liver recipient and student, Emmalyn Brown, made to her local representative, Debby Phillips of Athens and Rep. Cheryl Grossman of Grove City.

Schools across the state will have access to free resources on, including a powerful new video (starring our Ambassadors!) and supplies for students to share with their parents.

While we are proud of the materials and new video, we know that having a community educator visit a classroom is the Gold Standard.  If you know an Ohio high school health teacher, please be a strong advocate and share how important donation education is to you – and countless others. Or, send their information to our community education supervisor, Jenny Hudak-Million.