My Dad’s Hero

By Makenzie Kelly, recipient daughter

Each semester, I welcome Lifeline of Ohio community educators into my classroom at Newark High School. The educators share the Donate Life message with my students and truly help them to understand organ donation so they can make an informed decision when they receive their learner’s permit. I’ve been proud of the relationship I’ve built with the community education team, but didn’t realize it fully until donation impacted my life.

Little did I know after helping share the message of donation in my classes for so many years, my dad, Fred, would need a kidney transplant to survive.

In 2013, my dad had blood work that came back abnormal from a neurologist appointment. We couldn’t believe it when he was, just a few days later, diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure. We were told he could do dialysis, but he would need a kidney transplant.

Dialysis disrupted his freedom and changed his emotional thoughts – he was now worried he would pass away. Fifteen years earlier he beat a brain tumor and this second medical emergency was worrisome for the whole family.

After more than two years of waiting on the national transplant waiting list and undergoing dialysis three times a week, he got “THE CALL!”  It was January 7, 2016 right after we celebrated my sister’s birthday when the phone rang. He cried. I cried. We all cried.

We were full of apprehension as we arrived at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center for the transplant, but we were also fully aware a family was grieving the loss of their loved one. I was so thankful my dad was receiving his second chance at life.

As a family, we whole-heartedly thank my dad’s heroic donor. This person gave our “Frapple” (the name given to him by his grandson) the ability at sixty-five years old to watch his grandkids grow.  He gets to see them dance, play ball and watch them run in his house on Christmas morning.  It is the best gift we could have ever received.

I continue to have Lifeline of Ohio into my classroom to educate my students. The message they spread has a profound impact on all who hears it. Won’t you consider registering to be a hero today?

The Gift of Love and Life

By Gen Riffe, donor mom

On November 13, 2005, the dark secret that I had hidden in the deepest part of my heart was coming to be.  You see, in 1988, in the quietness of my hospital room, I held my youngest daughter and gazed into her eyes.   I had an overwhelming sense that one of my daughters would be born into heaven before myself.

On that fateful day in November, my two daughters and I left in three different cars to celebrate their grandma’s birthday with the whole family. We were all at the restaurant except for Whitney, my oldest daughter. She had already told me what to order, but the food soon came and she still wasn’t there. I asked my youngest daughter, Haley, to call Whitney. The phone rang and rang and rang. In a moment, all our tomorrows disappeared into today. In a moment, all of our life pictures were torn apart and thrown away. In a moment, my nightmares all came true.

My daughter, Whitney Amber Riffe, had been involved in a one-car accident on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. She didn’t survive. She was 21 years old.

When we arrived at the hospital, I was surprised that she didn’t look hurt. All I noticed was a small scratch on her cheek.  I looked at her toes and counted them one more time and told her how much I loved her.

Later that night, I received a call from Lifeline of Ohio. The voice on the phone was calm, nurturing and expressed her sympathies for the loss of my daughter. She then reminded me Whitney was a registered organ, eye and tissue donor, a decision she made when she was 18. When first speaking with Lifeline of Ohio, it seemed very much like an “ending” of a young woman in her prime. However, as it was explained to me, I realized that Whitney chose to give the gifts of life, sight and healing. For many people, Whitney’s end was their new beginning.

Whit was able to donate her corneas for two people to see, heart valves to allow blood to flow freely and tissues to allow many to live a more productive life. In all, she was able to save and heal more than 50 people!

Three years after the accident, while I was going through Whit’s special keepsake box, I took out her wallet as I’ve done many times before. As I opened it, I saw something I had never seen before – in big, bold, red letters was the word “LIFE.” It was on that day I realized life is the greatest gift. I thought of why I was put here on this earth – to care for others through acts of love just as Whit did through donation.

The very next day my wife, Cathy, and I signed up to be Donate Life Ambassadors through Lifeline of Ohio. We have loved participating and sharing the message of organ, tissue and eye donation for the past ten years.  As Cathy and I, as well as the LGBTQ community, look forward to the Pride festivities, we are proud Lifeline of Ohio as chosen to BE a voice of action.

A photo we found on our camera after the Dash

I am humbled, because my daughter Whitney cared enough about people while she lived, to help them after she died. She loved to live and loved to give – won’t you do the same? Register today as an organ, eye and tissue donor.

Everyday is a Miracle

By Laura Lewis, transplant recipient

For most of my life, I have been a healthy and active person. As far as family history, my mother had dealt with elevated liver enzymes, but other than that, I led a normal life. That is, until 2007.

In November 2007, when I was 48, I became very ill with what I thought was the flu. I was sick for what felt like months and just could not get better. It wasn’t until my doctor ran further testing that I was diagnosed with liver failure and my only option of survival was a liver transplant.

One of my first thoughts was how I was going to die. I’ve always been afraid of death and now that my life expectancy was hitting me in the face, it was hard to wrap my mind around. It was unfathomable to think my only chance of survival would come from a complete stranger saying “yes” to donation.

Before I was placed on the national transplant waiting list, I had to talk to my family. I had to tell my six boys their mother was very, very ill. It was a hard discussion. Thankfully, I have a very supportive husband who cared for me throughout the entire wait and beyond. He was my rock.

The wait was agonizing. For five months I prayed for a donor to be found while I became sicker and sicker.

And then, on March 16, 2008 at 4:50 in the morning, I got the call! I worked at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and I called the charge nurse to tell her I wasn’t coming in to work that day, I was coming in as a patient!

I was third in line for the liver and was thankful when the doctors told me I would be the one to receive it. The other two people ahead of me in line were ill that day. While I was sad for them, I was elated to get my second chance.

Waking up from the surgery, I felt better than I had in a long time. I was able to go home after five days in the hospital and I was back to work within five weeks!

In the nine years since my transplant, every day is a miracle. I’ve written my donor family every year on the anniversary of my transplant to say thank you, but haven’t heard back from them. While I would love to know anything about my donor, I do know they saved my life and for that I am eternally grateful.

My donor’s gift to me not only changed my life, but also the lives of two of my boys. My liver disease, then transplant, inspired them to earn their nursing degrees. The ripple effect of my donor’s decision to be a hero is astounding. I encourage you to consider registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor today. You never know the legacy you may leave.

 

 

 

The Hero Who Wanted to Help Others

By Mandy Hupp, donor wife

My husband Jason was amazing and generous. He was very family orientated, always putting us first. He was a hard-worker who worked in the coalmines to make sure our family was always provided for. He had a beautiful smile and would light up a room as soon as he entered.

Jason and I were married for almost 16 years and together had two beautiful children – a daughter and a son. He was just 38 when our lives would forever be changed.

May 22, 2012, Jason was driving with our kids in the car when a rotten tree branch fell on his car. The impact was devastating and Jason didn’t survive. It was a freak accident that no one could have seen coming.

As the events of the day unfolded, I received a call from Lifeline of Ohio expressing their deep sympathy for the loss of my husband and also informing me he was a registered organ, eye and tissue donor. I knew Jason was a donor, we had talked about it briefly at some point. It was something he signed up to do because he felt it was right. At the time of his death, I wasn’t a donor because I believed all of the myths.

Jason ended up donating tissues, corneas and ligaments to help others in need. We’ve been fortunate enough to hear from two of his recipients. The first letter we received was from a pilot who received Jason’s donated tendons and ligaments, allowing her to resume an active lifestyle and career. The second letter was from a mom of three boys. She wrote saying how grateful she was for his gifts – she could once again be the mom she wanted to be.

Our Dash for Donation poster

Knowing Jason has helped dozens and dozens through cornea and tissue donation gives me comfort. I know this is what he wanted – he loved to help others. He’s truly left a lasting impression on so many.

Since his passing, our whole family has made the decision to register. We do everything we can to bust the myths and to educate those in our town about donation. We are trying to carry on his legacy – won’t you please consider registering as an organ, eye and tissue donor today in honor of my husband?

 

 

 

The Ripples of Donation: Bob’s Story

By Helen Poe Keigley, donor wife

My husband Bob lit up a room when he walked in. He had a great sense of humor and you would never hear him say a bad word about anyone. We met just out of high school when we worked together at the same ‘mom and pop’ grocery store. The first time he saw me he told his friend “That’s the girl I am going to marry.” And he did! We were married September 12, 1981. Our son Robert was born in 1982, and our daughter Jennifer came along in 1984.

By 1995, life was going well for us – we were happy being married, working hard and raising our two kids. After we got back from a trip to Hawaii, Bob fell ill. We thought he might have contracted a parasite, so doctors gave him medication and encouraged him to quit smoking. The medication didn’t help and it wasn’t until he continued to complain to his doctor that more testing was done and revealed his heart was damaged.

During this same time period, Bob’s dad and sister were in heart failure.  We were told they had contracted the same virus that attacked Bob’s heart. There was no mention it might be a genetic condition. Although we were worried, we felt everything would work out as Bob began medication to manage his condition.

Twelve years passed and Bob once again fell ill. We went to our local hospital, but he was quickly flown by air ambulance to The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Through extensive testing, we learned he was in total heart failure and doctors wanted to implant a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) to bridge him to a transplant. Bob would not survive without the LVAD and a new heart. Everything was happening so fast. e were in shock.

Doctors were firm – he would need a transplant to survive, but he must be smoke-free for six months to be eligible to be listed on the national transplant waiting list. Bob knew it would be difficult to quit smoking, but he knew he had to.

After the LVAD was implanted, Bob worked on being smoke-free. Unfortunately, just as he was to be listed, he suffered a stroke.   

Because of the stroke, Bob had to be removed from the list. He was sent home and we worked for months to rehabilitate him to get him back on the transplant list. In February 2008 he began to have some issues with his LVAD – he was told he needed a new pump. As we were wrapping our minds around this, the unimaginable happened.

Bob’s name displayed on the Lifeline of Ohio Donor Memorial

On February 21 he woke up and just didn’t feel right. I called 911 and a special team from Columbus came to transport him to the hospital in the middle of an ice storm. His right ventricle was weakening and his vitals were plummeting. We got him to the hospital after the longest ambulance ride of my life, and tragically on February 22, my sweet, funny, witty husband Bob passed away at age 48.

A true gift for our family through the pain was the decision for Bob to become an organ, eye and tissue donor. While we hadn’t discussed it before, we had been waiting for someone to donate to him, how could we not do the same for someone else and spare them the grief? Bob saved three lives through the donation of his kidneys and liver and gave the gift of sight to two people through cornea donation. It brings us comfort to know he lives on.

We’ve since received one letter from his kidney recipient. It was so wonderful to hear how Bob gave them their life back. While I haven’t written back yet, I am hoping to one day have the strength to reply.

In the years following Bob’s death, our daughter Jennifer has had to have an LVAD implanted – she has the same disease as her father and was diagnosed on his birthday, February 2, 2016.

Jennifer and Noah

After Jennifer was diagnosed we decided to take part in a study to isolate the gene that was wreaking havoc on our family. After having my son and Jennifer‘s kids tested, only Jennifer and her son Noah have the gene – BAG3.

Jennifer is doing well with her LVAD and Noah will be closely monitored and tested. While Jennifer is on the heart transplant list, she is not currently active.

The ripples of donation are far reaching for our family. First with Bob needing a heart and the ripple that extended with his gifts. And now, as we anticipate a hero to save Jennifer’s life and one day Noah’s, we are in awe of and celebrate the ripple effect of donation. I urge you to consider registering today to give hope to those waiting – like my sweet husband and now, daughter.