I believe everyone has at least one person in their life who has influenced and inspired them to make a difference. In my case, one such person was my daughter, Erika.
Erika was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis as an infant. In our efforts to understand the implications of her disease, my wife, Eileen, and I had several counseling sessions with a psychologist. He told us that we could not live Erika’s disease for her. Rather, our job as parents was to help her become the strongest, most self-reliant person that she could be.
And a strong, self-reliant person she became, coping with periodic infections and hospitalizations and the discipline necessary to maintain a healthy daily regimen. At age 14, Erika developed a devastating systemic infection that almost took her life. She missed the first semester of her freshman year of high school. Yet, with fierce determination, hard work and the help and direction from a talented, unrelenting tutor, she managed to keep pace with her class and returned to school for the second semester.
As Erika reached young adulthood, her disease had advanced to the point where it was necessary for her to be put on a waiting list for a double lung transplant.
For three long years, there were no phone calls or pages, and Erika’s condition continued to deteriorate. And then in April 1998, my dear wife and partner and Erika’s mom died after a fight with cancer. To say that these were difficult days in the Huiner household would certainly be an understatement.
In September of 1998, Erika was admitted once more to Children’s Hospital. This was not a routine hospitalization, however. This time, I knew that – short of a miracle – Erika was not going to be coming home.
But miracles do occur! In the early hours of Oct. 24, I received a phone call from the transplant nurse at Cleveland Clinic telling me that they had a donor for Erika. They had already spoken with Erika’s nurse at Children’s, so she was already in the process of getting Erika prepared for the flight to Cleveland.
Upon arrival at Cleveland Clinic, Erika was prepped for surgery. Before she was wheeled to the operating room, the attending nurses and I sang Happy Birthday to her. My weak and critically ill daughter was about to receive the gift of new lungs on her 24th birthday!
Erika’s donor was a young woman from northeast Ohio. She died on October 24th, but she gave the gift of life to six people on that memorable day.
Erika survived her surgery, and thirty days later, she was released and we headed back to Columbus. For Erika, it meant a brand new life. No more lung infections or shortness of for breath…a new life with healthy lungs.
She soon returned to college to resume her undergraduate studies. She had volunteered for Lifeline of Ohio before her transplant and became involved with the organization once again.
Erika became a Sunday School teacher and got involved in several Bible classes. In short, she realized that she had been given the gift of a new life, and did everything she could to give back to others.
Erika died and went to live with God on May 13, 2002. Her memorial service and the luncheon that followed were a fitting celebration for a young woman who had lived life well, a person blessed with family and countless friends who loved her; a young woman with a strong and abiding faith in the God she loved so much.
I have been blessed to have had two extraordinary women in my life…my wife and my daughter. I thank God for our time together and I will ever be grateful for Erika’s donor and her family and the decision they made to donate the lungs that made Erika’s new life a reality.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Erika was a huge fan of the WWF and the NBA. Her favorite NBA team was the Chicago Bulls, and her favorite player was not Michael Jordan, but B.J. Armstrong. A blow-up picture of Erika and B.J. still hangs on the wall of the guestroom in my home. Alongside of the picture is a framed medallion from the Eye Bank, in memory of Erika Huiner, who gave the gift of eyesight on May 13, 2002.
As I said earlier Erika is certainly a person who has had a strong influence in my life. In fact, she is one of my role models…how great is that? By her example, she inspired me to get involved at Lifeline of Ohio as well as several other organizations.
I never tire of speaking with other people about the need to become registered donors. My overriding concern is for the thousands of people on transplant lists around the country, people waiting for their own miracles to occur. They are entitled to the same gift that Erika received, and the only way to make that happen is to continue to expand the number of registered donors. We still have lots of work to do!