Testimonials of Hope

Read how organ donation has impacted, healed, inspired, and changed the lives of others.

Erik
Heart Transplant Recipient
Jeff
Live Kidney Donor
Charlotte
Liver Transplant Recipient
Mari
Heart Transplant Recipient
Dani
A New Donor
Cameron
Organ Donor
Reece
Heart Transplant Recipient
Tito
Knee Donation Recipient
Annette
Kidney Transplant Recipient

Have a Testimonial of Hope you would like to share? We would love to hear from you! Email admin@alexandershope.org with your testimonial!

Erik

Heart Transplant Recipient

Hi, my name is Erik Rodriguez, I am a heart transplant survivor.

On November 8, 2016 I started my day at work and felt chest pains and began to get anxiety attacks, which had never happened to me before. After a few hours of intense chest pain, I was told to go to the ER to get an idea as to what was causing the pain. Once I got to the ER the doctors told me my heart had enlarged to twice its size and was beating over 180 beats per minute and there was nothing they could do for me in Wenatchee, WA to save my life. Therefore, they immediately flew me out to University of Washington Medical Center. When I arrived I instantly got put into to the intensive care unit (ICU) and was on ECMO for twelve days. Once I woke up I had a total artificial heart (TAH) and every day was a new battle I had to overcome. I had a lot of good days where I would get up from bed and try to walk and bad days when I felt like giving up and dying, although with the support of my family, friends, and community they helped me to have hope and faith in myself to keep fighting. After three months of having a TAH I received great news from the doctors telling me they have found a perfect match, on January 27, 2017 I got my heart transplant. From that day forward it made me realize how blessed I was to have received a heart from someone who was an organ donor and who saved my life. This has inspired me to become an organ donor so that I also could save a life in need.

Jeff

Live Kidney Donor

I don’t do bucket lists, FB likes, or retweet something that I find inspiring.  I do big things; like donating a kidney.  And big things sometime make me stop and question things.  It took me more than a year to figure out why I wanted to donate a kidney.

What kind of world did I want to live in?  I didn’t want to just repost something from FB.  I wanted to do something.  I wanted to live in a world in which this is how people treated each other. I wanted change, not just with myself, but on a scale that is frightening. Change that spoke not only to the core of who we are, but also why we are here.

Did I need to be special to donate?  As it was looking like I was going to be approved one of the questions my social worker asked was, “Have you told your ex-wife(mom of my kids)?”  I skirted the issue, “Do I have to?”  “We recommend it,” she said.  I sent a text that night to my ex with the expectation that she wouldn’t understand me, or what I was doing.  We had had our problems, and I figured she’d point out how wrong this was.  She replied with, “That is the most incredible decision I’ve ever heard of.”  At that point I realized I didn’t have to be special to donate.

I am more powerful than I realize.  We can solve a lot of problems on this planet, but we haven’t solved kidney disease.  I can’t drop money into a cup and expect this to be cured.  It still takes another human being to help.

By the way, my one kidney donation started a chain that allowed three recipients to get kidneys.  Sometimes we really are bigger than we truly realize.

Charlotte

Liver Transplant Recipient

Charlotte was diagnosed with a rare disease called Biliary Atresia ( about 1 in 15,000 babies are born with Biliary Atresia) on August 20, 2016, almost nine weeks after she was born. On August 23, 2016 she under went a 9 hour surgery called the Kasai procedure and was in the hospital for 10 days. During this procedure, surgeons carefully remove the damaged ducts outside the liver and used a small segment of the intestine to replace the ducts which allows bile to flow from the liver to the intestine. The Kasai was successful and she did well for over a year.

Then, in March 2018, Charlotte became sick again and was referred by her doctors to receive a liver transplant. On May 1, 2018 she was listed for transplant. The estimated wait time is 8 months to a year to wait for a liver.

Charlotte’s life was at risk waiting for the transplant. There are more people waiting than there are livers. This year alone, about 50 children will die waiting for a liver.

As time passed, Charlotte’s liver got worse. One day she was seemingly fine and the next she would spike a fever. On April 24, 2019 Charlotte had found herself back at the hospital.

Then, on April 30th 2019, a few days after Charlotte had been admitted back to the hospital her and her family got the best news of their lives, a match had been found!

When Janessa, Charlotte’s Mother, got the news, she did not know whether to get sick or cry – Janessa  was ecstatic that it was finally their time.

Janessa said it’s hard to put into words the gratitude they feel to the donor family who saved Charlotte’s life.

“We’re deeply sorry for their loss,” Janessa said. “It breaks our heart that they lost their loved one. We are forever grateful for the amazing gift of life that the donor has given our daughter and family.”

Janessa is excited for Charlotte’s future. They can’t wait for her to get to be a normal toddler and for her bright future ahead.

“She’s alive today thanks to the transplant,” Janessa said. “She has a long life ahead of her now.”

Mari

Heart Transplant Recipient

Because of a generous donor I am alive! My name is Mari, and on June 14th, 2016 I was blessed with the gift of life- I received a new heart from a donor and their family. In 2015, my role in life was being a mom to my beautiful boys Andrew & Matthew, wife to my husband Jim of 28 years, a daughter, a sister, Aunt and friend to many. I was an active woman, I liked to jog, hike with my dog Marley, boat and enjoying life to its fullest. I noticed I was feeling sluggish and I was not breathing very well. I attended many appointments with various doctors. Then, on June 13, 2015, I had my first EKG which detected my heart was in bad shape. Because of the condition my heart was in, they rushed me to the ER. For the next year it was specialist after specialist, test after test, many different biopsies and many kinds of medication to keep me alive, all while the tests and biopsies came back inconclusive. As each day passed my heart grew weaker and weaker. Little did I know or any doctors know, I had an extremely rare auto immune disease called Sarcoidosis, which was killing my heart. Without a gift of life from a donor, I would not make it much longer. On June 13, at 10:10pm I received the call that they had found a match for me. It is a bitter sweet story, another person passed and I have been given another chance at life to fulfill my dreams. Each day I give thanks for this blessing by thanking my donor for this opportunity to love, laugh and live. My family and I would like to say thank you to all of those who are donors today!

Dani

A New Donor

I had never been an organ donor due to an illogical fear of it. However, when my 19-year-old cousin needed an emergency heart transplant, I realized how imperative organ donation is. Due to the generosity of that one donor, my cousin is able to live- which is the best gift our family will ever receive. Needless to say, I have chosen to become an organ donor and would encourage everyone else to as well, the decision is well worth the lives you will save.

Cameron

Organ Donor

God’s plan for Cameron’s life has always been in his timing. While pregnant with Cameron, I went into labor three times before his due date. On November 16th, Cameron was born three weeks early. A week after bringing him home, he was hospitalized with critically high levels of bilirubin. After being in the hospital for a week, I could finally bring my baby boy home and watch him grow into an extraordinary young man.

Beginning at a young age, Cameron was spontaneous, full of energy, and looking for adventure. He was calculated in his decisions but challenged those around him with his high energy and lack of fear. Cameron had his guardian angels working overtime to keep him safe! His quest for adventure included a passion for fast toys; some of which included snowmobiles, motocross bikes, and racing remote control cars. As you can imagine, I was one of those mothers who worried that my son would get hurt every time he was out doing the things he loved.

 

On the evening of June 28th, 2018 my worst fear became a reality when we received a life-changing phone call from a local sheriff. When I arrived at the hospital that night, everything quickly unfolded in front of me. It was like a bad dream. I just wanted someone to wake me up from this nightmare. I wanted everything to be just as it was before. I couldn’t wake up. It wasn’t a dream. My son was in a car accident and he was brain dead. This was not what I imagined God’s plan for Cameron’s life to be. I pictured him getting married, having children, and being a successful construction manager. Although I was experiencing unimaginable pain, a miracle was about to take place. Cameron was an organ donor. Even though we were losing our son, he would be giving life back to others.

As we sat in the hospital room with Cameron, the brightest rainbow we ever saw filled the sky; all without a sign of rain. At that exact moment, we knew what God’s plan for Cameron was. God blessed Cameron with so many wonderful characteristics, but the greatest of them was his heart. I believe that God kept Cameron alive after his accident so that his heart could be donated. God knew that a heart like his still had way too much love to give. Cameron’s heart was filled with kindness, compassion, and a love that made everyone around him feel appreciated. I can proudly say that Cameron’s heart now beats inside the chest of a 30-year-old man from Iowa, who I hope to meet someday. I know this man will continue blessing those around him because he had Cameron’s heart.

As days, weeks, and now months continue to pass, one miracle after another has taken place through Cameron’s donations. His life continues to bless others and our family has found peace knowing that he continues to live on; that God’s plan for Cameron is complete. By sharing Cameron’s story, I aim to spread hope and educate others on donor ship. In memory of Cameron, crosses will be sent to those in need of peace and comfort.

 

Reece

Heart Transplant Recipient

A year-and-a-half after having a complete heart transplant, Reece Chambers, a lieutenant with East Jefferson Fire Rescue, heard the tones for a structure fire down the road from the Chimacum Fire Station.

Hopping up into the cab of his fire truck, he was both excited and extremely nervous. This was the first structure fire he would be fighting since his surgery.

“I was so nervous,” he said. “I looked down at my heart and I said, ‘Let’s go, Kevin.’”

Kevin was the name of the man whose heart now beats unfailingly inside Chambers’ chest.

“I feel like he’s with me,” Chambers said. “There are two guys in this body, and we’re doing life together now.”

Chambers, who is 42, is the first firefighter in Washington state to have a heart transplant and pass the physical exam required to return to full-time firefighting.

Having worked for East Jefferson Fire Rescue since 2004, he has now been back in the line of duty for a month after a turbulent two years of medical leave.

Early on in his career, he was hospitalized with heart problems, but was able to make a recovery and continue working. But due to constant exposure to chemicals and smoke on the job, his heart problems worsened over time.

Chambers was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition that caused his heart to have trouble pumping blood like it’s supposed to, which in turn caused the heart to enlarge and weaken.

“At some point your heart is so large it can’t even pump at all, it just kind of quivers,” he said.

His arms and legs would lose feeling when he slept, he had shortness of breath and would faint if he stood up too fast. And after particularly intense calls at work, he would have relapses that called for hospital visits.

“I felt like crap all the time,” he said. “It was a miserable existence.”

But Chambers didn’t want to give up his dream job.

“I faked it for all the guys back then,” he said. “I didn’t want to be the weak link. I’d come to work and I’d do my best and then I’d come home and fall apart.”

Eventually, he was put on light duty. But when he couldn’t even sit at a desk and do paperwork anymore, doctors said he needed to be hospitalized and needed a heart transplant.

At the UW Medical Center, doctors prepared Chambers to be on life support while his name was added to the transplant waitlist.

“They don’t give transplants to people who won’t be dead within the next six months,” Chambers said.

The transplant

According to the UW Medical Center website, since July of 2018 there were 38 people on the heart transplant waitlist. Since 2018, 84 people have received transplants. 

Chambers was lucky: nearly 40 days after being put on the waitlist, he was getting prepped for surgery. Only 10% of people get a transplant after 30 days of waiting, according to the UW Medical Center. Seventy-three percent of people served at UW wait three years for a transplant.

As he was wheeled to the operation room, he high-fived his four kids who were there with him. 

He and his family were excited, despite worrying about the  intense surgery.

“I’m a fireman. I looked it up,” he said. “I saw what they were going to do and it’s brutal. But I was excited. I was so tired of being sick.”

Chambers went under as surgeons made an incision in his chest, separated his chest bone and opened his rib cage to begin the transplant. Removing his weakened heart, they sewed the donor heart into place, attaching the major blood vessels.

The heart, which began beating once the blood flow was restored, had belonged to a 42-year-old man named Kevin Irby. He had died just days before, according to his older sister Shana Irby. The cause of his death was unknown—he had stopped breathing mysteriously while taking a shower—but his body had been healthy enough for transplant.

Knowing her brother’s heart helped Chambers live didn’t soften the blow of losing her brother, Shana Irby said, but it was extremely meaningful.

“He had the kindest heart,” she said. “Genuinely all he wanted out of life was to help other people. This is what he would have wanted.”

Irby was a carpenter who built cabins, Shana said. He had two kids, who are now 7 and 3 years old. He was the youngest in the family, with three older sisters, and at the time of his death, lived with his parents in Yakima.

Chambers, who is now the same age Irby was when he died, said he feels a connection to his donor and has been in contact with the family.

“It’s a very complicated relationship,” he said. “We have this joy, but there is also this sorrow and tragedy. I lost my brother at a young age, so I feel like I can identify with the pain of losing someone before their time.”

Irby’s family was glad to know his donation was able to help not just Chambers, but other people in need of kidneys and other organs as well.

“We’re a family of faith, so we believe that when he was gone, he’s really not here anymore,” she said. “But knowing that my brother helped so many people, it doesn’t necessarily set us at ease, but it’s a blessing.”

Back to duty

With a new heart beating steadily in his chest, Chambers had his mind on one thing and one thing only: getting back to firefighting.

But recovering from a heart transplant is no small thing. And getting back in firefighting shape was an even larger battle.

“There’s in-shape and then there’s in firefighting shape,” said EJFR Chief Jim Walkowski.

Because Chambers’ heart condition was a direct result of exposure in his job, the Department of Labor and Industries paid for all his medical expenses. He also worked with L&I vocational rehab counselor John Janson to make goals to work toward.

“We had a Plan B and a Plan C for Reece to be able to still work with us, but in some other position,” Walkowski said. “But he only wanted Plan A.”

But before Chambers could start working on getting back into firefighting shape, he had to learn how to sit up and walk again.

“I don’t know if there are words to adequately capture the suffering you go through and the willpower it takes to recover from something like that,” he said.

Getting the strength to first sit up, then to walk, to run, to carry hoses, to climb stairs wearing weights and to eventually have a firefighter’s stamina took what felt like an excruciatingly long time.

In the meantime, Chambers also dealt with the emotional weight of having gone through such major health issues. He and his wife separated due to the stress. He had to go back to the hospital several times. He had nausea, headaches, and times when he thought he might quit. And the first time he took the physical examination to return to firefighting, he didn’t pass.

But despite the many setbacks, he kept working.

“I was so sick for so long,” he said. “I wanted my life back. I wanted to be the husband that my wife deserved. I wanted to be the dad my kids could be proud of. And I wanted to be the firefighter I had always dreamed of being.”

Finally, his work paid off. Now that he’s back on duty, Chief Walkowski said Chambers is better than ever at his job.

“It’s like Reece 2.0,” he said. “He’s back. Most of us have never seen him like this before.”

The heart that Chambers received combined with his determination to get back at work has him feeling better than ever—he says he’s more in shape than he was back when he was a 20-year-old.

Not only that, but even though he’s the same person, he feels the surgery transformed him.

“Obviously it changes you,” he said. “You examine yourself and your life when something that big happens. But I think it made me more of the guy I’ve always wanted to be.”

 

 

Article written by:

Lily Haight
lhaight@ptleader.com

https://ptleader.com/stories/reece-20-firefighter-returns-to-duty-after-heart-transplant,67588 

Tito

Knee Donation Recipient

Tito first began having knee discomfort as a kid, which was not ideal for his active lifestyle which included sports such as his favorite, volleyball. He was later diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) which is a condition where one’s bones don’t grow as fast as the rest of the body. Growing so fast and playing a variety of sports did not help with the problem. In high school, doctors suggested to stop running and jumping as it was not helping the problem at hand. After a couple of surgeries, Tito made the switch from volleyball to rowing, although knee issues persisted.

Tito began his freshman year at Gonzaga in 2015 as a member of the Cheer Team, although was forced to resign after continuous knee discomfort. During the second half of his freshman year, Tito was put on a waiting list for a cadaver knee replacement. The waiting list process was something special as a matching knee needed to be from someone with 50% of the same antibodies. During this time, Tito was unable to travel because the surgery must take place within five days of a match being found. After waiting about 6 months, he finally received a call from a doctor with news of a match. Tito says, “waiting for the phone call was a bitter sweet thing – when you are waiting for the call it’s a paradox because although you know the knee will help better your own life, you know someone else is losing their life.”

Two days after the phone call, Tito underwent Osteochondral Allograft Transplantation (OCA) surgery which is when they take a piece of the cadaver knee and place it in the recipients. The surgery is extremely invasive due to the necessary reconstruction process of the knee including ligaments and tendons which left a large scar running down the side of Tito’s knee. Due to the necessary 6-week healing process the surgery was almost unable to happen before returning to school. Tito remembers the doctor saying they could only wait about two more weeks to find a matching donor and the call came during the second week.

After the surgery, Tito was able to write a letter to the family of the donor expressing his appreciation. Due to the anonymous design of the donation process, he does not know the family by name as the letter was sent through the donor matching system. He is thankful for this opportunity and believes it allowed him to develop closure. Although he did not return to the cheer team, Tito continues to live an active lifestyle after surgery. Throughout the rest of his college career he competed in numerous intramural sports as well has joining the club volleyball team. His knee donation allows him to continue living an active lifestyle to this day.

Annette

Kidney Transplant Recipient

In April of 2004, Annette Naylor got news most never do, she was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, in other words, bone marrow cancer. Because of the affects the multiple myeloma had on Annette and her body, she was forced to begin dialysis treatments which she underwent three days a week. Because of this new found normal for Annette, she was forced to leave her job at a local grocery store’s meat counter,  resulting in the loss of a source of income for her family. 

Eight months after her initial diagnosis, she was lucky enough to be announced in remission. Despite being in remission, however, Annette still required dialysis. Although she still required these treatments, Annette was stable enough to be a visitor to alternative dialysis units which allowed her to take a vacation to Hawaii with her family during this time. Additionally, because of her kidney stability, her doctor was able to cut down her dialysis from three to two times a week. Although it was only a one day difference, this made for a large difference in Annette’s day to day life.

After six years of dialysis, Annette’s nephrologists suggested she investigate the possibility of applying for a kidney transplant. After her application, Annette was accepted as a candidate. From there Annette began to look for a donor. She approached her three sisters, however, none of them were able to donate.

It was at this point in Annette’s transplant journey that her sister-in-law volunteered to be tested as a possible donor. The results came back, and Annette’s sister-in-law was an extremely close match. On November 22, 2011, they were admitted to OHSU where the transplant took place and was a major success.

Since the transplant, Annette and her kidney function have remained stable, and her life has changed in many ways. Annette is extremely grateful to everyone who assisted in her journey, especially to her sister-in-law for her tremendous donation.