My first experience with donation was when I was 6 years old. I remember my mother saying that she wanted to donate her eyes so that someone else could see. That’s just how I grew up. I had no idea how donation would touch my life. There were 5 of us kids, and we all knew mom wanted to be a donor, so she was.
My son was a star. He played high school football, and although he wasn’t the star on the team, he always wanted to be. Truly, he was just a great guy. A few years after my mother passed away, my son got his driver’s license at age 18. He remembered his grandmother was a donor, and he said he wanted to be a donor. I remember him coming home and saying that when he’s gone, he’s not going to need them, and if someone else does, then he’d like to help them. I thought that was pretty cool of him to say. But I never imagined, I’d have to fulfill his wishes. He passed away in 1996, and our son became a tissue donor and helped more than 50 people. We hope that some of his tissues helped kids and teenagers because we feel like if he was here today, he’d be working with kids.
I immediately started volunteering with organ donor awareness groups. It was my way of keeping my son’s memory alive and with me. I went to the Transplant Games, and I remember walking into the Ohio State stadium and thinking that Jimmy was up there smiling because all these people were clapping for me! He always wanted to be someone famous – not knowing he was meant to be a hero. I was out promoting donation for my son – never dreaming that I would need a transplant.
I got sick at the 2006 Transplant Games in Louisville. I didn’t tell anyone, but when I went to my doctor’s it was not good. I had been a diabetic since I was 12. My sister and brother and I caught a virus when we were young that destroyed our pancreas. It wasn’t hereditary, but it affected all of us. So I have taken insulin every day since I was young. In 2006, my sugar was completely out of whack, and there was no way to control it. Diabetes destroyed my kidneys, and they were shutting down. I was put on the transplant waiting list and received my kidney/pancreas transplant on February 12, 2007. They found a perfect match in Columbus, and I cried the whole way there. I knew what my donor family was going through because I had been on their side of it, and I thought of them the whole way to Columbus.
When I woke up from surgery, I could tell it was working. 2 days later, I walked 9 laps around the hospital and already felt ready to go home. It was amazing. I haven’t had to take insulin since my transplant. I realize now that life is too short; so I am trying to do everything I can in the time I’m here. I’m a travel agent, and 6 months after my transplant I went to Greece. In Delphi, I climbed the steep hill to the first Olympic site. Out of 42 people on my trip, only 12 of us went to the top. I cried when I got to there because I realized I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my transplant – and my amazing donor and his family. I’ve met my donor family, and I spend time with them as often as possible. I love them – and couldn’t ask for a better family. Their son was my donor, and I’ve connected with my donor’s mother. We have both lost sons…so we understand each other. They are happy that I have taken their son’s spirit around the world, and they like to see pictures of my travels.
I plan to go zip-lining on my next trip – over a glacier in Alaska. I’m going to do it all. I continue to educate everyone about organ donation. I talk about my son, and my experience with transplantation. I work booths and publicly speak about donation to educate people about how important it is to join the Registry. I’m also Kentucky’s Team Leader for the Transplant Games this year. Organ donation is important, and people just need to be educated about it. My entire church saw me before my transplant, and they look at how healthy I am now. I think I’ve gotten them all to join the Registry! I say this, not only as a recipient, but as a donor family member, that organ donation saves and enhances lives. I hope everyone joins the KY Organ Donor Registry today.