Author Archives: Help Hope Live

Touched by Transplant: This Mom’s Birthday Became Her Re-Birth Day

Teacher. Mother. Survivor. This is the story of Help Hope Live patient Kellie Murphy, one of four winners of our 2017 Touched by Transplant New Life Contest.

Touched by Transplant 2017 Help Hope Live


Kellie Murphy’s world was turned upside down when she received a diagnosis of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer caused by malignant plasma cells in bone marrow. The mother of two learned that to survive, she would need a bone marrow transplant as soon as possible.

Kellie also learned that the transplant would come with a host of out-of-pocket medical expenses, including co-pays and deductibles, temporary relocation and travel, caregiving costs, and a lifetime of immunosuppressant medications. She began fundraising with Help Hope Live as part of the Mid-Atlantic Bone Marrow Transplant Fund in February 2016.

In May 2016, Kellie found out that the bone marrow transplant she needed would be moving forward. “Believe it or not,” she wrote on her Help Hope Live campaign page, “cancer has made me realize how blessed I truly am.”


Last month, she sent us this incredible update:

“On May 31, 2016, I was admitted to the University of Maryland Medical Center to receive a bone marrow transplant in the hopes of going into remission from multiple myeloma. That day was also my birthday and my daughter’s birthday.

My time in the hospital was difficult, but the staff made it much easier. I will always remember their kindness. I had so many people to fight for, especially my son and daughter.

Now, almost one year later, I am engaged to be married, and my cancer is in complete remission. This year on May 31, I will turn 50 and my daughter will turn 21. We plan on really celebrating our joint birthdays and my new birthday since I have this chance at new life.

I am here because of others’ kindness, generosity, and many prayers. Thanks to Help Hope Live, we were able to make that difficult time a little easier on the people who were caring for me, and I will be forever grateful.

As of May 2017, Kellie is within $500 of her Help Hope Live fundraising goal. She fundraises for the Help Hope Live Mid-Atlantic Bone Marrow Transplant Fund.

Kellie Murphy Help Hope Live

Kellie, right, with her daughter, Amber


Touched by Transplant 2017 Help Hope LiveThank you for your story, Kellie! If you have been moved by this story, make a donation to Help Hope Live in honor of Kellie today at: https://helphopelive.org/campaign/10362

May is National Mobility Awareness Month!

Why #MobilityMatters

When you hear the word mobility, what comes to mind?

If you live with a catastrophic injury or illness that impedes your ability to move freely, you already know that mobility is more than just a concept. It’s a word that is closely tied to some of life’s biggest milestones and pursuits.

Chris Arbini Help Hope Live

Living with an injury or illness, mobility can change your life

Each May, we celebrate why #MobilityMatters to thousands of Help Hope Live patients, their families, caregivers, and medical professionals.

When we talk about mobility, we’re referring to far more than walking, reaching, and running. Mobility is a broad term for activities, therapies, and technologies that can add meaning and independence to our lives after injury or illness . Here are some examples.


Mobility is…


wheelchairs and power chairs that are must-have sources of mobility support.

physical therapy or exercise-based rehabilitation that increases or helps you to retain your balance, range of motion, and strength.

home renovations that make it possible to live and move comfortably in your own house.

accessible transportation that puts careers, college, social events, and medical travel within reach.

medications and ongoing medical care that safeguard or increase your motion.


Why #MobilityMatters to Me


Paul Mustol Help Hope Live

Paul participates in physical therapy

“Spring is here and we are taking one day at a time with Paul. The steroids have really helped him maintain his abilities, for which we are thankful. Physical therapy sessions in a pool provide good, low-impact exercise for his muscles and lungs.

Paul’s neurologist is recommending a motorized wheelchair with good back support that would be custom-fitted for Paul. A scooter would allow him to be more flexible and it would be easier to transport. We will take time to consider the choices.”

Paul Mustol, South-Central Catastrophic Illness Fund

Living with the genetic disorder Duchenne muscular dystrophy


Molei Wright Help Hope Live

Molei can regain mobility through therapy

“Molei has been through a lot and survived it all – a near fatal accident, a three-month coma, five months in the hospital, and uncountable setbacks along the way. Her insurance stopped covering her care about four months ago. Now, she is unable to participate in speech, occupational and physical therapy. She can learn to walk, speak, and eat well again, but only with the help of professional therapists.”

Molei Wright, Midwest/West Traumatic Brain Injury Fund

Traumatic brain injury in January 2016


Chris Arbini Help Hope Live

Chris is dedicated to physical therapy and regular exercise

“Chris has been able to go to Craig Rehab for some physical therapy, as well as workouts in their gym. The exercise has been great not only for his body, but for his morale as well.

Chris started a three-month program at Craig Rehab called NeuroRecovery Network (or NRN) which is a program developed by the Christopher Reeve Foundation. In the actual program, they connect him to electrical stimulation while training him to perform various functions. While I was there, they were working on retraining his hands to grasp.

Something that he plans on offsetting through fundraising is an FES bike, which sends electrical currents to the legs as it spins to promote circulation and provide nerve stimulation. He has been using it for 45 minutes to an hour each day, but since his access to outpatient care will ultimately be limited by insurance, having an FES bike at home will help him tremendously. This bike is close to $20,000 out-of-pocket.”

Chris Arbini, Midwest/West Spinal Cord Injury Fund

Spinal cord injury in July 2016


Scarlett Chandler Help Hope Live

Greater mobility means more independence for Scarlett

A van would make everyday tasks much easier. My mom had surgery before I started fundraising, and she was on her back for weeks and unable to drive. It would have made such a difference if I could hop in a van and pick up groceries and prescriptions. I want to be able to provide that for my family.

A van would also help me to attend college classes to I can secure employment. I fundraise to offset the cost of the van as well as specialized adaptive driving classes.”

Scarlett Chandler, Southeast Catastrophic Illness Fund

Living with the spinal cord defect spina bifida


Even With Insurance, Mobility Isn’t Free


Mobility-related expenses can become financially devastating to families. In fact:

  • Major home modifications for mobility can easily exceed $100,000 out-of-pocket.
  • An adapted vehicle could cost you over $50,000.
  • Physical therapy may not be covered by insurance at all, leaving you with an out-of-pocket price tag of $20,000 or more annually.

Tell Us Why #MobilityMatters!


We feature your stories and insights on our Blog every year during Mobility Awareness Month. Send your #MobilityMatters stories, pics, or videos to us at [email protected] and you could be featured in an upcoming post. You can take part as a Help Hope Live patient, family member, caregiver, spouse, friend, or medical professional.

Touched by Transplant: Life With PKD and My “Superhero” Living Donor

Help Hope Live patient Liz Casperite received a kidney transplant with help from living donor Maria Weaver-Hollowniczky in September 2015. The lifesaving gift to fight Liz’s polycystic kidney disease (PKD) cut short her anticipated 5-year wait for a deceased donor kidney. Here’s how Liz has been touched by transplant.

Touched by Transplant 2017 Help Hope Live


If you are like most people, polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is the most common genetic disease you’ve never heard of. I was diagnosed with PKD in 2004 at age 32. A routine physical found slightly elevated blood pressure. My general practitioner was proactive in ordering additional tests. During the final test, an ultrasound, they found innumerable cysts on my kidneys and liver. Average kidneys are the size of a fist. My kidneys were growing to the size of footballs.

Liz Casperite Help Hope Live

Liz was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 2004

When you have PKD, the veins in your body that help filter blood grow into irregular cysts instead of growing straight. Eventually, blood that gets caught in the cysts and doesn’t filter leads to kidney failure.

After I was diagnosed, I learned that PKD affects more people than sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and down syndrome combined. I also learned that there is no cure for PKD, and that my best chance for a healthy life would be to join the kidney transplant waiting list. I was on the transplant waiting list for two and a half years without getting “the call.”


When I was in renal failure due to PKD, I had very little energy. As my kidney function decreased, I could really only do one activity per day: take a shower, cook, or grocery shop, but not more than that. My kidney function dropped below 20% and I knew I did not have long before my kidneys would fail. More than 10 people were tested to become a living kidney donor for me, but none were approved through the rigorous health testing process.

Liz Casperite Help Hope Live

Once listed, Liz reached out to find a living kidney donor

I got the word out that I needed a living donor using car magnets, t-shirts, and even a sign outside of my house. A friend created a post for me on Facebook and, as friends shared it, a total stranger to me saw it and decided to get tested. That’s how I met my angel, Maria!


After months of testing, we found out that we were a match. I was very fortunate to receive a kidney from a living donor right before I would have had to go on dialysis. Living donor kidneys last almost twice as long as deceased donor kidneys, on average.

Maria hates being called a hero. But she’s reluctantly agreed to the title “superhero” instead! She says that since health was her superpower, she knew she had to share it with others.

Liz Casperite Help Hope Live

Living donor Maria, left, has “reluctantly agreed to the title of superhero”


Many people think transplant is a cure, but really, a transplant is just a treatment for kidney failure. I am fortunate in that my PKD will not attack the new kidney, but I have a polycystic liver that will continue to grow in size and will require additional treatment.

Today, I follow a strict regimen to suppress my immune system to keep the kidney. I take medication every day, exercise and eat a plant-based whole foods diet. Even though I went to physical therapy after the transplant and followed doctor instructions, I got a serious hernia. An operation fixed the hernia but I am now restricted from ever lifting more than 10 pounds. As a treatment, transplantation comes with its own very serious side effects. Being permanently immunosuppressed means being very careful about who I encounter. Even a small cold can negatively affect my new kidney function.

Liz Casperite Help Hope Live

Liz says life after transplant involves permanent lifestyle changes


I still actively fundraise for Help Hope Live. The funds raised in my honor are indispensable for helping me cover the monthly cost of post-transplant medications and trips to and from my transplant center for continuing care.

Liz Casperite Help Hope Live

Liz creates Donor Beads in exchange for donations to Help Hope Live


I am a very active advocate for transplant. I have been lobbying Congress since 2006 to support kidney-related health care legislation. Maria and I were recently in DC to lobby for the Living Donor Protection Act of 2017 to help eliminate barriers to living donation. We volunteer with the National Kidney Foundation, the PKD Foundation and Gift of Life, and we participate in walks and events every year to raise funds and awareness. I have spoken at high schools about kidney disease and we both act as mentors to those starting out the transplant process. There are almost 100,000 people waiting for a kidney in the U.S. and we are passionate about spreading the word to make a difference.

Liz Casperite Help Hope Live

Liz, right, uses every opportunity to advocate for kidney disease patients and donors

My donor, Maria, and I speak to everyone we can about living donation. Maria was inspired to donate a kidney to me because she knew someone who had donated. We hope to be those people for others.

Liz Casperite Help Hope Live

“Kidney sisters” Maria and Liz


Touched by Transplant 2017 Help Hope LiveLiz and Maria support transplant candidates and living donors through the Kidney For Liz Facebook page. Liz fundraises for the Mid-Atlantic Kidney Transplant Fund at helphopelive.org

Touched by Transplant: Healing Inside and Out After a Transplant

In December 2014, Linda Jara was fighting off what she thought was a seasonal flu. After several visits with her doctor, Linda was diagnosed with heart failure. Medication couldn’t correct the issue, and as her condition declined, she received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) as a bridge to a lifesaving heart transplant. In 2016, she finally got “the call” she had been waiting for.


I went from living a normal life to being in end-stage (advanced) heart failure within a month. This is how I was Touched by Transplant.

Touched by Transplant 2017 Help Hope Live


The Wait…and the Call


I waited for a heart for 18 months, from March 2015 to September 2016. My daily routine with an LVAD during that time: wake up; unplug from the wall unit; plug into the battery unit; record my numbers; take my morning medications; have breakfast; work out; shower and change my bandages every other day or use wipes; get dressed; go to work; come home; relax; go to bed; plug into the wall unit.

Linda waited for a heart for 18 months

The best way to describe waiting for a heart transplant is being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is a momentary pang of anxiety every time the phone rings. You have no idea when the call will come. However, it can’t stop you from living your life. It is best to still make plans and live for the moment. You have to trust the process and know that waiting is part of making sure you will receive the best possible heart for you.

Linda Jara Help Hope Live

Linda explains LVADs to friends and supporters on social media

I had two false-alarm calls prior to “the one.” When I realized that call was THE call, it was surreal. I knew the minute I answered the phone that this call was different. This time around, the process from the phone call to surgery was a blur that happened within four hours. My emotions were mixed: I was happy, excited, sad, laughing, crying–you name it. My parents and a few close friends stayed with me until surgery started. That helped with the pre-transplant “will I survive?” anxiety.


Healing, Inside and Out


I was in the hospital for 23 days post-transplant. What I learned? Open heart surgery hurts. After the procedure, it hurts to lay in bed, to stand up, to cough, sneeze–you name it. This pain also affected post-surgery physical therapy, which became difficult because of fluid build-up in my body. But it’s essential to get in as much physical therapy after surgery as possible to heal well. That being said, I never looked forward to the therapist arriving!

Linda Jara Help Hope Live

Linda shows off her post-transplant scar

The most significant physical changes have been scars and scar tissue. Being just 6 months out from transplant, I have yet to feel great. I still tire easily, and I have to work on building up my endurance. Fortunately, I was sick for a very short time before I got my transplant, so I can still do most of the things I could do before the transplant.

Physically, I am enjoying life without being tethered to an LVAD. Freedom! I am working on improving my upper body strength and endurance so I can do even more. Emotionally, however, post-transplant life can be isolating. I have a few transplant friends who I can rely on to help me through the bad days. Despite how empathetic friends try to be, no one except other heart transplant recipients can understand the emotional challenges. There is a deep level of symbolism attached to the heart.

Linda Jara Help Hope Live

Linda uses her Help Hope Live campaign page to keep supporters updated

One of the biggest misconceptions about having a transplant is that your body is exactly as it used to be after you receive the new organ. Qualifying for a heart transplant was great, but it still isn’t as great as having your native heart. A new heart induces a significant adjustment period. I discovered how friends and family react to a medical crisis firsthand, and I identified people who could be a continued source of support. It was great knowing that there are at least some constants when your life is turned completely upside-down.

Linda Jara Help Hope Live

Friends provide ongoing support with a custom hashtag


Finding Support


I have the opportunity to discuss my emotional challenges with a transplant psychologist. Between her, my heart transplant friends and other members of my community, I am managing the best I can. Some days are difficult, but I have survived 100 percent of my worst days! As Emile Coue said, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

Linda Jara Help Hope Live

“Despite your empathy, you will never understand.”

The best thing to do for a loved one waiting for a transplant is to be supportive and understanding. What we are experiencing is something that, despite your empathy, you will never understand. People need to be mindful and make an effort to read our moods, but that doesn’t mean they have to walk on eggshells around us. Claiming that your cold or backache is “the worst thing in the world” sounds callous to someone waiting for a lifesaving (heart) transplant, especially because a heart transplant is one of the most complicated procedures out there.


Maintaining a New Heart


The transplant was not a cure. I have other medical conditions now that are not as serious as heart failure but are still significant. I developed prednisone-induced diabetes from post-transplant medications, but that condition should improve as my prednisone level decreases.

Linda Jara Help Hope Live

A transplant requires lifelong maintenance

In terms of maintenance, I need to take anti-rejection medications for the rest of my life as well as multiple other medications and supplements. I take 45 pills per day. I check my weight, temperature and blood pressure twice every day, and I check my blood sugar four times every day. It is my responsibility to notify my team if I am feeling off, notice a 2-pound weight gain, have a temperature of 99.5 degrees or higher or a blood pressure reading higher than 150/90. I have monthly right heart catheterizations and biopsies to check for rejection.

Exercise and a healthy lifestyle are also important. I take yoga classes and attend cardiac rehabilitation. I will be joining a cardiac rehab gym when this period of rehab is over.

Linda Jara Help Hope Live

“I take yoga classes and attend cardiac rehabilitation”


The Financial Side of Transplantation


I continue to fundraise with Help Hope Live post-transplant. I am on disability and fundraising helps to offset my monthly (out-of-pocket) medical expenses. Funds raised also helped to cover some of my mortgage payments when I was not receiving any income. A transplant is for life, and there will always be costs attached to this new lifestyle.

Help Hope Live helped me to get my fundraising efforts off the ground. The staff members that I have been fortune enough to meet are warm and make you feel like family. I remember laying in the hospital when the idea of fundraising was first presented to me. I was given the numbers for the cost of a transplant before insurance. The meds alone were over $60k (per year). I believe it is important to continue to fundraise so I won’t have to worry if unforeseen medical expenses pop up in the future.

Linda Jara Help Hope Live

Linda has no plans to stop fundraising post-transplant


A Lifelong Advocate


As a heart transplant recipient, I think it’s important to encourage people to register as organ donors. It would be difficult for someone to find a reason NOT to agree to donate if they were in the position to directly impact the life of someone they knew personally. It’s also hard to explain your choice not to be an organ donor to a living recipient like me!

Touched by Transplant 2017 Help Hope LiveLinda fundraises for the Help Hope Live Mid-Atlantic Heart Transplant Fund. Follow her Blog for updates. Need help covering pre- or post-transplant expenses? Learn about starting a fundraising campaign with our nonprofit.

April is Donate Life Month, and We Are Touched by Transplant

April is National Donate Life Month, a commemoration that we and our patients love to celebrate. This year, Donate Life America, who launched the awareness month in 2003 with its partners, has chosen a special symbol to mark the month: a pinwheel.

Donate Life Month pinwheel 2017

As the organization explains, the imagery is “symbolic of an instrument that turns obstacles into opportunities. Each Donate Life pinwheel has four sails supported by one stem, symbolizing the power one person has to be an organ, eye, tissue or living donor. This April, we encourage you to stop to feel the breeze, watch the pinwheels and think of the lives of those touched by donation and transplantation.”


Since April 2016, 177 Help Hope Live patients have received life-changing transplants. Let’s hear some of their testimonies.

Touched by Transplant 2017 Help Hope Live


“Alive Again” with a Kidney and Liver


Brent Lauffer has fought congenital hepatic fibrosis (an inherited liver disease) since his teenage years. He received a liver/kidney transplant in January 2016.

“The liver is continuing to work and the new kidney is putting out urine!” he wrote in an update on his Help Hope Live campaign page. “As I now live, having received my liver and kidney transplants, I want to thank YOU for your help. You give me HOPE for a bright tomorrow. God bless you for your prayers and support.”

Brent Lauffer Help Hope Live

“You give me HOPE for a bright tomorrow.”

Brent speaks to some of the everyday blessings that came from the transplant, saying “it is amazing to wake up and NOT feel sick, hungry, and have to pee! I am alive and headed towards a real life again. I am so thankful for my friends and family and those whom I’ve never met who are supporting me.”

“I’m pictured here with George. He received the other kidney (from our deceased donor)!“

Brent Lauffer Help Hope Live

Brent with George, who received a kidney from the same donor

Brent fundraises for the Help Hope Live Mid-Atlantic Liver/Kidney Transplant Fund. Fundraising gives his community a way to tangibly support his transplant recovery journey. As one contributor wrote to Help Hope Live, “You are on the side of the angels with the work that you do.”


A Record-Setting Recovery


Living with end-stage renal disease and in need of a pancreas/kidney transplant, Kathe Wimberly Neely has been fundraising with Help Hope Live since 2011. She witnessed countless patients receive the gift of life as she prepared, year after year, for her own miracle. In February 2017, “the call” finally came.

“Two weeks ago, I received the call,” Kathe posted in March. “One week ago, I was discharged from the hospital–a record recovery, according to my medical team. Another record, according to my pharmacist: the fewest discharge meds she had ever seen. My healing has been amazing. Very few side effects–all very manageable. It’s all temporary and I will get through it with a smile.”

Kathe Neely Help Hope Live

Kathe says she is experiencing “a record recovery”

While the gift of life was long-awaited and personally impactful for Kathe, her post-transplant thoughts were with the donor: “That was probably the day a family was facing the greatest heartache one can even imagine. In my eyes, they were so brave to go through such a time while also making some decisions that would forever change my life and the lives of possibly many others with their gift of organ donation. This family, though I do not know who they are, is in my thoughts and prayers daily. This family is who I think of every single night as I fall asleep. I hope to know them one day when they are ready.”

Kathe’s life post-transplant includes a wealth of community support. “Life is grand,” she reported, as “each and every person I know and love brings sunshine to my life. I have met many new people along my journey, each one adding new rays and brightness to my appreciative and over-flowing heart. Again, words escape me.”

Kathe Neely Help Hope Live

Kathe with her custom Donate Life “Pay It Forward” plate

Sometimes the beauty of new life lies in the smallest details, as Kathe’s frequent updates highlight. “Couldn’t sleep, so I came downstairs to sit on the sofa because I can,” she posted. “I’m not tethered to a 15-foot tube that’s attached to a dialysis machine in my bedroom anymore. This is amazing!”

Kathe fundraises for the Help Hope Live South-Atlantic Kidney/Pancreas Transplant Fund. “Love how much you do for others,” she wrote to us. “Much love and thanks for the amazing work you do. I’m so glad to work with my Help Hope Live fundraising team on my transplant journey.”


New Lungs, New Life


Pat Donovan and his family were plagued by uncertainty when he was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a chronic lung disease where the cause is generally unknown and the only treatment is a double lung transplant. Pat was fortunate to receive a transplant in July 2016 after only 30 days on the transplant waiting list.

Pat Donovan Help Hope Live

Pat received a double lung transplant to fight IPF

“The miracle of Pat’s transplant continues,” reads a recent update on his Help Hope Live campaign page. “Our gratitude is overflowing! April is Donate Life Month and we celebrate Pat, who is doing extremely well, slowly and steadily regaining strength at this stage of his recovery. Walking without [supplementary] oxygen was made possible by an organ donor! Pre-transplant, even simple activities left him gasping for breath and coughing relentlessly.”

Pat Donovan Help Hope Live

“Made possible by an organ donor!”

Along with an incredible improvement in health comes the unfortunate and ongoing burden of transplant-related costs. “There is a need to continue to raise funds for uninsured transplant expenses,” explained an update. “The cost of radical dietary changes to stave off infection and organ rejection are real. Co-pays and deductibles are a concern for all of us. The daily medications he will need for a lifetime are literally a matter of life and death. Travel, lodging, and food for trips from Pat’s home in central Maine to the Boston transplant clinic are not as frequent, but they do come with a cost.

Pat Donovan Help Hope Live

Post-transplant care and medical needs “come with a cost”

Pat fundraises for the Help Hope Live Northeast Lung Transplant Fund.


Fundraise to Sustain the Gift of Life


Touched by Transplant 2017 Help Hope LiveAs Help Hope Live patients have expressed time and time again, a transplant can be an incredible opportunity for greater health and happiness, but it isn’t the end of the road. Fundraising can help to offset some of the lifelong financial burdens of life pre- and post- transplant, including testing, donor search fees, anti-rejection medications and medical travel for routine follow-up care.

Donate Life Month is a great opportunity to start or re-start a transplant fundraising campaign. Help Hope Live was founded in 1983 by a transplant surgeon and his wife, a nurse, who wanted to help more patients have access to transplant procedures. Since our founding, our community-based fundraising campaigns have provided more than $67 million in financial support to cover patients’ unmet transplant related expenses.

Stay tuned for a whole month of memorable Touched by Transplant stories, and keep your pinwheel spinning.

Feeling “Blessed,” Raising Thousands, and Finding Hope: Our Clients in the News

Just a few months into 2017, Help Hope Live clients are getting their stories featured in news outlets across the nation. Here are three standout stories of hope.


Rachelle Ledbetter: Community Responds to Rare Diagnosis with Resounding Strength


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In 1968, Rachelle Ledbetter was the first child to be diagnosed with allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA), a chronic condition characterized by an exaggerated response of the immune system to the fungus Aspergillus. By adulthood, her hypersensitivity to environmental allergens had developed into a secondary infection that would necessitate a double lung transplant.

Rachelle is the former owner of the Sequoia Sentinel weekly newspaper. Out of respect for her editorial legacy, the Kawaeah Commonwealth, a more recent incarnation of the Sentinel, published in-depth coverage of Rachelle’s medical journey, her “upbeat and positive” outlook, and her plans for a community-driven Help Hope Live fundraiser.

We learned in March that the Spaghetti Feed raised a whopping $8,880 for the Help Hope Live Southwest Lung Transplant Fund in honor of Rachelle. “Apparently, the food ran out after serving 300 meals,” Rachelle wrote in an update on her Help Hope Live campaign page, “and yet you kept coming!” (Rachelle’s Lifetime ‘Journey to New Lungs’)


Michael Thor: Returning Home and Rekindling Hope After a Life-Changing Injury


Michael Thor Help Hope Live

Michael Thor with his wife and caregiver

In November 2015, Michael Thor was hit by a car while riding his motorcycle. He sustained a C2 spinal cord injury. At the time, he was in the process of pursuing one of his lifelong dreams: opening a restaurant with a good friend. The accident put Michael’s restaurant plans and the rest of his passions on hold as he and his family adjusted to his new life with quadriplegia.

After a year and a half of out-of-state intensive therapy, and just a few months after its grand opening, Michael was finally able to return home to see his restaurant in action. Tears filled his eyes as he witnessed how his business partner and staff members had come together to turn their shared vision into reality. “I could not be more proud,” said Michael.

A fundraiser held at Michael’s restaurant kicked off fundraising efforts for the Help Hope Live Southeast Spinal Cord Injury Fund to support ongoing rehabilitation. “I can tell that Mike has been rejuvenated,” wife and caregiver, Sarah, said in an update. “It was a really big morale boost for him to get back home. We were able to raise around $6,000. We truly can’t thank you enough.” (Restaurant Holds Fundraiser for Paralyzed Raleigh Chef)


Kimberly Grossman: Feeling “Blessed” as Faith Community Steps Up to Help


Kimberly Grossman Help Hope Live

Kimberly Grossman with her twins

Though she’s fighting chronic kidney disease, Kimberly Grossman considers herself blessed. Kimberly was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease in her twenties based on symptoms that had been following her around since she was just three months old. Kimberly’s strong connection to a faith-based community in her area provided the starting point for her fundraising campaign.

A spaghetti dinner fundraiser for the Help Hope Live South-Central Kidney Transplant Fund became an emotional lifeline as Kimberly met with friends and neighbors who showed that they cared about her. She and her 5-year-old twins are lifetime church members. “We wanted to do what Jesus tells us to do and help as much as we could,” explained Kimberly’s pastor.

Kimberly “fought back tears” as she reflected on her gratitude for community support. She advised others facing a transplant to “find as many ways as possible to fundraise. There are lots of people wanting to help.” (Spaghetti Dinner Fundraising for Woman in Need of Kidney Transplant)


Want your campaign to get featured in the news, too? Reach out to your Fundraising Coordinator today to receive media outreach support. 

Diving Deep: Learning to Stand, Snorkel and Reclaim a Sense of Self

Theo St. Francis has been exploring the world of body-connection since his 2013 C6 spinal cord injury at the start of his Mechanical Engineering studies at MIT. Having been opened to a whole new way of being through his practice of Pilates, he is working to make mindful movement a standard in neuro-recovery.

He has been fundraising with Help Hope Live for intensive physical therapy and cutting-edge rehabilitation since June 2014.


What would it feel like to be able to just jump – and start flying? Well, I don’t know, and the birds won’t say, but I’ll bet the experience would be indescribable, and ‘indescribable’ is something I know.

Since my body has been partially paralyzed for almost three years, it is understandable that I’ve forgotten what some things feel like. That’s how our plastic, use-it-or-lose-it brains work: the subconscious patterns of walking and standing, of dancing without thinking, don’t get reinforced when the muscular connection isn’t present.

This is part of the overwhelming feeling of loss that accompanies a paralyzing injury to the spinal cord (SCI) because, in some ways, one’s sense-of-self fades with the loss of those patterns. When the physical manner by which you relate to the world is changed, the emotional nature of that relationship is changed as well.

Theo St. Francis Help Hope Live diving

“One’s sense-of-self fades” with the loss of familiar physical patterns


A flash…


One day in May, I noticed something strangely familiar during my regular 3-hour neuro-Pilates workout. We prepared to use a trapeze table, or trap table, a piece of Pilates equipment with a wooden bar hanging by springs from a frame. For some time my trainer and I had been stumped – I had developed feeling in my hip muscles while kneeling, yet when on my feet, my system turned off.

trapeze table Pilates

An example of a Pilates trapeze table

On that afternoon, we incrementally raised my knees on foam wedges until my feet were on the floor; with my hands on table-uprights, the vertical bars at each end of the trap table, and an arc blocking my knees, I lowered myself into a squat and, for the first time ever, pressed back up to standing!

“Wow, so this is what it feels like to connect to my legs!” was my first thought, and after the third unsupported squat, I felt a visceral excitement and had a fleeting image of letting go of the trap table, turning toward the door, and just walking outside. It was as if my body just remembered its own capability. Can you imagine? It was glorious. Indescribable!


Progress has been from many directions


Since my injury in Boston Harbor in August 2013, I have received care from experts in hospitals, rehab centers, SCI CrossFit gyms, Eastern medicine enclaves, and Pilates studios. I’ve learned from a variety of therapists with different but overlapping skills and set up equipment in our home to extend workouts throughout the day and evening. I feel very fortunate to have found the talented members that comprise my rehabilitation team.

Throughout this extensive process, the unflagging assistance of my family members has been invaluable. Their efforts– from the early days in the hospital to working with the medical staff and learning the techniques that would help me in daily activities to seamlessly managing logistics until I could do so myself–have been essential, both in the acts themselves and in the time and space they’ve created for me to pursue my therapies with rigor.

Also significant in my recovery, has been working with the Neuro-Kinetic Pilates specialists on Maui. In my most recent sessions there this June, I was able to find my own lateral hip strength in a stagger-stand position. I have been working to achieve this stability since I first muscularly connected my torso 18 months ago. It is immensely satisfying to finally achieve this result.

Theo St. Francis Help Hope Live rehab

“It is immensely satisfying” to regain physical ability at any level after injury

While all of this bodily improvement was happening, something even more significant occurred between my sessions: independence…in two ways.

For the first time really ever, this 21-year-old lived completely by himself. In truth, it was for less than a week – friends and family visited me on the island at other times – but, even so, after all I was told by doctors about the purported permanence of my paralysis, to be able to thrive on my own was a turning point in my recovery.

I am quite aware that this independence has only been achievable through the incredible support of so many over the last few years, especially all of those who have helped me and my parents with fundraising and driving to therapy appointments. My family is sincerely grateful for the support of so many people through Help Hope Live that make it possible for me to pursue the most effective recovery treatments. This sense of wonder for the gifts of support is also indescribable.


Diving deep


The second form of independence was very different. The day I fractured my C6 vertebra was less than a week before my first practice on MIT’s Varsity Swim Team, to which I’d been recruited as a backstroker. Even with all my progress since, I still require a hip-float to stay above water. That’s fine; except when I was in Maui swimming above scores of fish, coral, and turtles along the reefs 10 feet below. There was no way I was going to forgo some of the world’s premier reef-level snorkeling by being bound to the surface. Confident in how my improved core strength enabled me to control my breathing, I unclipped the float, handed it to my friend, and madly used my arms to fight the saltwater’s buoyancy. After some practice, I became comfortable descending over 20 feet and, on my last day on the island, I swam floatless for a full 40 minutes.

To me, going floatless is about far more than being eye-to-eye with Reef Triggerfish. It’s about stripping away the support I think I need to discover my true abilities, and in so doing, rediscovering that sense of self. It’s about diving deep into a fear, a perceived limitation, and returning to the surface with new appreciation for what is possible.

Through these moments of ecstatic, indescribable joy I can happily see that this truly may be the beginning of the final stage of my overcoming.

Theo St. Francis Help Hope Live smile

Theo pursues and relishes “moments of ecstatic, indescribable joy”


Last fall, Theo St. Francis presented his first workshop and co-wrote a textbook on Pilates for SCI with his trainer, Stephanie Behrendt, and they plan to expand the curriculum (zebrafishneuro.com for more). Theo has also found his home regimen to be vital in giving him space to explore, so he is developing an at-home protocol for individuals who have endured a spinal injury to understand their bodies in new ways. He absolutely intends to return to MIT when he feels his body is ready. Connect with him on his website, Facebook (fb.com/THEOvercoming1 or personal), and Instagram.