Category Archives: Voices Of Hope

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. 

Living with Kidney Disease, I Revel in the Joyous Expectancy of the Good to Come

Melissa Tuff was diagnosed with kidney disease at age 16. She began dialysis at 17 and waited nine years for a lifesaving kidney transplant. After more than 10 years with her new kidney, she is back on dialysis. She is fundraising with Help Hope Live while awaiting a second transplant. Melissa partners with multiple organizations to increase organ donor awareness, influence legislation regarding end-stage renal disease, and support fellow kidney disease fighters.

We asked Melissa about her transplant journey and the driving forces behind her advocacy work on behalf of kidney transplant candidates and other patients across the country.

Melissa Tuff Help Hope Live

Help Hope Live patient Melissa Tuff is an advocate and volunteer


Is transplantation an emotional process?


I was 16 when I faced my first transplant. I was thrown into dialysis and the transplant process with absolutely no idea what to expect. It was a very scary and traumatizing experience for me. Now facing a second transplant, I have had time to absorb everything and have learned a lot from going through the process before, so I know what to expect. All the information I have gathered over the years helps me to process my emotions in a healthy way and allows me not to feel as overwhelmed as I have in the past.

Melissa Tuff Help Hope Live

Melissa documents her physical and emotional journey online

Going into the transplant process for a second time evoked a variety of emotions for me. There is the fear and apprehension of potentially having to return to a life of dialysis if I do not find a living donor; the frustration that my body is slowly rejecting my kidney and there is nothing I can do about it; the gratitude for my donor who has given me nearly 11 wonderful years of life free from “the machine”; the feelings of disappointment that there may have been something I could do differently to prevent rejection; the aggravation associated with the length of the process to get listed; and the annoyance of dealing with the hoops I have to jump through, the delays and the costs incurred.


What gives you strength on the waiting list?


My family has not been involved in my fundraising or health care, so I have relied strongly on my chosen family at the Center for Spiritual Living in Cape Coral and my acquaintances on social media to provide support throughout my journey. I honestly do not know what I would do without them! Their words of support and the people who hold my continued health in their prayers give me the strength to keep fighting on days when I just want to give up.


How do you serve as an advocate and volunteer to support other kidney disease patients?


I volunteer at LifeLink of Florida setting up and sitting at organ donor registration booths at public events, hospitals and fairs. I am a Peer Mentor for the National Kidney Foundation, offering a confidential space in which dialysis patients, transplant recipients and chronic kidney disease warriors can share their experience and receive guidance. I’m a member of the Kidney Advocacy Committee and a Region 4 Leader, helping to influence policies regionally and with a yearly trip to Washington, D.C.

I am also the Secretary for the Organ Transplant Recipients of Southwest Florida support and advocacy group. With quite a full plate, I am still taking on more opportunities to advocate! I will begin volunteering with the American Association of Kidney Patients soon.

Melissa Tuff Help Hope Live

Melissa petitions for positive changes to renal disease legislation


How did you find Help Hope Live?


I began fundraising to help with some of my health care expenses after I was let go due to my declining health. In summer 2012, I was balancing a medical assistant job with a customer service position at a local grocery store. I was exhausted all the time, but had no choice but to keep going to make ends meet. Through exhaustion and hemoglobin issues, I became dependent on blood transfusions, requiring two units of blood every two weeks. I developed another condition which required me to wear an IV at home 12 hours per day to remove the excess iron from the transfusions.

While I tried my best not to miss work days as I balanced my health and my financial needs, and even signed out of the hospital at times against medical device to avoid missing a shift, I was told by my managers that “my health had become an issue.” I was devastated. I loved my job and it gave me a sense of accomplishment to help and care for other patients.

Melissa Tuff Help Hope Live

Daily life with kidney disease made it impossible to maintain full-time work

What could have been a tragedy or a failure became an opportunity for me: I was free to do the advocacy and support work that I would be most appreciated for, which would be far more rewarding than any paycheck.

I started using GoFundMe because it was what everyone seemed to be using. It was mildly successful. Then I met with the Tampa General Hospital Transplant Team and was told that I would need to raise nearly $13,000 before I would even be considered as a candidate for the kidney transplant waitlist. I knew I needed help, and that’s when I found out about Help Hope Live.

Finding Help Hope Live and working directly with a Fundraising Coordinator has been a godsend. I received more donations within the first few months of setting up a Help Hope Live campaign than I had in over a year of fundraising on my own with GoFundMe. The fact that Help Hope Live is an established and trusted nonprofit organization made working with them a no-brainer! The staff is extremely helpful, supportive and attentive when assisting with questions related to my campaign, which is not something you can say about crowdfunding sites.

Melissa Tuff Help Hope Live

Melissa “received more donations with Help Hope Live” than with GoFundMe


What are you currently fundraising for?


A lot of testing and medical clearances are required before getting approved for the transplant list. Because I only have Medicare coverage, I have to pay 20% of whatever the test or office visit costs plus the physician’s fee. My expenses add up very quickly and can be overwhelming, which is why I thank God for the ability to submit bills to Help Hope Live that I cannot pay myself.

Help Hope Live has alleviated some of my worries regarding paying for the transplant and health care leading up to surgery. Now I am working on keeping my only source of transportation running so I can get to all of my appointments and, eventually, to Tampa for transplant.


What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about transplantation?


People see both dialysis and transplantation as cures when really they are both forms of treatment. A transplant is not a cure for the underlying condition. This misconception may be due to the fact that many recipients go back to work, travel or start or grow families after transplant. Most of us appear to “go back to normal” after receiving a transplant. But people don’t see the post-transplant medication regimens, treatments, follow-up appointments, fear of illness and rejection, health and life insurance struggles and, of course, the medical bills, which never stop. That is why fundraising and long-term financial planning are necessary.


What is your advice for someone facing the kidney transplant waiting list?


Be aggressive regarding your health care. No one can be a better advocate for you than you. Do not be afraid to question your health care providers to make sure they are willing to work with you rather than making decisions for you. Do your own research and discuss your findings with your providers. I have personally changed providers when I have found that they were not providing me with the level of care that I deserve.

When it comes to our lives, we cannot afford to put our health in someone else’s hands without taking some responsibility ourselves. The best way to ensure that you receive quality care is to speak up. Just like the saying goes, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

“Speak up,” Melissa tells transplant patients, and “do your own research”


Why is advocacy important in your life?


It is extremely positive for anyone living with an illness or life-altering injury to advocate for related causes and participate in awareness events. Not only is it educational and inspirational to those you share your experiences with, but it is also therapeutic and rewarding for you as you talk about your life with others. My volunteer work in this area is something that I look forward to and it makes me feel like there is a purpose behind my condition.

Now that I fall into the “underinsured” category myself as a patient, I realize just how unfair it is. People who need lifesaving transplants have enough to worry about without having to be concerned about how they will be able to afford to stay alive. In many cases, these people are not well enough to work full time to receive private health care coverage, but they are not sick enough to qualify for government benefits. We are the ones who are forever stuck in a cycle of medical debt and struggles to get the coverage we need for a better quality of life.

Melissa Tuff Help Hope Live

Participate in advocacy can help you to feel educated, inspired and rewarded


What does Hope mean to you?


Hope to me is more than just a word. It is a way of life. What comes to mind is, “Hold Onto Prayer Every Day” which is exactly how I keep my cheerful disposition despite what I may be going through at any time. I live with the joyous expectancy of the good to come. To me, that is what hope is all about.

I know it can be hard to remain positive when things appear to be going wrong. But we are still alive, still here to love and be loved. We are stronger than what has tried to take us down. Treatments and medical advances are being made daily, and we are very lucky for that. My favorite quote from St. Francis of Assisi helps me a lot when I am at a loss: “Start by doing what’s necessary. Then do what’s possible. Suddenly, you are doing the impossible.”


If you would like to learn more about Melissa or potentially become a living donor to change her life, find her on Facebook or at www.MelNeedsAKidney.com.

Voices of Hope: Someone Strong to Lead the Way

On her blog Struggling with Serendipity, Cindy Kolbe documents the journey she and her daughter, Beth, took after Beth sustained a spinal cord injury in May 2000 at age 14.


I drove back from my son’s college concert near midnight. Exhausted, I glanced at my 14-year-old daughter, Beth, asleep in the passenger seat. We were only 10 minutes from home. I thought I could make it without falling asleep. Then I heard a road sign flatten on concrete. As the car flipped three times across a bare Ohio field, we left behind an ordinary life.

I escaped with cuts, bruises and blood-matted hair. Beth was another story. The car was cut open to rush her to a helicopter that would take her to the nearest hospital. A doctor in Toledo told my husband, John, that she was paralyzed. When he broke the news to Beth, she paused only a moment before simply responding, “Let’s talk about what I can do.”


Later, when I arrived, Beth lay flat in a maze of tubes and wires, her pretty face swollen, her neck in a brace. She greeted me with a small smile. Her usual upbeat attitude was muted but present–I should have felt gratitude for that, but I didn’t. In disbelief, I stared at the girl in the bed. How could she smile?

When Beth slept, a surgeon guided me to a chair. He was kind, but his words were devastating. The bones in her neck were shattered. After surgery, he told me that her spinal cord was severed at the C6-7 vertebrae. With all four of her limbs damaged, she was now a quadriplegic who would never walk.

The loss of hand function seemed especially cruel. Her fingers didn’t work and her muscles began to shrink (atrophy). Among many health risks, pneumonia stood out as a leading cause of death for quads—along with suicide.


With one mistake, I had hurt everyone I loved.

Whenever I closed my eyes, I saw the upside-down car and Beth slumped over her stomach on the ceiling, her neck at a disturbing angle. The image haunted me. How easy it would be to lose myself under a blanket of guilt. Instead, I focused on small moments. Beth needed me. I turned her to the side, straightened a sheet, adjusted a pillow, and stayed in sight. Sleepy, in a morphine haze, she told me, “I like it when you hold my hand.” Crying quietly, I could not make myself grateful for the partial feeling in her hands.


When Beth was transferred to rehab, we shared a room with a girl in a crib with high sides who made sad sounds. She was alone with a brain injury. We met a man with a spinal cord injury who needed a ventilator to breathe; he moved only his head. A teenager with paraplegia refused to get out of bed and moved to a nursing home; he had full use of his hands and arms.

As physical therapy started, Beth lay face down on her stomach, unable to lift her shoulders off the mat. Her body was moved for her. She had no strength. The therapy session finished with the difficult process of transferring her into a wheelchair. Beth opened her arms and I leaned into a hug. Her bent hand softly patted my back. Suddenly, I was grateful for arms and wrists that move. For lungs that breathe. For her ability to feel me pat her back in return.


After a month in rehab, Beth tried to sit up on the mat. She started on her back and concentrated on throwing one arm over the other to roll onto one side. It took several tries. She pushed down with her hands to raise her upper body incrementally to a shaky sitting position for the first time. Her body tottered back and forth in a battle of balance–Bambi on ice. My instincts screamed to help her, support her. Instead, I turned away to wipe my eyes.

She leaned forward and planted a hand on each side to steady herself. She looked up and smiled when she heard me clapping with the therapists. Even Beth seemed surprised by, and glad for, every small thing.


My daughter insisted on starting her freshman year of high school on time about three months after her injury. On the first day, she pushed herself slowly down the halls in a manual wheelchair. Four years later, she was able to independently care for herself and live in a dorm or apartment with no assistance, a rare feat for quads.


Beth’s attitude propelled her forward with me in tow. Little by little, I chipped away at my millstone of guilt. Sometimes we need someone strong to lead the way.

Now, all I see is what she can do.


Cindy Kolbe is a lifelong disability advocate who lives in Summerville, South Carolina. She managed group homes in Ohio and ran a nonprofit in Massachusetts. Her daughter Beth graduated from Harvard and Stanford Law and is employed as a health policy lawyer in Washington, D.C. Access her Blog and reach her via email.

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You Made Hope Happen in 2016

We know that when you donate to support our mission, you may not always see the direct impact of those dollars. And as a member of the Help Hope Live community, you may not realize how your efforts spark change and inspire action in others.

That’s why we’ve put together this post–to show friends like you how you make a positive difference, every single day, by being part of the Help Hope Live family. Your time and effort added up to some big numbers with huge impact in Fiscal Year 2016.

Help Hope Live logo


Last year, you helped:


Launch 732 new medical fundraising campaigns

Provide $9.3 million to help cover vital medical and related expenses

Support the needs of 1,400 patients and families facing the most difficult challenge of their lives: a lifesaving transplant or a life-changing catastrophic injury or illness.

But you didn’t stop there…


You also helped:


Crush 4,942 medical fundraising goals

Plan 550 gatherings of hope nationwide

Inspire 2,451 words of gratitude

Provide 57 emergency assistance grants to help families avoid an immediate medical crisis

Honor 25 loved ones’ legacies, and

Joined a community of 3,224 empowered and compassionate friends and neighbors


Families across the country felt the tangible impact. 16 Help Hope Live patients reported finding a “new normal” after a devastating medical crisis altered their lives.

“Thanks to so many wonderful people, my family and I have reached our Help Hope Live goal for my double lung transplant recovery. We have no idea what the future will bring, but hopefully, I will continue getting stronger every day. I cherish breathing.”

Bob Wollenberg Help Hope Live

Bob Wollenberg, Great Lakes Lung Transplant Fund


10 patients reached a major independence milestone after a catastrophic injury, from going to college to driving and living independently.

“Alex’s physical therapy sessions are two hours and he enjoys every minute of it! He loves traveling wherever his [new] vehicle takes him.” He is pictured below with wife, Marina: “A new chapter is beginning for two deserving young people who have overcome so much.”

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Alex Paul, Northeast Spinal Cord Injury Fund


To us, these aren’t just numbers. They are symbols of hope in the midst of extremely challenging circumstances.

When you engage with Help Hope Live as a donor, patient, or volunteer, you are shouting hope from the rooftops. You are refusing to let a medical crisis dominate the course of a life. You are defying the negative noise the world throws at you by taking a stand for strong, loving communities and life-changing new beginnings. You are telling someone, “You matter. Your voice is heard. Your story is my story, too.

That’s what it really means to help hope live. Never stop: the world needs you, and so do we.


Keep hope alive in 2017!


Click here to make a one-time or recurring donation to our nonprofit to keep our mission strong in 2017 and beyond. And from all of us…thank you!

What the Holiday Season Means to Me After a Spinal Cord Injury

In 2009, Kirk Williams was a motivated Colorado sociology graduate who filled his downtime with outdoor adventures and sports. In November of that year, a “complete freak accident, like trip-over-your-shoelaces kind of crash” changed his life: Kirk sustained a C5 spinal cord injury as he flew over the handlebars of his mountain bike. The injury left him paralyzed with a limited amount of feeling in his legs and limited use of his fingers.

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Kirk didn’t want his injury to put the brakes on his full and active lifestyle

As soon as he was able, Kirk began to immerse himself once again in outdoor adventures and sports. “My injury did influence my hobbies but I haven’t stopped doing what I love,” he explained. “I still do photography, camp, mountain bike [and] new hobbies like wheelchair rugby, scuba diving and hand cycling. I love travel and I was not reluctant at all to travel after my injury.”

Photo by SCI Recovery Project via Facebook.

Rehabilitation helped Kirk to reclaim his adventurous lifestyle, little by little. Source

Kirk is the founder, director and pilot/camera operator of the UAV-powered video production agency Birds Eye Optics. “It’s wild to think that while most people may think that since I’m in a wheelchair, my perspective is limited,” observed Kirk. “Actually, with my career, I see further than ever before.”

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“With my career, I see further than ever before.”

He credits fundraising and community support as essential parts of his journey. “My community of family and friends has been one of the most significant parts of me getting where I am today,” said Kirk. “Without the help of friends, family and HelpHOPELive, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the amazing equipment and lifestyle that I love to live. With my incredible support system, I’ve surpassed even my wildest dreams of what is possible.

I see each [injury] anniversary as a day to look back and see just how far I’ve progressed. I remind myself that anything is possible. I’ve taken the cards I’ve been dealt to not only survive but thrive in what first seemed nearly impossible circumstances.”

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On each injury anniversary, “I remind myself that anything is possible.”

Asked about the end of the year approaching, Kirk captured a sentiment shared by many of our clients, whether they are living with an injury or waiting for a transplant: the holidays are a time for hope, family and looking to the future. “The holidays are always a wonderful time of year,” explained Kirk. “I can catch up with friends and family and we can enjoy each other’s company. As crazy as they are, it’s always rewarding to have my entire family together in one place.”

The hustle and bustle of the season doesn’t appeal to Kirk, who said, “my favorite part of the holidays is being able to relax with the ones you love. It’s not about the busy times for me…it’s the downtime that I cherish the most. And the food!”

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What do the holidays mean to Kirk? Hope, family and looking to the future.

I usually make a New Year’s resolution,” said Kirk. “It’s a good chance for me to attack my goals with a refreshed set of eyes.”

His advice for others entering the holiday season and looking ahead to the new year? “Life is short, so why not try to experience it to the fullest? Get out there and try everything you can. You can be as happy or as upset about your injury and your life as you choose to be. It’s entirely up to you.

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Kirk says happiness after a spinal cord injury “is entirely up to you.”

What does hope mean to Kirk? “Hope means having my eyes set on what lays ahead, and knowing there is always a possibility for positivity given the right mindset.”

We know fundraising can make a significant impact on an individual’s life through the power of community, both financially and emotionally. As you continue to trust our nonprofit for a lifetime of medical fundraising support, we hope this holiday season brings you memorable times with friends and family and plenty of opportunities to look ahead, with hope.

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From our family to yours! Photo by Kirk.


Kirk Williams continues to fundraise with HelpHOPELive for the lifetime out-of-pocket medical and related expenses associated with his injury.

Bella Da Dawg is Kirk’s four-legged companion. She “spends most of her days dreaming of tennis balls” and “screwing up sound from her habitual snoring and striking good looks.”

How I Cope with My Wife’s Stroke and My Son’s Spinal Cord Injury

At age 27, Sean McGonagle was attacked in a shocking act of violence at a bar just two days before Christmas. Shot in the leg and chest, Sean became paralyzed from the chest down. Two years after injury, Sean underwent surgery to remove an abscess on his spinal cord where the bullet had been lodged.

Just four days after his surgery, his mother, Kass, had a stroke that left her with limited mobility and communication skills. Sean and Kass stayed in the same hospital during recovery and pursued rehabilitation at Magee together.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive spinal cord injury stroke boat Spirit Philadelphia

Kass and Sean stayed in the same hospital during their recovery.

Father and husband Dennis McGonagle helped to initiate fundraising campaigns with HelpHOPELive to support both Sean and Kass. Dennis explains how his family is living with the lifelong impact of spinal cord injury and stroke.


How is your relationship with your family? 


My relationship with my family is very strong. I retired early so I could be a caregiver for my wife and son, and I have three daughters and three grandchildren that I spend time with. It is very important to all of us to stay close and help each other.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive

Dennis, center, retired so he could care for his wife, left, and son.


Why is fundraising important to you?  


Managing health is a minute-to-minute task. We have therapy three times a week, doctors’ appointments and daily care and companionship needs. As a quadriplegic, Sean suffers from a lot of pain and discomfort. Things will not get easier for him as time goes on; as a matter of fact, they will get progressively worse.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive

Sean with Joanne from Magee Rehabilitation Hospital

He tries to keep a positive attitude and holds onto the thought that there may be some life-changing medical advancements in his future.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive Magee Rehab physical therapy spinal cord injury

Therapy helps Sean cut down on “pain and discomfort” after injury.

For Sean, our last fundraiser was to help him purchase a new wheelchair. We have a long way to go, but the new chair will enable him to stand upright and increase his blood flow. In the long run, it will keep him from getting pressure sores and improve his overall health.

Sean McGonagle fundraising HelpHOPELive comedy hypnosis

Sean fundraises for a new wheelchair and other post-injury costs.

It has been almost three years since Kass’ stroke, and she is dealing with memory loss, speech problems and paralysis on her left side. She is reliant on a wheelchair for mobility support. Kass needs a stair lift to get up and down the staircase safely. We also need to make some modifications to her bathroom to make it safer and more accessible.

Kass McGonagle HelpHOPELive stroke

Kass fundraises with HelpHOPELive for home modifications, mobility needs and more.


How do you feel about fundraising with HelpHOPELive?


We have been in contact with the nonprofit since 2011. HelpHOPELive is a great nonprofit organization. From digital guidance and customized flyers to general understanding, HelpHOPELive has shown us the path to achieve our fundraising goals. We are also glad to have an avenue to allow our community to understand and support our fundraising goals and events.

Wheelchair van Sean McGonagle

“Picking up my new van! This never would have happened without your donations!”


Is it challenging to support a loved one as a caregiver while being a father?


Being a father and a caregiver is always a challenge, and in my case, I am helping to support both my wife and my son. They have similar needs and yet a lot of different individual needs as well. You can’t be in two places at one time, but somehow we have managed so far. Who better than a husband and father to take care of them? The best part about being a dad is the love of your children. A child is a gift and you get an opportunity to watch kids grow into young adults. My children are also my friends, which is very important to a healthy and honest family relationship.

Kass McGonagle Sean McGonagle HelpHOPELive spinal cord injury stroke boat Spirit Philadelphia

Dennis says his family “is more important than any material things.”

Remember that your family is more important than any material things. Remember to always look after and cherish your children. You never know when they will need you the most.


Learn more about Dennis, Kass and Sean at helphopelive.org. Do you know a family struggling to cover the out-of-pocket expenses associated with a catastrophic injury or illness? Learn how we can help with a tax-deductible fundraising campaign and one-on-one support.

My Health, Independence and Financial Challenges 5 Years After Injury

Danielle Watson became paralyzed from the waist down in June 2011. In May 2016, Danielle completed her master’s in occupational therapy.


People are shocked all the time that I drive and live independently. I don’t blame them, because I didn’t know what people with disabilities could do either, until my injury. I have managed (with help from others) to figure out how to live independently.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

“I have managed to figure out how to live independently.”

I consider my wheelchair to be an extension of myself at this point. It really bothers me to hear the terms “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound” because the wheelchair is an awesome machine that allows me to be independent. I also rely on my NuProdx shower bench and I now have one on the toilet, too, to prevent pressure sores. My car is also an important part of my independence. It has been adapted with hand controls.

I have had increasing complications with my health over the past 5 years. Unfortunately, spinal cord injury affects many of my bodily systems, so I must continue to adapt. The average person doesn’t realize that I am not just sitting. That is the easiest part. Spinal cord injury affects all body systems. I usually keep this hidden from people and try to portray that I have everything together. However, I constantly have to think about my bladder, my digestion, my bones, my joints, my body mechanics, avoiding pressure sores, my temperature, my water intake…the list goes on!

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Danielle fell 250 feet. The injury “affects many of my bodily systems”

Therapy has had a huge impact on my life. I am so grateful to have had so many good health professionals after my injury. I already wanted to be a therapist before my accident, but my injury introduced me to occupational therapy, which I had never heard of before. My hope is that I can use my personal experience and empathy to help others after a life-altering injury.

I have faced significant financial challenges since the injury. By the time I get my license to practice OT, I will have been unemployed for almost 6 years. I have student loans from undergraduate schooling that I have been unable to pay off and they have been accumulating interest. I had to decide if I would be able to live my life on social security or minimum wage or take on the loans and the hope for a better life. I am trying to do the right thing and support myself financially.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

“I am trying to do the right thing and support myself financially.”

HelpHOPELive has thankfully shielded me from many of the medical expenses that go along with this injury. I don’t know how I would survive without it. There are a lot of supplies and pieces of equipment that I need that Medicare doesn’t cover. Sometimes Medicare makes errors and I get stuck with huge medical bills. I have lived in five different places within the last 5 years and I have had to renovate them all to make them accessible. When I begin to work, I will lose Medicare and I will have private insurance, but I am thankful to HelpHOPELive for helping me cover deductibles, medications and procedures through fundraising.

The HelpHOPELive campaign in my honor has been extremely important because I don’t have to agonize over purchases or costs that are medically necessary or helpful in maintaining my independence, which really contributes to my mental health. I have so many other worries with my spinal cord injury that it is really helpful to have one less worry.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Fundraising helps Danielle to live independently.

I was introduced to adaptive sports 6 months after my injury. I skied as soon as I was medically able. Oregon Adaptive Sports has been crucial to my recovery–I received scholarships for the lessons I needed to learn to ski and they have been a family to me. I met most of my friends though OAS and I continue to be a participant and an advocate for the organization. HelpHOPELive helps with the expenses that are not covered by the scholarships I get.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Danielle participates in adaptive sports, triathlons and marathons.

I love to travel now just as much as I did before my injury. Having the right equipment really helps. I have a shower chair that comes apart and fits into a small square bag. That has made travel a lot easier, and I bring it with me everywhere. I want to travel the world but currently it is easier and more accessible for me to travel within the United States because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

Travel is easier for Danielle with the right adaptive equipment.

I look forward to being self-sufficient again. I look forward to buying a home someday that I can renovate for my needs, and I look forward to getting into a routine that will allow me to finally get my finances under control.

Thankfully, I have a degree in philosophy, so I had a lot of time to think about big questions before my injury. I believe in the power of your thoughts and your words to manifest your life. I try my best to shed the thoughts that don’t serve me well and think positively. I have gotten better at this over time and I believe it is something you can practice until it becomes more natural. Having a disability can be alright if you have access to the right equipment and support, which is why HelpHOPELive is so necessary.

Danielle Watson HelpHOPELive

“Having a disability can be alright if you have access to the right equipment and support.”


Learn more about Danielle and make a contribution in her honor at helphopelive.org. Follow her blog for ongoing insights on life and possibilities after injury.