Tag Archives: Friends

Mobility Matters: “You Are Always Stronger Than You Think You Are”

Just a few days before her final college exams, Morgan Ott fell through scaffolding and became paralyzed from the chest down with limited right hand function. Twenty-two year-old Morgan explains how life has changed since the injury and how mobility impacts her daily life.

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

Morgan fundraises for mobility essentials


How much did you know about spinal cord injury before you were injured?


Before my injury, I knew little to nothing about spinal cord injury. I have learned a tremendous amount since. When my injury happened, my close friends and family members researched spinal cord injury, the healing process and how my day-to-day life would be affected. I am learning new things every day.

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

Morgan says she “is learning new things every day”


How did your community respond to your injury?


My family has been by my side from the moment I was in the emergency room. In the beginning, they took me to all of my doctors’ appointments and therapy sessions. Now, they are still always there when I need someone to talk to or if I need any help. Coworkers, friends and the community also reached out to show me their support.

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

Friends and family have supported Morgan throughout her journey

My friends came to visit me in the hospital often, and one of my sorority sisters set me up with my first fundraising page with a goal of $5,000 on a crowdfunding platform. I switched from a crowdfunding site to HelpHOPELive because I had heard great things about the organization, and how it was easier to continuously raise funds for lifetime expenses with support from HelpHOPELive. Fundraising with HelpHOPELive allows me to request the funds when I need them instead of having to wait until I reach a set goal amount.


Will fundraising influence your mobility options?


Yes! I am currently fundraising for a Galileo tilt table, therapy at Project Walk, a standing frame, an FES system to help my circulation and keep my muscles active, and a Smartdrive power assist device to help me get around more easily by myself.


Have you experienced a range of different emotions since you were injured?


I think I have experienced probably every emotion possible, from extreme happiness to feeling very depressed. I often find that when I am the happiest, I think more about how much better my situation would be if I could just get up and walk again, and then I get very sad. It’s like extreme happiness comes with a price. Most days, though, I am very content and just happy to be where I am.


What do you think is the most common misconception about life in a wheelchair?


A lot of people assume that since I am in a wheelchair I need help with every daily activity or that I can’t live on my own or provide for myself. Most people are also surprised when they find out that I drive (with the use of hand controls).

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

“A lot of people assume…I need help with every daily activity”


What advice would you give to someone else living with a spinal cord injury?


You are always stronger than you think you are. No matter what obstacles life gives you, there are ways to get past them and continue living a healthy life. In terms of working with HelpHOPELive and covering your expenses, it’s never too late to fundraise, but the sooner the better.


Do you still strive to maintain an active lifestyle?


I recently moved down to southern California with my best friend. I am pursuing physical therapy twice a week for two hours per session, and I am finishing school with Arizona State University online. I am planning to get a job within the next couple of weeks to help me keep busy and make money. I also started attending a wheelchair dance class in which there are many other women around my age in chairs learning and performing routines.

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

Morgan attends a chair-inclusive dance class


What are your biggest mobility priorities at the moment?


I am focused on staying active with my physical therapies. My goal for physical therapy is to work on core strength and balance and gain back any amount of function, no matter how small.


Where would you like to be in five or 10 years?


In five years, I will have graduated from college and hopefully have a steady job that I enjoy. I can see myself in a steady relationship, establishing a life for myself, having done some traveling in Europe and Asia. In 10 years, I would like to have a successful career and a family.


In your video, you say, “We were going to make it through” after the accident. Do you still feel that way?


More so now than when I was in the hospital, I feel like I’m going to make it through. Keeping a positive attitude definitely helps me carry out day-to-day activities with more confidence and happiness.

Morgan Ott HelpHOPELive

“Keeping a positive attitude definitely helps me,” says Morgan


Unlock new mobility possibilities for yourself or someone you love. Start a fundraising campaign with HelpHOPELive at helphopelive.org. Mobility matters!

Voices of Hope: Living With LAM

I once wondered if I would make it to age 30; I’m 38 now. I am Nicole Seefeldt, and I have been living with the chronic lung disease lymphangioleiomyomatosis – more commonly known as LAM – for more than 10 years.

Nicole Seefeldt HelpHOPELive

Nicole after an improv workshop


My Story


In 2010, I began having a yearly talk with my doctor about a (double lung) transplant. I was feeling fine at the time with my LAM, but my doctor knew it was a good idea to bring it up as soon as possible to prepare me. At every session, the doctor would check my oxygen numbers to determine whether or not getting evaluated for a transplant would be in my immediate future.

For me to stay on my insurance plan, I had to work 30 hours a week. That was a significant reduction to my original work hours, but my energy levels became so unpredictable, I could only work for an hour or two on a good day before needing a break. I was planning to work up until my transplant evaluation, possibly part time. But my doctor advised me to quit working in July 2015 when I experienced a rapid drop in my oxygen levels and had to be taken to a hospital immediately. My doctors still don’t know what caused the desaturation, but since then, I have needed oxygen 24/7.

I had to talk with my parents and friends to tell them I would need their support and a dedicated caregiver to help me through the process. My best friend stepped up right away! Luckily, support is one thing I was not lacking as I began to prepare for transplant: I am well-connected via social media, volunteer work and improv comedy, which I like to do in my downtime.

Nicole Seefeldt HelpHOPELive

Nicole set a goal of $20,000 when she started fundraising

When I started fundraising with HelpHOPELive, I set a goal of $20,000 in order to cover the expenses I would be responsible for when the time came for my transplant. The $20,000 would also allow me to receive two challenge grants from HelpHOPELive.

HelpHOPELive: Contact your Fundraising Coordinator today to learn more about how to get a challenge grant when you reach a fundraising milestone.

Since last year, some of my disability insurance benefits have been decreased, changed or even eliminated, so my out-of-pocket expenses may continue to increase, especially the temporary housing costs I’ll face during my post-transplant recovery period (I don’t meet the distance requirements set forth by my insurance provider to be covered or reimbursed for this expenses). That’s why fundraising is an essential part of this journey.

It’s easy to feel shame and guilt when you have to stop working because of an illness. Fundraise to take some of the pressure off for you and your family and free up your expenses to stay afloat until you can get to a healthier place. It’s important to be transparent if you’re struggling. You have to say, look, this is why I need this money: I am on X medications that cost me X per year; my insurance premiums cost me X per month, even with Medicaid. People understand that as long as you give them something quantifiable.


How I Keep Hope Alive


There are a few things I do to fight back while I wait for a life-changing transplant:

  1. Keeping myself healthy. My exercise levels are back to a healthy level so I can do a few light weights and other things to build up my upper body for transplant. I need my upper body to be strong enough to rebound and heal after the transplant takes place. There were times in the past where I wouldn’t feel good and would get frustrated with exercise. But exercise is one thing I feel like I can control, and my lungs feel much clearer when I do it. It’s the one gift I can give my medical team to fight back.
  1. Staying patient. Living with a chronic illness and facing your own mortality puts your priorities in order in terms of what you value. Ultimately you learn that it’s rough, but it’s not insurmountable. You find your ways to cope and reconcile things. You have to at least in some aspect use whatever you have to fight back and to hang in the fight. I’m empowering myself and other people to make life more manageable. Maybe the research is too late for me but it might not be too late for someone else.

Nicole is fundraising with HelpHOPELive for LAM-related expenses, including a limited period of lost wages as she remains on long-term disability, COBRA insurance payments, oxygen rentals and other uninsured costs.

Voices Of Hope: I Donated A Kidney To My Best Friend

Author and professional rock musician James Michael McLester was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease in his early thirties. He endured 13 years of regular hemodialysis before his best friend, Laura Suarez McCutcheon, offered to donate one of her kidneys to James to save his life. On December 9, James received the gift of life from Laura.

James Michael McLester living donor HelpHOPELive

Laura donated a kidney to her best friend, James


How did you find out that Laura was a compatible donor?


James: Laura and I were like brother and sister when we were involved in the same music scene in the ‘80s. We lost touch for twenty seven years. In June 2014, Laura sent me a message on Facebook asking about my life. I shared with Laura my new autobiography and a bit of my medical history. At the time, I was dependent on dialysis and I was coping with shortness of breath, fatigue, anxiety, hypertension and severe fluid restrictions. Laura volunteered and was tested as a living kidney donor for me at the Texas Transplant Institute in San Antonio, and she was a match.

Laura: I really didn’t think too much about it when I made the decision to get tested. I just wanted to help him. During the months that followed, I never gave it a second thought. By nature, I am a worrier, and I’d never had surgery before, but I knew this was the path God chose for me. I never had one second of apprehension.


What would your future have looked like without Laura’s gift?


James: As a professional musician, I was unable to tour overseas in several countries where dialysis is either unavailable or reserved for extremely wealthy citizens. I would have faced twenty to thirty years of dialysis three times every week. I would have had to endure continued stress and anxiety and an income decreased by 80 percent due to my dialysis schedule.

James Michael McLester HelpHOPELive

James would have faced ongoing health struggles without a donor


How did you feel knowing that she was willing to give the gift of life to you?


James: Before Laura, five different kidney donors were tested for me between 2007 and 2015, and each was unable to donate either because of medical reasons (blood type, health issues) or personal circumstances. After I enjoyed dinner and a long talk with Laura and her fiancé, Chris, we both started to feel comfortable proceeding with the kidney transplant work-up to determine her eligibility to donate. Laura exemplified unconditional love towards me. She is a giving friend to all who know her.

Laura: Once we found out I was a match, we were so excited, I think James was in shock!


Do you two share a special connection now?


James: Laura and I both love the Lord with all of our hearts and realize that He is our source for giving thanks, walking in grace and mercy, and eternally growing in compassion. Everywhere we now travel in this life, we will illustrate a divine portrait of giving and receiving.

Laura: He is my best friend, brother and confidant. Our bond is unbreakable! Our relationship is one of true, honest love and respect.


What is the most exciting part of life after transplant?


Laura: James is very happy post-transplant! He’s making plans and looking forward to his future and the possibilities it holds. I love to see him smile!

James: I can now look forward to touring with my various musical projects, traveling, starting a family, and continuing to share my story for God’s glory.

James Michael McLester HelpHOPELive

James looks forward to touring with several bands post-transplant


Do you still have medical expenses to cover with fundraising?


James: I am responsible for a Medicare supplement policy with an out-of-pocket cost of $385 per month. Thirty-six months after my transplant date, Medicare will terminate my coverage and I will be fully responsible for all transplant-related medical expenses for the rest of my life. The expensive anti-rejection medications I have to take for my lifetime are out-of-pocket expenses that will cost me hundreds or thousands every month. With that said, there’s no guarantee that I will be able to push myself to return to full time work for another few months now that the transplant has happened, so my income is still not what it was before I switched to part time work. That’s why I continue to fundraise with HelpHOPELive even after the transplant.


Laura, would you recommend living donation to someone else?


Laura: I recommend organ donation to everyone. It’s an important decision, and one that must be understood and offered from a place of pure love. It’s an amazing experience! It wasn’t until after our surgery that I really realized, I saved James’ life. Wow! What a gift God has given me! If I had to do it over, I would. Give life! There is no greater gift.

James Michael McLester HelpHOPELive

Laura and the rest of James’ community came together in support


Follow James’s recovery story at helphopelive.org.

Mending A Broken Heart: Love And Transplantation

Rick Brittell was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2011. In April 2014, Rick and his wife, Susie, moved from their home in Boise, Idaho to a trailer in Salt Lake City, Utah for 2 ½ months so that Rick could receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) as a bridge to a heart transplant—his only option for a healthy life. Rick and Susie returned home to Boise but left their home once again in April 2015 to move into a Salt Lake City apartment. Rick received his transplant in September 2015. Rick and Susie will finally be able to return home in March 2016 after a full year spent away from home. They have been fundraising with HelpHOPELive since January 2015.

Rick and Susie Brittell HelpHOPELive

Rick and Susie Brittell.


Why did you make the decision to wait before getting Rick listed for a transplant?


Rick: I could have been listed for transplant right after I received the LVAD but I chose to wait until April 2015 when my Medicare took effect. Had I proceeded right away with being listed, the procedure would have been covered but not the post-transplant medications, leaving me to cover $7,000 to $14,000 out-of-pocket each month. Once Medicare took effect, the surgery and the medications were both covered and the post-transplant monthly medication costs dropped to $400 to $600 per month.

Once listed, multiple factors influence how long a candidate waits for a transplant, including the candidate’s health and the number of organs available in a particular region. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, “you may receive an organ that day, or you may wait many years.”

LVAD heart transplant

Rick lived with an LVAD until his transplant.


How did you feel when you found out you would have to relocate?


Rick: It was a shocker. When we skyped with our 3-year-old grandson, he would ask, ‘Why did you leave me?’ I couldn’t even talk to him because it tore me up. We were suddenly cut off from our family and friends and we had to make a whole new life for ourselves.

Transplant candidates must be able to leave home and come to a specific medical facility as soon as they receive word from their medical team that an organ is available. That’s why some candidates are asked to relocate close to that medical facility while they wait for “the call.”


How has the waiting process affected you emotionally?


Rick: I couldn’t drive for 2 years after I got the LVAD. I became completely dependent on my wife to take me everywhere for everything from a medical appointment to a simple trip to the store. After 40 years of employment, I had to stop working cold turkey. I had to deal with feelings of guilt and worthlessness associated with that. My freedoms were being taken away.

Susie: It was a sobering experience to discover who our true friends were and how our family would support us. We had to learn to do it on our own and figure out how to make it work with little support.

Rick: It’s stressful, but we have chosen not to hold onto animosity. But now when I tell someone, ‘I’ll be there for you,’ I take it very seriously.

The average wait time to receive a heart transplant is six months to one year. A transplant candidate can be removed from the waiting list if his or her health significantly improves or deteriorates.

 

Pie Night HelpHOPELive fundraiser

Support groups helped Rick and Susie find solace and community.


What advice would you give to another family waiting for a transplant?


Rick: Talk to someone who has gone through it. Learn about the procedure, the medications you’ll be taking and the side effects, and prepare for them. Don’t think that life will be perfect after the transplant. My body was torn up for weeks as I adjusted to the medication, and I pushed people away from me and felt mentally foggy. When you get that call, you will go from sky-high feeling lucky to get a heart to rock-bottom feeling guilty, sad or angry that someone had to pass away for you to get the transplant. You will swing back and forth, but you WILL level out again.

Rick Brittell heart transplant

Rick after his lifesaving transplant.

Susie: Do not think that you can shoulder the burden alone. As a caregiver, be patient and know that the person you love might get belligerent, angry or moody, but that is not the same person you love. The person you love will be back after a while. Find someone to unload onto so you don’t take out your frustrations on your loved one.

72 percent of American adults experience financial stress at least some of the time, and 26 percent experience financial stress most or all of the time. Start fundraising for a transplant as soon as possible to reduce the amount of financial stress you’ll have to deal with as you prepare for transplant.


What is life like after transplant?


Susie: I’m just so glad the waiting part is over. We are different people from when we first left for Salt Lake City. It has made us less self-absorbed and has opened our eyes to how narrow-minded you can become.

Rick: Hot dog, I’ve got a new lease on life now. I can look forward to seeing my family and my grandkids again. Before the LVAD, I could walk about 50 feet per day on oxygen before I was exhausted. Now I can walk 2 to 3 miles. I have realized that I can do this, and I see the light at the end of the tunnel. The journey is not over but there’s a lot more hope than there used to be.


Rick and Susie continue to fundraise with HelpHOPELive for post-transplant expenses including relocation, medical appointment co-pays and a lifetime of immunosuppressants.

 

The Rewards And Challenges Of Transplant Social Work

You already know what it feels like to prepare for a transplant as a patient. But how do transplant professionals view the process? We asked Laurie McDonald, a clinical social worker and case manager for the UNC Center for Transplant Care, to answer our questions.

heart in hands transplant


What are some of the biggest challenges of transplant social work?

At times, I really, really want a particular organ recipient or donor to succeed, but based on his or her circumstances, that person is just not a suitable candidate. After years and years of this line of work, I have to console myself with the truth: transplant is not for everyone. For some, a transplant will make the situation worse instead of better. It’s difficult to keep that message at the forefront when the person in front of me truly believes a transplant will save them.


What are some of the rewards you experience?

Just this week, two people were transplanted in a row. Now, they are delighted to be breathing without supplemental oxygen and walking more easily than they have in a long time. To see joy and relief on the faces of transplant recipients and their family members is wonderful. I love seeing patients years post-transplant living full lives that honor their donors. Transplant remains a daily part of their lives, but it is no longer the central focus.


Have you witnessed areas of progress in transplant assessment?

Within the past few years, we have become more invested in transplant assessment tools that will give us concrete, unbiased information. When a doctor recommends lab work, those tests will result in definitive numbers that the doctor can use to diagnose and treat you. When you’re dealing with social and emotional factors, it’s far more difficult to accurately quantify and represent a patient’s profile.

We have started using a validated measure that is linked to patient outcomes developed by Jose Maldonado at Stanford. I use this risk assessment tool to come up with a score that reflects a candidate’s psychosocial situation. It’s imperfect, but it’s absolutely progress. It makes it far easier for team members to compare information and communicate across specialties. Personal and even subconscious biases are always a factor, so it’s extremely important for us to continue to take steps in this direction.


What advice would you give to those who are considering transplant social work?

Do it! It’s stimulating, rewarding, wonderful work. I absolutely love it. 15 years in and I’m not bored yet!

Quality improvement is really important in transplant in general and at UNC in particular. We are always learning and working to do things better. There are advances in medication, medical techniques, social evaluations and other areas happening constantly. It’s really an interesting place to be.


Share your experiences as a transplant candidate, recipient or social worker on Facebook.

6 Ways To Help A Loved One Prepare For A Transplant

Do you have a friend or family member who is preparing for a transplant? Here are six key pieces of advice for caregivers and supporters from Laurie McDonald, a clinic social worker and case manager for the UNC Center for Transplant Care.


Ask the person what he or she needs. Don’t assume you already know.


Be involved with the person’s care team. I love when I see a whole group of people come to a patient’s evaluation. They all get to learn about the process together, and identify where they can fit in and help.


Your loved one will need emotional, physical and financial support. Every person must find the way they can contribute most based on interests, skills and comfort levels. One person shouldn’t (and can’t) do it all.


Prepare for some surprises. Support networks are not always what you’d expect. Long-time friends may falter while people who are barely acquaintances step forward and come through.


A real challenge after transplant is dealing with medications and their side effects. Your loved one’s mood might be all over the place. Don’t take irritability and other side effects personally. Develop a protective skin.


Find your own outlets and support networks. Everyone needs a break.


What’s your best piece of advice for helping a loved one prepare for a transplant? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and on Twitter.