Tag Archives: love

Voices Of Hope: I Am Living Proof Of What An Organ Donor Can Do

Lauren Ann Arkens received a lung transplant in December 2015 after years of struggling with the effects of cystic fibrosis. She draws support from a strong community of friends and family members including her husband, Tyler. We asked Lauren and Tyler for their perspectives on fundraising and being there for the people you love.

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

Lauren Ann, Lily and Tyler Arkens


How did the reality of lung transplantation differ from your expectations?


Lauren: I had no expectations going in. I heard about what could happen and what was going to happen but nothing can prepare you for what actually happens. In a way, I am kind of happy I didn’t speak with anyone prior to my transplant because I think I would have been comparing what I am going through to what they are going through. Everyone is different and everyone’s experience is going to be different.

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

“Nothing can prepare you for what actually happens” during a transplant

Tyler: This is a really hard question. Personally, the only expectation I had was that life would be noticeably different, that the pieces would fall into place and I would simply deal with however they landed. I know I told a lot of people, “Everything will work out the way it should. Maybe not the way I want, but the way it should,” and I just left it at that.


What’s the worst part of life after transplant? What’s the best part?


L: The worst parts of life post-transplant are all the follow-up appointments and specialists I have to see. I see more doctors now that I am “healthy” than I did when I was sick and on the waiting list. The best part of life post-transplant is getting three hours back in my day when I used to have to use a vest and nebulizer treatments. Also all the energy I have, being able to move around, exercise, run and be a mom and wife. All of these things people may take for granted, but for me, the little things were the most difficult pre-transplant.

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

Lauren sees more doctors now that she is “healthy”

T: The worst part is by far the uncertainty. We had our fair share of hospitalizations when Lauren was still seeing her pulmonary doctors and we could usually tell when something wasn’t quite right; Lauren knew her body pretty well. Today, we have a new normal that we’re adjusting to. While Lauren might feel fine internally, there could be more going on, so when we visit, the uncertainty of whether or not Lauren is going to be hospitalized can be a little frustrating.

The best part is Lauren’s quality of life. She’s just happier. Things are fun and funny again. You can see her light up with joy when something touches her heart or fills her cup. She has a tremendous amount of energy, part of which is more oxygen in her system, and part of which is realizing that she’s really been provided another chance.

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

“You can see her light up with joy” again, said Tyler


Lauren, is your health journey completely over now that you’ve been transplanted?


L: Absolutely not! Being transplanted just adds another chapter. There is a lot of care that goes into maintaining new lungs. My transplant team has a home monitoring program that I have to do, I have lab work done once a week and I have appointments two to three times per month. It is never-ending but it is all for the better! This was a gift–a huge gift–and I don’t want to fail at it. My work is never going to end.

T: Lauren is a worker. I have described her as tenacious, consistent and determined. She understands what it takes to succeed. The expectations have been laid out and she doesn’t take it lightly. She understands the gift and the work required to keep it.

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

Lauren must work daily to keep her lungs healthy


What’s one thing about transplants you wish everyone knew and understood?


L: People don’t understand the time and money it takes to have a transplant. Medications are expensive, co-pays are high and some medications are not covered by insurance. There are hospital stays that may be unexpected plus regular appointments and procedures. None of this is easy. It can be draining mentally, physically, emotionally and financially.

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

Transplants are mentally, physically, emotionally and financially draining

T: There is so much that people don’t or can’t understand with regard to chronic illnesses and treatments. We’ve learned to give people the simplest answers and to operate from the mindset that every body is different and everyone’s response to treatment is different. It isn’t a simple process in which you check the boxes and reach a goal. This is a lifetime of learning, adjusting and adapting. That’s hard to explain [to others].

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

“Nurse Lily” helps mom with home health care


How did you learn about HelpHOPELive?


L: My transplant social worker told us about HelpHOPELive and said that many of her patients had great success with it. We decided to use HelpHOPELive because it was the best option for us. A family friend set up a campaign for us so we didn’t have to worry about it on top of everything else we were dealing with. One factor was that HelpHOPELive donations would be tax deductible for the person donating and we would not be taxed on the funds we requested for medical and related expenses.

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

Fundraising helps cover out-of-pocket medical needs

T: It was hands down the best program for us to fundraise with. As a nonprofit organization, it allows the patient to benefit the most and it gives people peace of mind when donating that their gift or donation will be used wisely and never for another purpose.


Why is fundraising important to you on this transplant journey?


L: To be honest and blunt, if it wasn’t for fundraising, I do not know how we would have afforded medication, gas for appointments, meals and three months of house and electric bill payments while I was off work. All of that has been HUGE and has made such a difference for us in not having to worry while recovering.

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

“I do not know how we would have afforded medication” without fundraising

T: Fundraising helps us afford the things we need for Lauren to survive. But it also provides us with a network of people who have really shown that they care about Lauren and her journey. It blows me away. Fundraising gives people peace of mind that they are supporting someone who really needs their help. Lauren is a real, live person with whom they can meet and she can give them credit and thanks for what they’ve done to support her journey. Finally, fundraising allows us an opportunity to pay it forward. We’ve been overwhelmed by the support, and that has motivated us to go out and give back on behalf of that community.


What advice would you give to someone who has just been added to the lung transplant waiting list?


L: Fundraise as soon as you get listed or even before. We benefited greatly from fundraising early. It made going into the transplant a little easier knowing we had money to pay for things we needed when we needed them.

T: Don’t think about the enormity of the situation and don’t let the weight of the unknown get to you. If you’re able, continue to live your life. Take care of yourself and handle your business every day. That’s all you can do. Then, when your time comes, just focus on the instructions you’ve been given and execute.


How important are friends and family members during this process?


L: It’s extremely important to have friends and family involved in the process. If it wasn’t for the support we received, whether financial or through prayers, I don’t know where we would be today. It took a lot of pressure off of my husband during my period of recovery so he didn’t have to handle everything. People care and they are often amazed at what a person can go through and how they can recover.

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

Friends and family support Lauren with “Lungs N Roses” shirts

T: We’ve developed a very close, tight-knit group of people we can count on when we need to. Interestingly enough, it’s not the people you see or talk to the most who will step up when you need them the most. It’s the people who, when you see them, you feel like you can pick right back up where you left off.

Support for us has come in a lot of different forms. We had a small team that set up meals, household chores, donations, gift cards, taking our daughter, Lily, to and from school and staying overnight while Lauren was hospitalized and recovering. We’ve benefited greatly by creating different ways for people to help and giving them options.


Tyler, can caregiving during a transplant change a relationship?


T: It creates a different dynamic for each relationship. My relationship with Lauren changed a lot. Lauren was in survival mode and despite not wanting the help (she has a strong will), she needed it. It’s hard to ask for help. From my perspective, all I wanted for Lauren was to feel well. I had to adjust to the new dynamic of our lives. There is always a give and take in every relationship. You really have to open yourself up to give yourself to someone and accept someone.

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

“My relationship with Lauren changed a lot,” said Tyler


Are you an advocate for organ donation?


L: I am living proof of what an organ donor can do. It is a chance at a better life. My life was so restricted pre-transplant, and now, what I can do is endless.

T: Yes; the obvious reason for that is because I’ve seen someone’s life change completely. But even if our result wasn’t as positive as it has been, I would continue to be an advocate. We’re all called to give life. We need to discover that giving life has many different meanings and it looks different for everyone. If we’re all really trying to give life, why not give part of yourself to someone who needs it?

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

Tyler celebrates his wife’s transplant journey


What does the word HOPE mean to you?


T: Hope is knowing that no matter what you’re going through, there is something better on the other side. It is contagious and inspiring and if we’d just let it, it would change our world.

L: Hope means believing that there is something better for you. And whatever Tyler said!

Lauren Ann Arkens HelpHOPELive

“There is something better on the other side.”


Learn more about Lauren and Tyler’s journey at helphopelive.org. Find out how you can support a spouse or loved one with their out-of-pocket transplant expenses by reaching out to HelpHOPELive on Twitter.

In Times Of Crisis, Love Brings Us Together

These quotes from individuals and families from all walks of life show just how important love and support can be as you strive to meet the challenges before you.

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Love Keeps Us Strong…


“For the love of our son, Nick, we want to be here for him and his able-bodied brother for as long as possible. That’s what keeps us strong and driven.”

Nick and mom for love quotes post

-Judy, mother of Nick Rouse (injured in 2008)


Love Helps Us Thrive…


“We wouldn’t be thriving as well as we are without love. Love in its many forms is what keeps us pushing forward.”

-Kristen and Jeff Sachs (injured in 2013)


Love Keeps Us Going…


“I believe love plays a big role in health. It is family and friends that keep you going and your spouse or partner and kids that give you the fight to carry on and get a normal life back. #NeverRetreatNeverSurrender”

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Michael Carns (fighting MS)


Love Gives Us Hope…


“Love from family or friends gives a person the will to keep pushing and the hope of a better outcome. If everyday struggles become overwhelming, the distraction of love can soothe the soul.

Love is also a powerful tool. While in the Shepherd Center for two months with my son, I saw people who didn’t have any friends or family to support them, whether it was someone to watch a movie with or someone to give them homemade food or a silly gift. Those people did not thrive in recovery, did not smile or laugh, and did not have the desire to get up and do therapy. There was an employee at the Shepherd Center who gave every person and family member a hug, every single day. She knew the power of love.”

-Lori, mother of John LeMoine (injured in 2014)


Love Keeps Us Healthy…


“Love and the time we spend with each other and people who are special to us has been at the center of Suria’s recovery and it has kept us both healthier. There are times when one of us may not feel well, but after a few laughs, it’s like you’ve been given a special pill that can help fix what ails you. Just the act of loving another can make you love yourself more. You’ll find you start taking extra steps to take care of yourself just to keep that good feeling going.”

-Kirby and Suria Nordin (injured in 2014)


Love Motivates Us…


“On this difficult road to recovery, the love God has for me and the love I have for my family is the source of my strength. It is love that gives me the will to work harder than I thought I could and to keep going when so often I’ve wanted to surrender.”

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Joe Piscitelli (injured in 2014)


Our goal is to help people fundraise within their own communities for their medical and related expenses. It’s true that fundraising can help you secure tangible resources, like medication or physical therapy sessions, that improve your health and quality of life. But fundraising isn’t just about money: fundraising gives your friends and family members the opportunity to lift you up and offer you the emotional support that nourishes you as you face your medical burdens.

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Do you know someone who is struggling with medical expenses and is in need of financial and emotional support? Consider helping him or her to launch a fundraising campaign to ease the burden.

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.

 

Love, Commitment and the Honest Life of a Caregiver

For National Family Caregivers Month this November, we’re profiling individuals who have taken on a caregiver role to support their loved ones. We interviewed Rich Reedy, who has been supporting his wife since a 2014 accident left her with an incomplete spinal cord injury that requires constant care.


Do you consider yourself a caregiver?


I absolutely do consider myself a caregiver. We are fortunate enough in our household to have many people in our circle who we consider caregivers, including a young woman, Judy, who comes in twice a day to support [my wife] Eileen; and Patrick, Bridget and Jacquelyn, our three children, who help out significantly. I serve as a caregiver coordinator, in a manner of speaking: I’m not a boss and not a commander, just a “keeper of the schedule”!

Eileen Reedy HelpHOPELive

Rich Reedy (left) with Eileen Reedy (center) and family.


Is emotional support as important as physical support when you care for someone with an injury?


In my experience, emotional support is a vital part of overall healing. If my wife is not in a good place or if one of our caregivers is unhappy, that attitude is definitely contagious. It’s important to me to try to keep people happy. We want people to support Eileen because their hearts are in it 100%, not because they feel like they NEED to be there. If their hearts are not in it, we do whatever we can to get them there, so that emotional connection is maintained.


What helps you to find relief when you are stressed or upset?

I find my own ways to relieve tension but, in all honesty, when a bad mood starts, it often has to clear on its own. Eileen continues to impress us with her commitment to therapy and progress. Seeing that progress in action is a great motivator and encourager. To me, it’s important to reinforce the good, for my own benefit and for the benefit of other caregivers. I play a role in helping others by reminding them that they are doing a great job and are making an important contribution. Just like in life itself, in caregiving it can make a big difference to be positive and to look for ways to ease the stress and the repetition, so you can continue to take on challenges day after day.


What is the best part of caring for a loved one? The most difficult part?


The best part is loving Eileen and supporting her on her healing journey. Caregiving really can change who you are. I was a man of no patience – now, I am a man of SOME patience, at least! I’ve still got a long way to go.

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The worst part is struggling to find time to unwind and clear your mind and finding ways to avoid self-criticism. My day is composed of getting up early and making good use of every spare moment in the day. I run my own business out of my house, so I’m fortunate to be able to work in between assisting Eileen and supporting the rest of the care team. By 6 p.m., I have no brain left! Sometimes I just like to take a few minutes to sit and unwind at the end of a day. I honestly struggle to remember what my life was like before I took on this role!


Which words would you use to describe caring for a loved one?


The two words I’d use to describe caregiving would be love and commitment.


Do you have any advice for other families who are learning about caregiving after injury?


First, I would advise them to lean on professional support. While Eileen was in the hospital, the staff really showed me what my life would look like, even though I didn’t realize at the time that they were preparing me for that reality! I didn’t know that it was going to be a life-changing experience that would last longer than weeks or months. Professional support like that can really help.

Eileen Reedy HelpHOPELive

Eileen with a service dog, Moose.

I’d encourage people who are about to become caregivers to take a look at caregiver resources like books and manuals. Having a guide helped me a lot – I turned to a book called Taking Care of Yourself While Providing Care. The book is written for caregivers who care for people with spinal cord injuries, but its lessons are relevant to any caregiver. Managing self-care is something that professionals and books will always emphasize; it’s as important as ever to take care of yourself when you become a caregiver, if not more important. If you’re not in a good spot, you can’t help anyone else.

My last piece of advice would be to consider accepting outside help. Our twice-per-day caregiver, Judy, has become like a part of our family, but she still has her own life and her own world outside of us. That means we can chat, talk and laugh with her and those interactions don’t overlap with the rest of our family life. It can be a really nice diversion, and that person also comes in with a “clean slate” and not a host of other worries and long-term concerns to bring to the table. She can give Eileen her full concentration, which is helpful for all of us.


We’ll be celebrating caregivers all month. Have a caregiving story to tell? Reach out to us and you could be featured in an upcoming Blog post!