Tag Archives: post-transplant

Touched By Transplant: When I Met My Heart Donor’s Family

John “Skeeter” Coleman received a heart transplant in February 2016. Here’s what happened when he sought out the family of the man who donated his heart.

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As soon as I was well enough after my heart transplant, I went to visit my donor’s family. It was the biggest emotional rush I have ever had in my life aside from the birth of my children.

Skeeter listens to his new heart

Skeeter listens to his new heart

Hospitals typically do not allow direct contact between donor families and recipients for a period of time after a transplant. I mailed a letter to my donor’s family through my hospital. As soon as I sent the letter, the hospital provided me with a letter the donor’s family had written back in December. This is what it said:

This is a Christmas card to you from me and my family. My husband’s name was Paul. He was a great outdoorsman who loved the landscape and loved the military. He was a great father and husband for 22 years. We loved him. I’m just hoping you can appreciate his organ, whichever one you got.

I sent a copy of the letter to my daughters and son. They got on the Internet and started researching. Sure enough, my daughter managed to find Theresa, Paul’s wife, on Facebook. She accepted our Friend Request and got to learn more about me and my HelpHOPELive campaign. That’s when I turned to my daughter and said, “Let’s go find them.” And that’s what we did.

We met Theresa and two of her three sons at the Jiffy Mart in Chester, Texas, a town of just 312 people located a 4-hour drive from our hometown of Euless. Theresa said, “Would you like to go with us to the cemetery?” I told her I would love to.

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Skeeter visits his heart donor’s grave

At the cemetery, I got down on one knee and started rubbing my hands through the dirt and talking to Paul. All these words were coming out and all these feelings. All these tears started flowing and dripping in the dirt. I don’t know how long I was there. They had to help me stand back up, because I didn’t have the strength to get up on my own.

I asked if I could take them out to lunch. At a café, Theresa introduced me to all of her friends. We had catfish, fresh vegetables, good old country cooking while we talked. We talked about those boys’ daddy and what a great man he was. Paul’s best friend was there, and we talked to him about all the people who were recipients. Two people got kidneys, one person got lungs, one person got a liver, one person got part of his spine and I got his heart.

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Skeeter with his heart donor’s wife and children

After lunch, Theresa invited me back to their house. She showed me all kinds of pictures of Paul. After a few more hours, we made the four-hour drive back to Euless. I was exhausted.

We stayed in touch after that. I’d like to get back together with them again. They have been a great encouragement and source of hope to me. I hope I can be the same for them.


touched by transplant fullNeed help fundraising for a transplant? Start a fundraising campaign today at helphopelive.org. Keep up with Skeeter on his HelpHOPELive campaign page.

Touched By Transplant: What It Feels Like To Get A Heart

In August 2015, John “Skeeter” Coleman was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure. In October 2015, Skeeter and his family began fundraising with HelpHOPELive to prepare for a lifesaving heart transplant. This is the story of how Skeeter received his new heart.

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I was the “best of the worst,” the doctors said when they put me on the heart transplant waiting list. They said I’d have a heart within seven days. Fourteen days later, they told me to “keep up the positive attitude.” They told me my heart was coming.

John Skeeter Coleman HelpHOPELive heart transplant hospital

In the hospital with grandson Maxson

On the 21st day of waiting, a committee got together at the medical center to work out how to get me an LVAD as a bridge to transplant. No sooner had they convened, someone came into their meeting and said, “We just found a heart for Skeeter.” All the doctors I had worked with came running down to my room. I thought, “What is going on? This looks bad.” Then one of them came forward and said, “We found you a heart.” We hugged; it was a joyous moment.


The average wait time for a heart is about four months.


That night, the anesthesiologist came in with two orderlies to wheel me to the operating room. I said, “Let’s go. I’ve been waiting for this.” They took me to the elevator, and wouldn’t you know it, the bed got stuck and they couldn’t get it out! They kept trying and trying until I said, “This is crazy. Y’all just stop right here.” I got up, no shoes, no socks, rear end flapping in the breeze, and I said, “This is my last walk with this old heart. Leave that bed right there. We have a heart to transplant.”

They followed me right to the operating room. The doctors in the operating room were speechless, and then they all burst out laughing. That’s the last thing I remember before the operation.

Skeeter Coleman HelpHOPELive

With niece Tricia

The operation lasted six hours. When they brought me out into the recovery room, the doctor noticed I was passing a lot of blood, more blood than he had anticipated. They took me right back into the operating room, opened me back up, found a leak, repaired it, stitched me up, and I was put on a ventilator in the recovery unit for three days.

When I woke up, I couldn’t really move or see because of the anesthesia. All I saw was white. I thought I was dead. Then I heard a voice and the voice said, “Daddy!” It was my daughter’s voice.

“I can’t see you,” I said.

My daughter said, “It’s okay. You’re doing okay. But the Cowboys lost.”

And I said, “That’s terrible. But I’m alive?

She said, “Yes, you’re alive.”

Skeeter Coleman HelpHOPELive

With daughter Kelly

Five hours later I came out of the anesthesia fully, and I was alive. It was just wonderful. All my doctors came back in and told me I was doing okay. I still had in my breathing tube. The next day, the doctor just reached over and ripped it right out and said, “Take a deep breath.” That was like a miracle. I could breathe again. It was the greatest feeling in the world.

My daughter walked into the room with a stethoscope. I don’t even know where she got that thing from. She said, “How would you like to listen to your new heart?” That was amazing, just sitting there listening to the new heart beat.


62,754 people have received heart transplants since 1988 thanks to organs from deceased donors.


Fundraising For A Heart Transplant

I stayed in the hospital for almost a month as they adjusted my meds and looked for signs of rejection. When I left the hospital, I was still getting blood drawn every week. I started a new medicine after a rejection scare that cost $1,000 out of pocket for one week’s supply–it wasn’t covered by medical insurance. That right there is why you need HelpHOPELive

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Skeeter stayed in the hospital for almost a month post-transplant

Today, I still have to return to the hospital every three weeks for heart biopsies and every two weeks for med adjustments and blood tests. That’s where HelpHOPELive donations have been incredibly helpful, for medications and doctor’s visit co-pays that are out of pocket, plus the cost of transportation. I go to cardiac therapy three days per week and physical therapy three days per week.

You never know from day to day what expenses you will get hit with. In therapy, for instance, they may recommend a special sling that isn’t covered by insurance, so you have to buy it outright. It costs $100. Then they say, well, you’re going to need this other special piece of equipment, too. That’s another out-of-pocket expense. These expenses can add up to the point that they eat you alive.

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Skeeter at the 10th biopsy of his new heart

Doctors may advise you to switch to different medications, or they may even double up on medications. Sometimes medical insurance only pays for a 30-day supply once a month, and they will not increase that to twice a month even if the doctors recommend it. Other times, you’ll get hit with a bill for something unexpected. I got a bill the other day for $38,675 for X-rays. You sit around and wait for answers, and you think, “How can I pay these bills? I can’t do it.” You just never know what’s coming. Insurance can’t pay for everything and neither can supplemental insurance. That’s why HelpHOPELive is important to me.

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“You just never know what’s coming,” said Skeeter, pictured with his old heart


According to data from 2012, 76.8% of heart recipients are still living five years post-transplant.


“I’m Glad They Kept Me Alive”

My advice to others is to stay positive and get rid of negative people. Concentrate on making other people aware of all of the good things that organ donation can do. I’ve got a positive attitude, and I try to stay busy fundraising, managing my finances and doing my exercises. I’m looking forward to figuring out how I can help people to be more aware of organ donation and what it means to be willing to donate their heart.

I woke up today. I can breathe. I can walk. I’m alive. I’m healthy. I have friends like all of you.

I’m glad they kept me alive. Life is good. Here I am, and I can see the sun shining.

With son Alan Coleman


HelpHOPELive, Donate Life Month, donate life, Touched By Transplant, transplants, kidney transplant, liver transplant, pancreas transplant, transplant costs, transplant medications, meds, paying for transplant

Follow our Blog to learn what happened when Skeeter met the wife and children of his heart donor!

The Emotional Impact Of Fundraising

Retired teacher Bob Wollenberg received a double lung transplant on February 19, 2016. During his 36 years as a public school teacher, drama director and coach in Boyne City, Michigan, Bob made a difference in the lives of countless children and young adults. When his family began fundraising with HelpHOPELive in December 2015, his community finally had the opportunity to give back to the man who had given them so much. Bob explains how accepting community support has impacted his life.

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“You were a guiding influence, and I thank you for that.” -Former Student


I always tried to treat my students as individuals, not just as another student in a class. Now, they are paying it forward to me.


“Thank you for your years of dedication to the community and to the children of Boyne City.” -Community Member


There is no way that my wife, Jackie, and I could have weathered the storm of bills without my friends and past students helping out. There are so many hidden costs that insurance doesn’t cover. I live in northern Michigan; driving down to Chicago to take part in a specific lung transplant program is crucial to help me maintain my health and secure a transplant. The mileage, gas and travel costs alone for those trips are a huge expense. My HelpHOPELive campaign is helping me pay for all of this!


“I am forever grateful to B.W. for inspiring me to become a more creative, confident and dynamic person.” -Former Student


My donors have helped both monetarily and emotionally–community support has become a huge part of my lung transplant journey. I have heard from so many past students. It’s incredible. Some of my HelpHOPELive contributors go all the way back to 1972 when I first started teaching and coaching. I keep thinking about the number of times I gave students lunch money because I knew they didn’t have any and would skip lunch without it. As much as I could, I helped. Now, those same students are “buying my lunch,” so to speak. We have helped each other.


“I have fantastic memories of my time as your student.” -Former Student


My online donation page helped me to communicate with all my donors. Reading guestbook comments on my HelpHOPELive page, especially comments from my former students, has been a heartwarming experience. You never really know how much you impact a student until years later when you hear from them. It just makes your teaching career worth it in every respect. Many friends and students wrote in and I was able to write updates on my page to respond to their comments. My HelpHOPELive campaign is clear, easy to use and just what I needed.


“This man changed my life and showed me parts of the world that I might never have seen without him. He gave us his all.” -Former Student


One of my top literature students from the past, who became a professional writer, sold a copy of “To Kill A Mockingbird” that he had signed and donated the money (to HelpHOPELive) in my honor. He said, “I owe my writing and love of literature to Mr. Wo.” How wonderful is that!


“You gave a small town girl a chance to experience culture and a safe place to be herself. This is the least I can do for you.” -Former Student


At first, I was reluctant to ask for help. I thought people would look down on me for asking. I was totally wrong. My community has been incredible. They have supported me in such a big way. When I was feeling uneasy about asking for help, someone in my community said to me, “If I needed help, would you help me in any way you could afford?” My answer was, “Of course.” I had not looked at it from his perspective until then. I absolutely suggest working with HelpHOPELive and getting in touch with people in your home community.


Bob and his family fundraise with HelpHOPELive for travel, relocation, co-pays, lab costs and other transplant-related expenses. Want to rally your own community to fundraise for your medical and related expenses? Start your own fundraising journey today.

Post-Transplant Expenses You Need To Know About

Jennifer Alley was born with myopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, a chronic rare disease. She received an intestinal transplant in 2004 with support from her husband and son.

Jennifer Alley HelpHOPELive


How has the transplant impacted your life?


I have been sick since birth. Before my transplant, I was always in and out of the hospital and I had three internal tubes: one to empty my stomach, one to empty my bladder and one that served as a permanent IV line in my chest to deliver total parenteral nutrition (TPN). My body is now free of those tubes! Before my transplant there was no chance of me having a baby, but thanks to my organ donor, I was able to give birth in 2008. To honor my donor, we gave our son my donor’s name, Steven, for a middle name.

Jennifer Alley HelpHOPELive

“We gave our son my donor’s name, Steven, for a middle name”

It’s important to realize that a transplant is an improvement, not a “poof, it’s gone!” cure. Transplant recipients are immunosuppressed, so I can get sick very easily. Even something like the flu is much worse and much more threatening to me than to others, so we are always asking family members if they are sick before we go to see them. There are also certain foods I still can’t eat.


Are there emotional adjustments?


A transplant has a big emotional impact. I still am in and out of the hospital at times and I still have to leave my home and go to the transplant center in Pittsburgh when things go wrong. That includes leaving my son at home with my parents when my husband and I go. I miss my son and family so much when I’m there. My dogs help me emotionally; they have since I was little. Not having a dog with me at Pitt is hard!


Were you prepared for the financial impact of your transplant?


We knew getting a transplant would be expensive and it certainly was. A small intestine transplant is one of the most expensive transplants out there. However, we were not prepared for the post-transplant care expenses. After transplant, you have ongoing expenses to keep your organ working. That has taken a financial toll on our family.

Jennifer Alley HelpHOPELive

“You have ongoing expenses to keep your organ working”


What are some of the post-transplant expenses that recipients must cover?


Some things you have to take into account are lodging, rent or mortgage payments while you relocate, meals, gas, airfare, and lab and biopsy expenses, which are ongoing, frequent and costly. Then there are co-pays for clinic trips and doctor visits. Medication co-pays can add up, especially early on when you are taking a lot of meds and the meds can change frequently. During every trip to Pittsburgh, there is a chance that we could need to be up there for weeks or months. And then there are some rare but very costly expenses that can come up, like a medical jet or helicopter ride if something is going very wrong and there isn’t time to take a commercial flight.


How do you combat high post-transplant expenses?


The costs are very extreme and unpredictable, so it is very important to fundraise. I will continue to fundraise for my care. Fundraising can help you cover medical expenses and get the care you need post-transplant.


Follow Jennifer’s story on her HelpHOPELive Campaign Page. Which post-transplant expenses has your family encountered? Reach out to @HelpHOPELiveOrg on Twitter and your story could be featured next!

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.”

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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.

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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.

 

A 77-Year-Old Donates A Kidney To Save His Son

On October 15, 2015, 77-year-old Bill Graham, Sr. became the oldest living kidney donor ever recorded at the University of Maryland Medical Center as he donated a kidney to his son and HelpHOPELive client, Andy. The transplant was a lifesaving gift for Andy, who had been fighting end-stage renal disease since 2013.

Andy is described as a “kind and generous man” by his mother, Mary Lou. He and his family were blindsided two years ago when he was diagnosed with acute renal failure despite exhibiting no symptoms or sign of the diagnosis. The unknown autoimmune disease that deteriorated Andy’s kidneys required him to receive dialysis three days each week.

Andy Graham dialysis HelpHOPELive

Andy received dialysis weekly

Andy became unable to officiate high school football games, a pre-diagnosis passion, and he could no longer maintain his fulltime job as an auto industry manager. Within 2 years, even climbing stairs or walking short distances became a major challenge. Andy needed a miracle –and that’s when his father stepped in.

Andy Graham Bill Graham HelpHOPELive

Andy with his donor Bill and his dog Angel

77-year-old Bill Graham, Sr. offered to donate a kidney to save his son’s life. To become a viable living donor, Bill lost a whopping 53 pounds at the request of Andy’s transplant team. “The doctors were truly amazed at his good health,” said Mary Lou. “He was so happy to be able to give his son the gift of a new life. Surgery was a complete success and the guys are on the road to recovery.”

Andy Bill Graham HelpHOPELive

Bill Sr. and Andy are in good health

In a letter, Mary Lou thanked their generous friends and family members, who helped the transplant take place through their donations. With both donor and recipient now in good health, Andy and his family will still face multiple expenses related to the transplant, including expensive immunosuppressant medications that he will need to take for the rest of his life. Andy and his family continue to fundraise with HelpHOPELive to help offset those uninsured expenses and cover any unanticipated expenses that may arise.

Learn more about Andy and his transplant journey on his HelpHOPELive Campaign Page.