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Touched by Transplant: Organ Donation Allows You to Leave a Unique Legacy

Patrick McEntee is waiting for a lifesaving heart transplant and is fundraising for transplant-related expenses via the Help Hope Live Great Lakes Heart Transplant Fund. Pat is one of four winners of our 2017 Touched by Transplant “New Life” Contest in honor of April’s Donate Life Month.

Touched by Transplant 2017 Help Hope Live


“In 2003, I began a new career as a high school religion teacher. I was paired with a mentor to help me adjust and learn: Bill Westerman, who, some years earlier, went from selling insurance to teaching the Catholic faith to high school students.

From the beginning, I was inspired by Bill, his passion for teaching, and his faith in God. Little by little, I came to know Bill’s story. In addition to having survived polio as a child, he also survived a heart transplant a few years prior to my meeting with him. His life was not without complications, but he continued to give every ounce of fight he had in him to remain a teacher and remind students, at the end of every class, “Don’t be stupid. And always remember: Mr. Westerman loves you.”

I have been a registered organ donor since I got my driver’s license at 16, but my reasoning for it has evolved in the 26 years since. At first, I simply registered because it seemed like the right thing to do. When I met Bill, my views on the subject of organ, eye, and tissue donation changed drastically.

Pat McEntee

Pat’s reasoning for being an organ donor “changed drastically” after meeting Bill

Bill was a tremendous inspiration and example to me. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I would never have met him if it weren’t for the selfless act of another who chose to be an organ donor. Bill took that person’s selfless gift very seriously. He lived every day to prove that his donor’s gift was being appreciated. He wanted to be a good steward of the gift of life.

I started to see the impact one person could have. Bill is one of just eight people who could have been saved by a single donor. Imagine the other stories that could be shared that are only possible because of one person’s choice!

Bill’s donor, and all organ donors, found a unique way to leave a great legacy, a legacy that would last much longer than their earthly lives. That donor didn’t just impact Bill; he impacted Bill’s family, friends, and people who had yet to BECOME Bill’s family and friends, including his future grandchildren.

Bill taught me a lot about being an effective teacher, but he taught me much more about life and being grateful for the gift of extra time on Earth given through the generosity of a stranger. Often in my life, I recognize God’s presence after the fact. Though I never expected to venture down the same road (as Bill), congenital heart conditions led to me being listed for transplant and receiving an implanted left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

June 5 is Pat’s 1,000th day on the transplant waiting list

Today is my 1,000th day on the heart transplant waiting list. Fortunately, I have the important lessons taught to me by my friend, Bill. I am so grateful for the last two and a half years, which would not have been possible without my LVAD. I have tried to make as much of a positive impact as possible with the extra time that I have been given, a lesson I learned from Bill. Volunteering in my community, particularly with organizations that promote organ, eye, and tissue donation, has given me the opportunity to share my story and to hear the stories of so many others who have been touched by transplant.

Today, both Bill and his donor are gone from this world, but their impact is still being felt many years later. They have left a legacy that not many can claim.

My donor is out there somewhere. I pray for my donor often, though I have no idea who he or she is. I ask all those who pray for me while I wait to pray for my donor too. Without a doubt, the hardest part of the transplant process is knowing that someone will have to die for me to have a chance at a longer and healthier life.

I remind myself that my donor is giving me a gift, and my gratitude for that gift will be shown in the way I use it to make a positive impact on the world. That’s the way Bill did it, and because he did, his organ donor adds a second generation to the impact of his legacy.”


Touched by Transplant 2017 Help Hope LiveThank you, Pat, for your reflections. If this story has impacted your perspective, read more of his story or sign his Guestbook at: https://helphopelive.org/campaign/8748

 

Transplant Caregiving “Is Not My Calling, But It Is What I Do”

In October 2013, Douglas Petrie complained to his doctor about shortness of breath. A lung specialist diagnosed him with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). By September of the following year, a lung infection had propelled Doug onto the lung transplant waiting list. This is Doug’s transplant story, as told by his wife and caregiver Carol Petrie.


Doug got his transplant August 16, 2015. As I drove home at 2 a.m. after the operation and seeing Doug in the ICU, I thought, “Doug has been born again. He has a new life. He can breathe.” This is the first time I have written about our adventure.

Douglas Petrie HelpHOPELive

Doug, left, was “born again” after transplant, says wife Carol

I have likened our transplant experience to a pregnancy. We were on call, with a bag packed, and Doug was on the list for nine months. Wherever we went, we had to travel with Doug’s supplies just in case.

When Doug was first diagnosed, he was told, “Don’t worry–you have the slow-moving kind of IPF.” What we didn’t know was that even a cold could cause his health to deteriorate quickly. We had to learn that everything was a “big deal.” Even though I had done a little research on the Internet, I did not know which questions to ask. We are very grateful for the medical professionals who helped us because we were out of our depth.

We could see Doug’s health go downhill. We kept liquid oxygen in the house for him to use. When he had a doctor’s appointment, we always had to make sure we packed enough oxygen. Going anywhere became a production. We learned to adapt and manage Doug’s time so we wouldn’t miss any big occasions.

Douglas Petrie HelpHOPELive

Carol “could see Doug’s health go downhill” pre-transplant

Doug got a bill from the hospital for $572,000 about four months after the transplant. I was told the whole package would be about $1 million. There are constant doctor visits to pay for. While Doug took two medications prior to his IPF diagnosis, after transplant and for the rest of his life, he’ll be taking over 15 pills per day. He can’t even skip one day; these pills keep him alive.

Doug’s insurance helps to reimburse us for mileage, tolls, some meals and some lodging up to a year after transplant. We have not been able to qualify for help from Medicaid like some organ transplants do.

HelpHOPELive has been a big help to us. The bills from the pharmacy go straight to HelpHOPELive for payment so we don’t have to cover the cost up front. The staff at HelpHOPELive is helpful and knowledgeable and has advised me on which fundraising ideas work better than others.

Douglas Petrie HelpHOPELive

Carol added Doug’s HelpHOPELive page to her email signature to reach new contributors

A doctor friend of ours sent out letters to his colleagues informing them of Doug’s condition and asking for donations, and they raised more money than any one big fundraiser would have. I’m working on an idea for a large annual event that would pay for Doug’s medicines for a year.

Doug says he had to learn to breathe again after the transplant. With a few precautions, he should be able to do almost anything. It’s been a year since his lung transplant and we are forever grateful to the donor and family, and to all of the folks at Tampa General Hospital and HelpHOPELive.

Douglas Petrie HelpHOPELive

Doug “should be able to do almost anything” post-transplant

This has been my third time serving as a caregiver. I took care of my parents before they died. I have never been interested in medicine or taking care of the ill, so taking care of someone this time around is surreal. This is not my calling, but it is what I do for a loved one.

There are decisions I had to make for the family when I first took on this role. I had to tell Doug he had to stop driving until after the transplant. I had to make sure I had all the contact numbers for doctors and the hospital. It was my job to tell the doctors how Doug was progressing. I had to make sure Doug did not do too much. It was frustrating for him when he would become tired and he would not be able to do little things like carry dishes from the table to the kitchen. I had to learn [to identify] when he reached this level and help him calm down.

You need others to help when you are a caregiver. Our son, Chase, and a young family friend helped out. It is good to have someone on call who can drive for you. After transplant, Doug had to see the doctor once a week for 8 weeks. The doctor was an hour away and the drive became tiresome for us.

Douglas Petrie HelpHOPELive

“You need others to help when you are a caregiver.”

Since the transplant, I’m more of a manager and I’m less hands-on. Doug takes his own vital statistics daily, checks his lung capacity and logs the information to take to monthly clinic visits. I just make sure it gets done.

We have tried through this journey to keep our sense of humor and that has been a big help. We have also had a strong prayer support system. I have tried to carve out time for myself away from the house, whether it’s a movie, lunch with a friend or a haircut.

Doug and I have a deep faith and that has kept us grounded. I look at Isaiah 43:1-3, a passage that includes two of my favorite words from scripture: “fear not.” I claimed this scripture for our family and have gone back to it time after time, praying it back to God.

Our neighbors and friends have helped with contributions and checking in on me and our son. I have a group email list for family, friends and contributors and I have a group text for family to keep everyone up to date. Between that, posting on Facebook and calling our church, I can have several hundred people praying for Doug in a very short period of time. This has been a source of hope and assurance for us.

I would advise other transplant families to keep their sense of humor and laugh lots. Doug recommends to other transplant families that they should do everything medical professionals tell them to do, no more and no less.

Don’t try to do more because you’ll tire yourself out. Be sure the doctors order home health support for you including a physical therapist. Don’t be afraid of filling up your pill box. Don’t be afraid of calling your post-transplant coordinator with questions. Don’t be worried about raising money – HelpHOPELive will help you.


Learn more about life after transplant by checking in with Doug and his family at helphopelive.org. Want to learn more about transplant preparations, costs and fundraising options? Find more transplant stories like this one.  

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.