Growing up, I never put much thought into organ donation. I was fortunate enough to not have anyone in my family who needed an organ or tissue transplant and didn’t lose anyone close to me who may have been a donor until I was much older. When I turned 16 and started driving – my very own 1986 Chrysler New Yorker none-the-less – I made the decision to become an organ donor myself, but still didn’t put too much thought into it. I knew I would always help someone, if given the chance, and I knew I wouldn’t need my organs if I wouldn’t be around to use them; so I registered to be an organ donor, but I didn’t feel a particular connection to the cause.
Not long after meeting my husband in 2002, I learned that his father was battling a rare kind of kidney disease that would eventually claim his life. My then future father-in-law received a kidney transplant in 1997, after many years of suffering, but never recovered as his doctors and family had hoped. His body eventually rejected the new kidney and he passed away in 2003, two years before my husband and I got engaged. My in-laws do not often speak of his illness and treatment as it brings back painful memories of the hope that for them was destroyed when his body rejected the transplant. When they do talk about it, it is disheartening to hear of the grief they faced when it was certain the transplant was unsuccessful.
Contrary to what my new family chose for very personal and incontestable reasons, I remained an organ, eye and tissue donor. As a family, we never really discuss organ donation, but respect one other’s decisions wholeheartedly. Still, my slim view of what it meant to be a transplant recipient was dreary and not foremost in my thoughts.
Not surprisingly, I was shocked yet thrilled when Lifeline of Ohio, an independent, non-profit organization servicing 37 counties in Ohio and two counties in West Virginia by promoting and coordinating the donation of human organs and tissue for transplantation, asked me to run the Dash for Donation 5K. Lifeline of Ohio’s ongoing mission is to educate and empower central and southeastern Ohioans about organ and tissue donation while also facilitating the donation process.
Lifeline of Ohio saves and enhances lives by realizing every opportunity for donation among those they serve and the Dash is just one of the many community events that they have organized to promote awareness regarding organ, tissue and eye donation in our community. Already in it’s 12th year, the run/walk is designed to promote the “Gift of Life” and to encourage Ohioans to sign-up in the Ohio Donor Registry. Every day 18 men, women, and children die while waiting for an organ transplant. And every 10 minutes another person is added to the national waiting list for organ donation.
The race was on June 9th and included a 5K Run/Walk, 1K Family Fun Walk, and Kids and Mascots Dash featuring Lifeline’s own mascot to encourage everyone to “bee” a donor.
Of course, I was excited to run and happy to support what I believed to be a worthwhile cause, but it still wasn’t personal for me. It was then that Rachel linked me with one of the 120 registered race teams called “Power to Save Lives,” which was led by one of their volunteers, Bobbi.
|“Sea of Green”|
I showed up early on Saturday morning, eager to find out more about Bobbi and why she chose to volunteer at Lifeline of Ohio. I immediately found myself engulfed in a “Sea of Green,” comprised of individuals who had been touched by organ donation and transplantation, all wearing green race t-shirts. It was pretty emotional to see all of the people who have been impacted by organ donation in Central Ohio alone.
I also visited the Donor Remembrance Wall where families are given the opportunity to create a poster or sign to commemorate their loved one’s gift of organ or tissue donation. It was placed perfectly right next to the Start/Finish Line. I was already misty-eyed when Rachel introduced me to Bobbi.
|Donor Remembrance Wall|
I didn’t quite know what to say when Rachel left me alone with Bobbi and her 14-year-old daughter, Veronica. Knowing how private my husband’s family remained about organ donation, I felt that I was prying when I asked Bobbi how Lifeline of Ohio had impacted her life.
She unwaveringly told me that she was a heart recipient. A heart recipient. My own heart immediately skipped a beat as I thought, “What could have possibly happened that this young woman needed a whole new heart?”
|Bobbi with her husband, Gene, Gavin and Veronica|
Bobbi told me all of her life, she thought she had asthma and struggled with endurance, even though she tried to exercise and lead a healthy life to improve her stamina. She was active throughout her life, but stated that she was frequently tired and unable to do everyday activities, such as going up the stairs, with ease. In 2001, Bobbi passed out at work one day and doctors discovered that she had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. By the age of only 20, she already had the heart of a 70-year-old. Her condition could not be treated with medication and Bobbi, believing it was “mind over matter,” continued to live a somewhat normal life raising her daughter and working full-time as single mother.
Bobbi, however, never got well and eventually even her desk job became too much for her. On December 26, 2003, she joined thousands of others on the transplant waiting list.
Bobbie recalls the moment when her life was changed forever. “I was so lucky that just a few short months later I got the call that would change my life: a heart was available for me. At the time I thought, isn’t there someone who needs this heart more? I thought that maybe I could make it a little longer and let someone else live. But my doctors assured me that this heart was meant for me and I needed it right away.”
On February 17, 2004 Bobbi had a heart transplant.
“It was amazing how good I felt after receiving my new heart. My worst days now are so much better than my best days before my transplant – all thanks to my donor. I feel so grateful for this second chance. Words can’t express how I feel so I am trying to live my life in a way to make my donor proud.”
Since her transplant, Bobbi says she feels like there’s nothing she can’t do. She’s back to working full time and even welcomed her son, Gavin, into the world in 2008. If it weren’t for someone who said “yes” to donation, Bobbi believes she wouldn’t be here today and neither would Gavin. Veronica recalls seeing her mother after her surgery and – at only 11-years-old – thinking she would lose her mother. Bobbi’s transplant and gift of life has brought her family closer together and they treasure each day as a gift. And all because someone else chose to give the gift of life. Bobbi still struggles with the idea that someone else’s loved one passed and she now lives, but she has found knowledge and strength in classes and resources offered to her and other recipients at Lifeline of Ohio. She has reached out to the donor family to show her gratitude, but has not communicated directly with them.
|Read more about Bobbi and her family HERE.|
And, in addition to all of these things, Bobbie is a runner. She has run three half marathons and enjoys occasional 5K’s, including the Dash for Donation, with her husband and children. Even three-year-old Gavin was running on Saturday!
|Gavin stretching before the race.|
I lined up for the start of the race with a new commitment in mind: I was running this race for Bobbi and all of the other people that had been touched by organ donation.
|Amy of the Lucky 13’s and Me before the start of the race.|
This race started out slow, which as you know, is exactly what I needed! I’ve started all of my 5K’s way too fast this summer. Amy and I kept the pace for the first two miles. We dodged a lot of walkers, getting into our groove, and it was inspiring to see all of the families and teams spreading out like a green tidal wave before us. This race was perfect for families and walkers and not one that we were trying to PR – we were enjoying every moment!
Over 3,200 runners and walkers participated in this event – the largest Dash to date. In the sea of people, I actually passed Bobbie, Veronica and Gavin shortly after the start and cheered wildly for them. It was pretty special for me to see them on the course.
Mile 2 was mostly uphill and it was hot. Very hot. I was out of breath, thirsty and dizzy (not good) by the time we reached the top of the hill. I had to slow to a walk for a few feet until we reached the water station where they passed out cold water and sports drinks. It was refreshing and just what I needed to carry me through to the end. The heat was blistering on the blacktop and I took it slow on the way in alternating between running and walking. It was like a mini-tour of Columbus and I actually enjoyed the course. There is something exciting about running on city streets on a Saturday morning when people come out to cheer and traffic stalls to let the runners pass.
Amy pulled out ahead of me, but I kept her in my sight for the rest of the race. As I was coming into the home-stretch, a lady was standing on the side of the road yelling, “Thank you! Thank you! You all are saving lives today – you are heroes!” I wondered what story she had to tell.
I finished in 42:19 – my official time. And that is actually my best 5K time of this summer so I’m really happy with the results. But, even more importantly, I am happy that I got to meet Bobbi and feel like I was part of her journey for just a moment. It’s not something I will ever forget.
Bobbi has changed my view of organ and tissue donation and transplantation dramatically. I now know that there is hope for people who need a transplant and I know there are others who have given and still others who will give the gift of life to those who are waiting to receive it. And I know that it can work.
Currently, there are 3,186 waiting people waiting for a heart transplant in the U.S. and 89,246 waiting for a kidney transplant.
In 2010 alone, 28,662 lives were saved as a result of organ and tissue donation in the U.S. And 6,566 lives were lost while waiting for a transplant. There are 500 people waiting for a second chance at life in Ohio right now. Last year, 303 Ohioans were organ donors at the time of their death, helping 901 individuals receive a second chance at life through transplantation.
Bobbi got a second chance at life – I hope maybe someday I too can help someone like her and until then, I will run the Dash for Donation every year to show my support for Bobbi and others like her whose lives have been forever changed by the gift of life.
Until the next mile marker,
A very special Thank You to Lifeline of Ohio, Rachel Lewis, Bobbi Shaffer, Bobbi’s family and the entire “Power to Save Lives” Team for granting me the opportunity to participate in this remarkable event as well as to increase awareness about organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Many thanks!