Recipient Stories

Recipient Stories

Click on a photo to read the recipient's story:

 

Mary Louis Evan Walker Janna Levin Will Calhoun Julie Dey
Mary Louis Evan Walker Janna Levin Will Calhoun Julie Dey
Richard Pawling Hunter Johnston Chris Mitchell Barbara Boyer Michelle Bradley
Richard Pawling Hunter Johnston Chris Mitchell Barbara Boyer Michelle Bradley

 

Grateful for the Gift — Mary Louis (skin graft recipient)

Mary LouisEvan WalkerIt was an ordinary Friday afternoon when Mary, an energetic teacher in Houston, was wrapping up her workday. She straightened her room, erased the whiteboards, and then checked her email. To her surprise, she saw a stunning message from her physician: "The results from your biopsy are back and we are 80% sure that it is cancer," it read. The news was devastating. "What does this mean?"... "Are you sure this is my diagnosis?" she wondered. She spent the weekend in turmoil, thinking about what she had just read but unable to ask questions about her condition. None of this made sense. Mary runs marathons and practices yoga. She's vegan and eats a gluten-free diet. "It couldn't be me," she thought. Mary had always been a picture of health. In fact, cancer had never visited her family tree. Her life had been consumed with teaching students by day and by night. After years of saving, she was finally able to buy a cozy vacation home in the French countryside. How could cancer be touching her life, her body, especially now?!

The news became more devastating. Mary had triple negative breast cancer--the most aggressive type of breast cancer-- affecting mostly young, pre-menopausal minority women. Traditional treatments for this type of breast cancer are not effective. After visiting with an oncologist, Mary immediately began chemotherapy and subsequently chose to have bilateral mastectomy to avoid the possibility of cancer affecting the other breast. A few months later, she scheduled breast reconstruction surgery and decided to use donated skin graft for the procedure. Mary had learned from a cousin that using donated skin grafts was an option to improve the outcome of reconstruction and she believes her surgical results are excellent.

Gratitude is a word that comes to mind often to Mary. She's grateful for her new perspective on life, family, friends, and her donor gift that enabled Mary to feel whole again. "I've always been a donor. I registered a long time ago but feel honored to be part of the receiving end of this cycle of giving. I've always been a giver, but this has awakened me to a whole new level of gratitude for the generosity of such a gift". Today Mary enjoys running again, spending vacations at her countryside him in France, and speaking to small groups about her cancer journey.

Back in Full Swing — Evan Walker (bone graft recipient)

Evan WalkerEvan WalkerIn 2015, high school football tackle Evan suffered a season-ending broken collarbone.

Collar bone breaks often fuse back together without surgical intervention. Unfortunately, Evan’s injury required surgery with a plate, six screws, and donated bone grafts (DBX Putty) to heal properly. Six months after his surgery, Evan was literally back in full swing. He earned a spot on the varsity baseball team as pitcher and had a great season. Evan’s pitching arm is as strong and fast as ever and his golf swing is better than ever.

Looking ahead to college and hoping for a career in sports management, Evan takes with him his story of donation. Evan is an active donation ambassador for MTF and the local organ recovery program in his home state. His story touches the lives of people who are not aware of the success of bone donation after death. He inspires individuals to say “yes” to donation.

Evan sent a letter of gratitude to his donor family, thanking them for helping to restore him to health and mobility. Not a day goes by that Evan and his family say a silent thanks to their donor’s family. Evan’s Mom notes, “We are so thankful that Evan was able to have the tissue donation so that he could be a fully functioning 17-year-old boy and get back to the activities he loves, including sports, hanging out with his friends and volunteering at our church food pantry”. 

Judoka looks ahead to National Championship — Janna Levin (tendon graft recipient)

Janna LevinJanna LevinJanna Levin is a Judoka – a practitioner of the Japanese martial art of judo. Judo is a dynamic sport that demands both physical prowess and great mental discipline, and Janna has found it to be a great outlet. As a mother, wife, and teacher, she carries the principles of the sport from the practice mats into her everyday life. In 2015, with her sights set on placing at the National Championships, Janna suffered a significant knee injury, a severed anterior cruciate ligament and damage to the meniscus. Cruciate ligament tears often have serious implications, sometimes resulting in permanent damage to the knee. To give her the best chance at a full recovery her surgeon strongly suggested surgery using human donated tissue to replace the severed tendon. While she waited to have surgery, Janna maintained her strength with intense physical therapy. Immediately following her last class of the semester, she had her surgery.

Recovery from ligament tears is a lengthy process, taking several months. Fifteen weeks post-surgery, Janna was able to run on a treadmill and is back in the classroom, managing many long hours on her feet. Janna is slowly getting back to judo, and she is determined to compete at the Judo National Championships once again. Her young sons can’t wait until she can tolerate falls again, so they can practice throwing her on the mat during judo class. And Janna looks forward to spending time with them doing something they all love to do.

Janna was unaware that she would be able to thank her donor family until a hospital staff member gave her information about how to write to them. Janna wrote to them following her recovery. "This tissue will allow me the opportunity to enjoy being active with my family, maintain the level of exercise I'm used to, and make a bid at the National Championship in Judo next spring. With this donation, you have given my life back to me." Although she has always been a supporter of donation, she is grateful to be a recipient of this gift.

A man in motion — Will Calhoun (spine graft recipient)

Will CalhounWill CalhounWill Calhoun was a man in motion.   His life was all about activity. His job as a carpenter combined with his responsibilities as a busy parent, an active coach and church member, didn't leave him much time for sitting.  As a carpenter, he was used to lifting heavy objects every day and the aches and pains that come with the job. But this pain was different; it radiated from his neck into his left shoulder and down to his arm. He continued trying to work as usual, but a few months later, he began to feel numbness in his arms and shoulders, making lifting impossible. By the time Will finally saw a neurosurgeon, strength and sensation on his left side was almost gone and he was diagnosed with two herniated disks in his cervical spine. The evenings he spent passionately coaching special needs children in baseball and coaching a wrestling team would come to an end, as would the weekend fishing trips with his daughters. No longer able to work as a carpenter, the financial strains began to have an impact on his family. Surgery was the only option if he wanted to return to the life he once loved and to be able to care for his loved ones.

Will's surgeon inserted a donated human bone graft into the disc space to stabilize the cervical disc segment. Immediately following his surgery, the pain in his arm, neck and shoulders were gone. Within four months, he was back to doing carpentry work and soon after was back to coaching. Will later learned that the bone graft used in his surgery came from donated human tissue and that he could write to the family who donated this precious gift to him. In his letter to them, he expressed his gratitude for the blessings of the gift bestowed to him. "Your special gift and donation has allowed me to continue working and providing for my family, coaching, and enjoying precious weekends fishing with my daughters again. Something good came from the loss of this life, and I was the blessed beneficiary of this gift.”

Back in the Great Outdoors — Julie Dey (bone graft recipient)

Julie DeyJulie DeyJulie Dey promised her family a life filled with great outdoor adventures when they relocated to Utah.  Little did she know that one of those adventures would result in her own life-changing experience. On Memorial Day weekend in 2013, she crashed while riding her daughter’s dirt bike. The top of her tibia was crushed. Repairing it required a talented surgeon, a titanium plate, seven pins and donated human tissue.

“I was in pretty bad shape and the extent of my injuries was far greater than what we imagined.” Extensive physical therapy helped her learn how to walk again. Six months after her surgery, the donated bone implanted in her tibia had produced enough bone growth that her surgeon was able to complete additional surgery needed to repair her knee.

During her hospital stay, Julie received a packet from the hospital staff that provided information on writing to her donor family. “Not a day goes by that I am not filled with gratitude for this generous gift,” she wrote. “The donated tissue has really blessed my life.  It has allowed me to walk again. What a miracle.”

At the top of his game again — Ashley Augustin (tendon graft recipient)

Ashley AugustinAshley AugustinWhen Ashley injured his knee playing basketball, he worried that his days on the courts were numbered and running might be out of the question. Ashley’s fears were confirmed when his surgeon told him he had torn his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) again. When he injured his ACL the first time, his surgeon used a piece of Ashley’s own tendon to repair his torn ACL. But this time that was not possible. If Ashley wanted to continue with his level of activity, he needed to have surgery using donated human tissue. Ashley did not hesitate.

Nine weeks after surgery, Ashley was running short distances on the treadmill. By 13 weeks, he was running fully and has since won a 5K race in his age category. Four months after surgery, he was back on the courts again, shooting hoops and enjoying a game he loves dearly.

“This surgery has enabled me to get back to work, enjoy an active lifestyle, and play the sports that I love. Until this surgery, I had never given much thought to becoming a donor. The generous gift of the family who donated has motivated me to sign up to be a donor. I will always be grateful for the special gift I received.”

I Can Finally Walk Again — Karen Hanks (tendon graft recipient)

Karen HanksKaren HanksRiding horses was Karen’s delight. It gave her a chance to be outdoors and enjoy nature. But when a horseback riding accident left her with an injured knee and the need to use crutches to get around, she was determined to fight back.

“The accident not only hurt my knee but my confidence in what I could now do.” Complicating her recovery was the fact that Karen also had Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a progressive disease which can impact mobility, especially walking.

Treatments for her knee were limited due to MS. Without surgery she would be wheelchair bound. Her surgeon informed her that she would need a graft from human donated tissue since her own tendon could not be used. Several months after surgery, Karen was back at work running her own company and participating in life again. 

“While I can no longer ride my horses anymore, I am so grateful for the very simple things in life like getting out of bed and spending time with my family. Although MS has made this a bit more challenging, I can finally walk again,” Karen said. “This tissue transplant has allowed me to put my knee back together and thus, my life.  Without it, I would not have walked. I will always be grateful for the donor’s family decision which is changing my life in so many ways.”

Skin donation makes difference for burn victim — Richard Pawling (skin graft recipient)

Richard PawlingRichard PawlingOn June 24, 2006, 16 year-old Richard Pawling and his sister were riding their dirt bikes when they suddenly collided. “I don’t even remember what happened. All I know is that somehow we crashed and my gas tank exploded,” said Richard.

Both Richard and his sister were burned, however, Richard’s injuries were more serious. Richard had third degree burns over approximately 65% of his body. He was in the hospital for 95 days, and required 26 different surgeries. He also required skin grafts to heal. “Very early in my healing process I received donated skin. My doctor told me what it was and where it came from. I’m very grateful for it.”

Today, Richard is married with two children. He has completed college and has his own taxidermy business. “I’ve learned from this ordeal. Donation is a very good thing and tissue is very much needed for patients like me.”

Back on her feet — Hunter Johnston (osteochondral graft recipient)

Hunter JohnstonHunter JohnstonHunter Johnston was an active high school senior when a serious car accident dramatically changed her life. This vibrant eighteen year old suffered a head injury, a contused lung, bilateral hip dislocation and multiple fractures to her face, fingers, pelvis, sacrum, and ankles. Many surgeries later, she was found herself wheelchair bound facing intense physical therapy. Physical therapy got her back on her feet but only with crutches as her left leg could really not handle any weight bearing activity.

Five months later, Hunter underwent another surgical procedure to her left hip that determined she needed to have the head of her femur replaced. The only replacement option for her damaged femur was an osteochondral allograft. An osteochondral allograft is used in a grafting technique indicated in patients with articular cartilage damage to help restore the normal functioning of the joint. After waiting for about three months, Hunter received the call she had been anxiously anticipating...a donor graft had been found.  According to her surgeon, the “graft fit like a glove."

Only six weeks following her surgery, Hunter was walking again! Today, Hunter is working full-time at a job that requires her to stand on her feet for over eight hours per day. “Since the accident, I have changed to become a donor for both organs and tissue because without people to provide the donations, I wouldn’t be where I am today," she said.

Three transplants later he is biking and snowboarding — Chris Mitchell (tendon graft recipient)

Chris MitchellChris MitchellIt was the beautiful scenic landscape and challenging terrain that drew Chris Mitchell to Utah’s invigorating outdoor activities. Extreme sports like snowboarding and mountain biking are the activities he loves doing the most. Unfortunately, along with the thrill of extreme sports, knee and shoulder injuries are common and Chris has had more than his share. But donated tissue has helped Chris come back from surgery for the repair of both his left ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and his shoulder.

Two and a half months after his last surgery, Chris was back on his bike riding about 3000 miles over the next year and snowboarding 83 days. Although he has tempered his level of activity to avoid additional injury, he is thrilled to be back enjoying the sports he loves.

“I’ve had three transplants which have allowed me to continue to participate and do the things I love doing. I registered to be a donor decades ago, but I never expected to benefit from donated tissue. My tissue transplant experience has brought this close to home, bringing everything full circle to me. It gave me a new lease on life; allowing me to participate in the sports and activities that I love. Receiving a tissue transplant is a much more intimate connection for me since this gift is implanted inside of me. I had a chance to write to my donor’s family, thanking them for their generous gift. I am forever grateful to the network that exists which allowed me to heal including donors & their families, the staff recovering the tissue, surgeons and hospital staff who cared for me.”

In the saddle again — Barbara Boyer (bone graft recipient)

Barbara BoyerBarbara BoyerA retired schoolteacher, Barbara loves open spaces, mountains, and outdoor adventures.  But spending time with her horses is her greatest passion. After two horseback injuries exacerbated her back pains, an MRI revealed that she needed back surgery. Her surgeon, a horseman himself, reassured her that she was going to ride horses again and suggested using donated human tissue for her surgery.

Six months later, Barbara was on her way to recovery. For the first time in her life, she finally experienced complete relief of back pain. With the help of her local equine therapeutic center and robust physical therapy, she is riding her horses again. “This tissue transplant has enabled me to live life to the fullest - everyday. I love being able to stride again and not walk with mincing steps for fear of pain. My motto is ‘just keep moving’. I am not only riding my horses again but I can now travel once more.”

Barbara has written to her donor family to thank them for being a part of her recovery. She is now a registered donor and is planning to donate her body to research so that medical knowledge about arthritis and other conditions can be advanced through her donation.

“A donor’s gift returned my active lifestyle” — Michelle Bradley (tendon graft recipient)

Michelle BradleyMichelle BradleyDuring a challenging day at the gym, competitive Outrigger canoe paddler Michelle Bradley dropped from the monkey bars, and landed wrong, rupturing the ACL tendon in her knee. The injury grounded her in more ways than she could imagine. A married mother of two, Michelle had been paddling since she was 11 years old, treasuring the ocean around her home state of Hawaii and voyaging from island to island with her teammates. It would be almost a year before she could participate again. During long endurance races, teams have to change out paddlers mid-race which involves an escort boat dropping replacement paddlers in the ocean to line up ready to climb in the outrigger canoe as it passes at relatively high speed. These water exchanges can occur at intervals of 20 to 30 minutes. Strong legs are imperative.

Michelle had to wait about a month for her tendon replacement surgery, and recovery was another 9 months before she was cleared for everything. Receiving a posterior tibialis tendon from a donor has her back in the water, back in the gym doing Crossfit, and enjoying her family and her job teaching Science to middle school and high school students. She is currently training for a long endurance race from Molokai to Oahu.

During her recovery, Michelle wrote to her donor family to thank them. “Your loved one’s tendon is truly a gift to me that will allow me to return to my very active lifestyle in Hawaii. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about the amazing things doctors can do, and the overwhelming generous gift your family gave to me. Mahalo, Michelle.”