The launch of the Just Say Mo Foundation is officially in the works! I apologize while my website is under construction, please stay tuned for updates and the launch of my non-profit, Just Say Mo Foundation!
The launch of the Just Say Mo Foundation is officially in the works! I apologize while my website is under construction, please stay tuned for updates and the launch of my non-profit, Just Say Mo Foundation!
This upcoming May 3rd, 2018 I will be celebrating my sixth transplant anniversary. Six years already, it is so hard to believe! It seems just like yesterday I was laying in my hospital bed at Yale New-Haven Hospital hooked up to various tubes and wires struggling to open eyes but hearing the words of excitement being shouted at me from my mother, “You had a transplant! Mo, you had your liver transplant!”
My entire life I had grown-up playing sports, I was an athlete, I was seemingly very healthy, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. Now it’s 2012, I am still more or less a kid at age 26, and I was being admitted to Yale New-Haven Hospital on April 29th, 2012 to the transplant center for acute liver failure. I had just recently spend 16 trying days in the hospital at Greenville Memorial in Greenville, SC until I left most of their medical team stumped with my diagnosis and prognosis–Autoimmune Hepatitis? Factor V Leiden? Budd Chiari? What does she have, what is wrong with her. We’re not 100% sure but we know her liver is failure, and she needs a transplant, and she needs it fast.
I was transplanted up north, to Connecticut, the state I hail from, to be closer to my loving extended family and to attend one of the most well-know and sought after transplant hospitals in the country, Yale-New Haven Transplant Center. I’d been at Yale for only several days, and I remembered my extended family by my side, visiting, coloring pictures and hanging them around the hospital room to brighten up the atmosphere. While we all tried to stay positive, my medical team was performing tests, biopsies, more tests, waiting, sleeping, more waiting, more sleeping. And then one day I woke-up…with tubes in my mouth.
“You had a transplant! Mo, you had your liver transplant!” screamed by mom. What? What happened? I had my liver transplant, ALREADY?! This words present in my thoughts, not being able to actually speak them on my own as I was hooked up to a ventilator. I signaled with my hands for pen and paper and the first things I scribbled to my mother were, “You’re a liar. I did not have a transplant.” I was in complete disbelief.
Then I remembered. I remembered getting to go up to use the bathroom. I had been calling for a nurse but no one was near. Even though I was instructed to stay in bed, I’m as stubborn as they come, I truly felt like I could make it to the bathroom on my own. I mean common, on any given day making a 10 foot trek to the rest room wouldn’t seem like such a feat. I didn’t take into consideration that my liver was is in failure and I was nearly 75 lbs overweight from edema, my body full of unwelcomed fluid expanding by the second. On top of this, I was unaware that my liver had accidentally been “nicked” during my liver biopsy causing internal bleeding. At that moment the last thing I recall was my vision tilting to the left and having no control of my body to support myself as I felt myself falling and as I hit the ground I heard “CODE BLUE! CODE BLUE!” being shouted as my eyes closed. Not another sound could be heard until days later when I awoke and heard, “You had a transplant! Mo you had a liver transplant!”
That was May 3rd, 2012. Not even three weeks after my life-saving liver transplant, I had brain surgery. My first brain surgery. A week later I had my second brain surgery, the third life-saving procedure done in a matter of five short weeks. The infection happened within days of my transplant. Aspergillosis, which is essentially an airborne fungus, found its way into my weak transplanted body through my respiratory system, moved its way into my blood stream, and from there, the infection made a home in the left occipital lobe of my brain. The form of this infection, Invasive Aspergillus, is an extremely rare and life-threatening fungal infection with a devastating mortality rate, reaching nearly a 100%, for transplant and immunosuppressed patients. With those kind of odds, and my body and immune system not nearly ready to take on such a challenge so soon after my transplant, there seemed like there was not much hope for my survival.
Despite the extreme odds against my survival, no one in my inner circle acted like the end of the road was so near for me. My family pumped me up with encouragement, love, and support, my doctors and surgeons, Dr. Rodriguez, Dr. Schilsky, Dr. Matouk and their respected medical teams at Yale, were willing to do whatever it took within in their power to remove that infection safely from my brain. And then there were my friends, the most amazing friends in the world, who visited in person or who were situated hundreds of miles away, let me know through texts, phone calls, cards, gift baskets, virtual hugs and prayers that they were with me 100% of the way. People I had never met were reaching out to me sending their prayers. With this kind of backing from every corner, there is no way I wasn’t going down without a fight, WE weren’t going down without a fight.
As I lay unconscious, hooked up to all sorts of tubes and wires to keep oxygen pumping into my lungs and my heart beating, I somehow remember hearing my Aunt Caryn’s voice. She was by my bedside, holding my hand, telling me that it’s not over, and that I was going to have to fight harder than I’ve ever fought before but that she was going to be right by my side the entire way. At that moment, as I lay still, my eyes closed, my aunt felt a faint hand squeeze acknowledging that her words were heard and I was on-board for the fight.
As you read this blog post, you know I survived. I will spare you the details of the recovery process and the amount of time and pain-staking effort, and therapy (physical, occupational, speech, psycho, vision, & driving therapy) to get back on my feet, literally and metaphorically.
After seeing Dr. Shulman at EyeCare Associates in Norwalk, a year of Vision Therapy with April Banores, and Driver Rehabilitation with Howie at Kneplar Driving School, I was cleared to drive again. My drive didn’t stop there though. I got it into my head that I wanted to pursue my life-long dream of being a professional golfer. I heard a lot of, “One thing at a time Mo,” “You’re doing great, don’t try to do too much too soon,” things of that nature. But if I had learned one thing from my survival and this new lease on life, it was that the time is NOW. Inside me, in my body, was a liver that didn’t belong to me and it was my duty from here on out to make my life something worth living and to make them proud. So right then and there I started gathering information on how to become a golf professional. Fast-forward a few years down the road and here I am now, an LPGA Class A Golf Professional, US Kids Golf Certified, working on my Level II PGA Certification. I left my job at Tamarack Country Club in Greenwich, to follow my heart and the warmer temperatures back down to the south to Raleigh, NC to continue my career at TPC Wakefield Plantation, part of the McConnell Golf network where I am currently employed as an Assistant Golf Professional.
It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life of work and emails and forget about the bigger picture, and I am the first one to fall into that trap. Writing this blog post has reminded me that life is about gratitude, and being grateful for each and every day–grateful for your health, your family, your friends, and all of the wonderful people you have in your corner. I am grateful to not only have one chance at life, but to be blessed with a second opportunity to live it and to live it right. This opportunity would not have been possible without my family, my medical team, my friends, God, or my anonymous donor, who I owe each and every day to.
Being a registered donor isn’t just a yes or no decision, it is a decision to save people’s lives, and I am forever grateful for my anonymous donor in making the decision to save lives. Without him/her and their decision to be a registered donor, I wouldn’t be a golf pro, I wouldn’t raising awareness about organ/tissue donation, I just wouldn’t be alive. This charity golf tournament I am putting together is for my donor, it is for his/her family, and because of their decision to be an organ donor, my life was saved, and now I can go on to help and raise money and awareness to save many more lives like my own.
“I oddly didn’t see my diagnosis as a misfortune, rather, I saw it as an opportunity — an opportunity to change my life, an opportunity to regain my purpose, and an opportunity to impact the lives of others.” ~Mo Gesualdi
Hello friends, family, and followers,
My blog posts have been far and few between over these last couple of years, but today I would like to share a featured piece in the “Sugar & Strength” blog which highlights overcoming my liver transplant and brain surgeries back in 2012. Thank you to Annie Lake for this blog, and please check out her blog “Sugar & Strength!”
Click here to read the blog: http://www.sugarandstrength.com/?p=423
Last night I received some very exciting news: After submitting all observations, passing my practical & written exams, and submitting & passing on my 43-page paper, I have officially passed Level III of LPGA Teaching & Club Pro certification and have obtained my Class A status!
This is so much more than an email or a piece of paper to me; less than 5 years ago I was fighting hard for my life, and then the odds are nearly 99.9% against you, it would have just been easier to give up. After successfully surviving a last-minute liver transplant followed by two life-saving brain surgeries, the road to recovery was the highest mountain I have ever had to climb, but at least the opportunity to have a second chance at life was available thanks to my Uncle’s wife, Cindy who got me connected to Dr. Manuel Rodriguez Davalos at Yale-New Haven Transplant Center. The tranplant would have not been possible without the amazing help from Dr. R, Dr. Schilsky, the Yale Transplant staff, and my supportive family.
My transplant followed with two years of of a variety of much needed therapies that included physical, occupational, speech, visual & psychotherapy, multiple times per week and transplant and infectious disease check-ups every few months until I finally had the health, strength, and doctor’s approval to get back to working.
The next obstacle would be, well how do you get to and from work every day when your half-blind out of each of your eyes resulting in no peripheral vision to the right and not permitted to drive? You seek out a highly recommended behavioral ophthalmologist named Randy Schulman (thanks Kristine Loo for the referral). You attend weekly visual therapy sessions from one of the best, April Banores Barna, do all of your visually therapy exercises every night, and say a lot of prayers that some of your vision comes back. When you get word that some of your vision has improved, you feel another miracle has happened! Has enough perioheral vision returned? Is it possibly enough to see a driver rehab specialist? You reach out to your Uncle’s wife Cindy who recommended Howard J. Knepler and Knepler driving school and see if your eligible for driver rehabilitation. When you are, and you pass driver rehab, and driving again is no longer an impossibility, rather driving again becomes another accomplished goal despite the improbable odds against success, you become the happiest person alive!
With the rate I was going, NOTHING seemed too out of reach for me, rather everything just required vision (no pun intended ;), determination,persistence, and patience. This is when I decided I was going to take this opportunity to pursue a career that I regretfully never pursued post-college. I gave up on it before I ever began it, and here was my perfect chance to have a go at it. Since the age of 11 I always wanted and thought I was going to become a Golf Pro, but now the decision was made, my mind my committed, just tell me how to get there.
Some four-and-a-half years post transplant and brain surgeries, two years post driving, and two years working towards my LPGA certification, here I am, a Class A Member! I may have reached the top of this mountain, but there are many more mountains which I am determined to climb, the next being a PGA Class A member. Thank you for any and all who have helped me get to where I am today, I couldn’t have done anything alone. Your encouragement and support has been the vital fuel when my tank seemed empty. I am so grateful for all life has blessed me with, my family and friends, my health, and now my Class A LPGA! When life blesses me with a chance to play golf with my favorite celebrity of all-time, Justin Timberlake via the Ellen Show, that will just be the cherry on top! (Just throwing that out that since I’ve had a pretty success rate with the Gods so far!; ) Until the next mountain to climb…
I had a great time volunteering this past weekend with The First Tee of North Florida for a Girls Day Out day! It’s so great to see so many young girls taking an interest in the game! The First Tee and Girls Golf are doing such a great job of growing the game! ⛳🏌💪
Dearest Just Say Mo supporters,
Thank you so very much for participating in the Liver Life Walk to raise funds and awareness for the American Liver Foundation again this year. On behalf of myself, a former liver disease patient, and the 30 million people who are currently living with liver disease, thank you for your support. There are over 100 types of liver disease that can affect men, women and children of all ages, so your support has contributed greatly in efforts to research, educate, and find ways to cure the disease.
It seemed like such a wonderful day! It means the world to me that you ladies went, wore my t-shirts, and represented Team Just Say Mo at the walk in my absence. I wish I could have been there, but with you ladies going it made me so incredibly happy! This year we raised a whooping $4,655 for the ALF, that is by far the most we’ve ever raised in the four times we’ve supported the walk!! Thank you to all of those that have supported me and my team over the years, I will never be able to thank you enough!
Girls to the Tee Draws Record Number of Participants Girls to the Tee Draws Record Number of Participants
I had the privilege to volunteer at “Girls to the Tee,” an event which drew over 110 young female participants to Westchester Country Club. I was in awe of the number of girls present from all different ages ranging from the early elementary level to late high school. It was such an honor and pleasure to be actively assisting so many willing and eager youngsters. I greatly enjoyed being a part of this great event and look forward to any future opportunities that I can help grow the game, especially if it gets more girls to the tee! 😃
Here’s a short article that was published on page 12 of the December 2014 issue of the MET Golfer EXTRA.
A special thanks to Chris Powers at the MET Golfer and Ted Schechter for getting me in touch with the MET PGA.
All of my medical friends will probably find this article interesting–
If you didn’t know already, I’m one of less than a handful of known survivors world-wide to overcome Invasive Aspergillus while on transplant immunosuppression medication. Due to the severe shortage of patients to survive this infection, my transplant doctor and and my transplant surgeon, Dr. Schilsky and Dr. Manuel Rodriguez Davalos, wrote an article that was recently published in the American Journal of Transplantation to assist other doctors and medical staff better understand the complications, risk factors, and symptoms of transplant patients. This article will hopefully facilitate transplant doctors to recognize abnormal symptoms of post-transplant patients so they can make a timely and educated diagnostic evaluation and possibly save more patient’s lives affected by Invasive Aspergillus. Thank you to Dr. Rodriguez, Dr. Schilsky, and the medical staff at Yale-New Haven hospital for everything they have done to save my life 🙂
#AmericanJournalofTransplantation #Transplant #Liver #Hemianopsia #Aspergillus #Yale #YNHH #OrganTransplant #LiverTransplant
Dearest family, friends, and supporters,
Here is the full four-minute story that aired on the 7 o’clock news on WFSB Channel 3 this evening. Thank you to John Holt for putting together an amazing story! I also want to say thank you to all of my family, friends, and supporters who have been there for me through every up-and-down over the years, as well as a very special thank you to my anonymous organ donor who has given me a second go at life. This new life has given a whole new appreciation for what life really is about and reinvigorated my drive to live a life of purpose and ultimate meaning. I had long been searching for a “passion” that would bring a sense of fulfillment to my life, and it wasn’t until my organ donation until I truly knew what I was supposed to be doing with my life. Now I am certain that no matter what I am doing, where I am doing it, or who I am with, that I will be raising awareness about the life-saving benefits about organ/tissue donation with a piece of my donor guiding me every step of the way. Thank you all again, and I hope you enjoy the video!
P.S. Maybe we get this hands of The Ellen DeGeneres Show so I can accomplish my next mission of spreading awareness about organ/tissue donation on her show! Thank you for all of your help and support in helping me reach this goal that I am determined to accomplish!
By: Jason Sonski, Danbury News Times 5/10/14
(The original publication of this article and all 20 photographs can be found in the Sports Section of the Danbury NewsTime’s website on Saturday 5/10/14 www.newstimes.com)
DANBURY — For many, running a 5k road race in early May provides an occasion to get outside and enjoy a chance to accomplish a physical fitness goal.
For 28-year-old Danbury resident Monique Gesualdi, lining up to start the first LifeChoice Blue & Green 5k in North Windsor on May 3 was just another affirmation that she is alive and kicking.
She finished the race that was organized to help raise awareness about the need for more registered organ donors in 27 minutes and 49 seconds.
The woman with a big smile and even bigger sense of humor has come too far since May 3, 2012, to let anything stop her from appreciating all the fun, little things life has to offer. And most importantly, the chance to take the time to enjoy all of them.
She may have been born on July 8, 1985, but she now readily admits that she has two birthdays to celebrate.
Two years to the day before the LifeChoice race, Gesualdi underwent a liver transplant at Yale-New Haven Hospital. She had been diagnosed with stage 4 liver cirrhosis two months earlier, but after her liver was accidentally “nicked” during a biopsy, doctors told her family members that she needed a transplant within 24 hours.
“The odds were so against her,” said Dana Ventrella, her aunt. “I will never forget getting
the calls from the doctor saying they had lost her pulse four times in three hours.”
Unlike so many other people suffering in need of a new organ, Gesualdi was matched with an anonymous donor in time for a life-saving liver transplant.
“It was a miracle,” Gesualdi calmly said in late April while sipping a coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Danbury. “I’m so lucky and know how I’ve been given another chance.”
Gesualdi, however, was far from out of the woods as immediate complications arose from the surgery. A fungal infection in her brain called cerebral Aspergillus fumigatus threatened her life afterward. Family members were told only a handful had survived the infection, which has nearly a 100
percent mortality rate.
Two life-saving craniotomies later, just weeks after her transplant, and Gesualdi was still fighting strong from her hospital bed.
“It seemed every time I woke up, they told me I just had another surgery,” Gesualdi said with a sly smile. “It was getting crazy.”
SHARING HER STORY
The road to recovery was a long battle, but one Gesualdi had to embrace with open arms with strong support from her family and friends.
“She was so very strong over a very rough course,” said Dr. Manuel I. Rodriguez, who performed the liver transplant. “Everything is driven by her and she has so much inner strength. My partners and I want to share her story with her to all of the transplant community.”
The doctors were unable to determine the exact cause of her initial liver problems, but it wasn’t from what is the first thing that comes to mind for most people — alcoholism.
“That’s like the `bat’ signal when people hear my story,” Gesualdi said.
Gesualdi’s desire now is to share her story with the world and also to get back to what she enjoyed doing most for many hours of her young life — playing golf. She earned a full athletic scholarship to play at Division I Furman University in Greenville, S.C, and recently became a part-time volunteer instructor as part of Richter Park’s The First Tee youth golf program.
After bouncing around between different jobs after graduating from Furman, Gesualdi was planning on moving back to Florida to take a job in real estate and get her golf teaching certificate before she became ill.
“I think it’s the most challenging sport,” said Gesualdi, who started playing when she was 10 years old. “I love being outdoors. I have always loved sports, but I got hooked on golf.”
Gesualdi wants to share that passion for golf with the young members of the Richter Park program.
“It’s great working with the kids,” said Gesualdi, who will be at Richter three days a week. “They were hilarious the first day. Basically my job right now it to make sure they don’t hit each other in the head with the clubs.”
Gesualdi’s love affair with golf began as a 10-year-old after she moved from Danbury to Kitty Hawk, N.C., with her mother, Nancy Ashe, her stepfather, Ed Ashe, and sister Desiree. The family bought a house right next to Ducks Woods Country Club.
Gesualdi’s mother, Nancy Ashe, signed up for lessons with former golf pro Tommy Wine at Duck Woods and he noticed something special in Gesualdi.
Gesualdi also was able to taste winning early as she won the first tournament she played held in Pinehurst, N.C.
Her mother began looking for better opportunities for Gesualdi’s golf future, and the family moved to St. Augustine, Fla., when Gesualdi was 14 years old. She went on to star at Nease High and earned the Florida Times-Union’s 2002 All-First Coast Girls Golf Player of the Year honors. She was even named “Female Athlete of the Decade” for girls golf for 2000-2010 by the St. Augustine Record.
“By high school, I was hard-core into golf,” Gesualdi said “I went after school part-time to a golf academy. I just wanted to keep playing.”
She ended up getting seven full scholarship offers and was close to choosing Wake Forest until she was swayed by a friend to attend Furman and play under legendary coach Mic Potter.
CAN’T WAIT TO DRIVE
After spending 71 total days in hospitals in Greenville, S.C., and New Haven, playing golf again was a long swing away for Gesualdi. She had to learn to walk again and do all the little things every person takes for granted.
“I had two ladies that were going to help me walk at first,” Gesualdi said. “I looked at them like they were crazy. I had been an athlete all my life. I knew how to walk. But that first step felt like a 100-pound cinder block.”
Gesualdi learned quickly it would be one step at a time to recovery.
“I set a goal on a dry eraseboard every day,” said Gesualdi, who lost 60 pounds in three weeks during one stretch of her recovery. “I would try to do a lap around the ICU, for example, and if I did it, I would mark it off. I had a lot of digestive problems, too, so everything was hard.”
Luckily, Gesualdi’s large family was there to help her recover, including her aunts Caryn Swenson and Ventrella, along with a long line of grandparents, cousins and friends.
“It’s amazing,” Gesualdi said. “They told my family I probably wouldn’t be able to drive or speak or walk. So everything they told me I can’t do, I’m doing and doing it well. It kind of shows that what the doctors tell you, take it with a grain of salt. You can really do anything you set your mind to.”
After battling problems with her peripheral vision, Gesualdi is now taking driving lessons and is close to getting her license. It’s taking many hours of therapy with Dr. Schulman in Norwalk, but getting her driver’s license is a big goal for Gesualdi.
“I can’t wait,” Gesualdi said. “I want to be able to drive myself and have that freedom again. My family says I’m stubborn, but that’s OK.”
SHARING HER PURPOSE
Gesualdi is most stubborn now about getting the word out as far and as loud as possible regarding the importance of organ donation. She is a volunteer ambassador for Donate Life Connecticut, a member of Toastmasters International and COPE (Community Outreach for Purpose and Empowerment).
The lady who since her surgeries has run seven 5k races since and has broken 80 on the golf course several times wants nothing more than to get her message out to everybody about organ donation. She has her own website (www.justsaymo.org) which chronicles her story and all the benefits of organ donation.
“I just want to get people to know how important it is to be a donor,” Gesualdi said. “You can even do it online. If you go to donatelife.net, you can do it all right there. You can save so many lives. “
More than 120,000 men, women and children are awaiting organ transplants to save their lives, according to Donate Life America. Gesualdi, meanwhile, hopes to become a golf instructor and continue her work as a motivational speaker.
Her next athletic challenge will come July 11-15 in Houston, Texas, when she competes in the Transplant Games of America. She will be representing the Transplant Team of Connecticut in golf, a 5K road race and two other sporting events. The team is still raising money to attend the Games, and donations can be made by visiting the team’s website at www.transplantteamofconnecticut.org.
Every step forward is a win for Gesualdi now and she is thrilled to share what she describes as her “purpose” in life.
“I oddly didn’t see my diagnosis as a misfortune, rather, I saw it as an opportunity — an opportunity to change my life, an opportunity to regain my purpose, and an opportunity to impact the lives of others,” Gesualdi wrote in a recent blog post.
In only two years, Gesualdi has proven that nothing can stop her from enjoying life — a fact anybody will be able to see when she is driving by on the road.
“You were born with the ability to change someone’s life. Don’t ever waste it.” ~Unknown
April is Donate Life Awareness Month, so for the month of April I will be raising awareness and sharing stories about organ donation and how it has saved my life, and the lives of millions of others.
On May 3, 2012, I received my life-saving liver transplant from an anonymous donor, forever changing my life. I am not only beyond grateful for this second chance at life, but I am also thrilled at the opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives by inspiring others to become registered organ donors.
Since my liver transplant, which occurred two-years ago (this May 3rd), I have run in five 5Ks and broken 80 several times on the golf course. I’ve gone to see Justin Timberlake, Bon Jovi, Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, and FL/GA Line perform live. I had the honor of meeting Mr. Shark Tank, Mark Cuban, at my best friend’s wedding to NHL Dallas Super “Star” Mike Modano. I have also proudly been the American Liver Foundation’s Liver Life Champion in which I have given several public speeches about my story and also filmed a Public Service Announcement in efforts to raise awareness about the life-saving benefits of registering to be an organ/tissue/blood donor.
This summer, I will be competing nationally in my first Transplant Games of America, against other transplant recipients and donors in golf, 5K, and two other sporting events of my choice! Also this summer, my childhood dreams will finally come true when I get to see Justin Timberlake perform live at the Mohegan Sun Arena, in Uncasville, CT 🙂
None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for an anonymous donor who decided one day to check “yes,” yes, I will be a registered organ donor. That is it, one simple, effortless “yes” which at the time meant probably nothing to him/her, but that one little “yes” has allowed me to do all of the great things that I have mentioned above.
Growing up, I was very determined, hard-working, and had a relentless passion to succeed. The drive I innately had as a youngster began to fade and transform into uncertainty and doubt mid-way through my collegiate career. After I graduated from college, I felt very lost in direction and in purpose. My purpose in life was nothing but unclear, habitually wreaking havoc within my soul. Somewhere along the round I had fallen into a repetitive routine of nothingness. “What am I doing with my life?” I wasn’t pursuing my dreams, and I was not engaging or a part of anything that felt fulfilling and made the heart and core of myself smile. Maybe perhaps it was no coincidence that I became fatally ill, because honestly, my soul had felt dead for years.
In March of 2012 I diagnosed with stage-4 Liver Cirrhosis, with the initial diagnosis due to Budd Chiari and Factor V Leiden. I oddly didn’t see my diagnosis as a misfortune, rather, I saw it as an opportunity–an opportunity to change my life, an opportunity to regain my purpose, and an opportunity to impact the lives of others. My illness resparked my drive and passion to succeed; it lit a fire under my inner competitor, and my inner competitor perceived my illness as a challenge. This wasn’t your routine challenge though, I was facing undoubtedly one of the toughest and most fierce competitors l have ever had to face: I was up against death.
During my liver biopsy at Yale, my liver was accidentally “nicked” which caused unnoticed internally bleeding until one evening on the way to the bathroom, I just collapsed. “Code Blue! Code Blue!” I could faintly hear as my eyes shut. Several episodes of cardiac arrest ensued with the likelihood that my last days were behind me if a liver match was not found in the next 24 hours. With the National Average wait-time for a liver match being 361 days, it seemed like I was going to need a miracle to survive. You may not believe in miracles, but You might want to start.
Within 24-hours of my death-defying experience, my medical team at Yale-New Haven started prepping me for liver transplant–word had gotten out there was a potential matching donor for me. The stars aligned in my favor, and on May 3, 2012, I was a recipient of a last-minute, life-saving liver transplant from an anonymous organ donor.
While it was amazing when I had finally awoken from the anesthesia to find out that I had a liver transplant, I did not have much time to be grateful before complications from the transplant unfolded. A fungal infection, known as invasive aspergillosis, had manifested within my respiratory system, travelled into my bloodstream, up to my brain, and manifested into a serious and highly fatal infection. My body was too weak from surgery and immunosuppressive medication to battle the infection at its infancy stages like a “normal” person’s immune system would have, and so it aggressively started to cause destruction in the occipital lobe of my brain.
Invasive aspergillosis in immunosuppressed patients has a an extremely high mortality rate, approaching near 100%. Despite these odds, my medical team worked very hard at keeping me alive. I underwent two extremely risky brain surgeries combined with intensive six-seven hours of invasive anti-fungal treatment every night for several months.
Whether the brain surgeries and anti-fungal treatment would save my life was a question that even the top medical surgeons in the country at Yale didn’t know the answer to. All we could do was give it our best shot, pray for a miracle, and sit back and see how my destiny would unfold.
According to medical statistics and previous transplant patients who have acquired invasive aspergillosis in their brain, it is utterly unjustifiable as to why I am alive today. While the statistics and my doctors may not be able to explain why or how I became so ill, so quickly, or even how or why I have survived these several life-threatening illnesses and surgeries all back-to-back-to-back in such a short time, all I do know for certain is that I am thankful. Thankful for my family, thankful for my friends, and most importantly thankful for my donor, their family, and their generous donation. The whys and hows of my survival really don’t matter; what matters is that I am alive, I am doing fantastic, and I am ready to change the lives of others.
My story of survival is one that I believe all throughout the world need to hear. I am living-proof of the life-saving benefits of organ donation. Because my anonymous donor was registered as an organ/tissue donor, his/her selfless act saved my life along with saving or enhancing the lives of 14 others on that third day of May. Currently, 18 people die each day because there is a shortage of registered donors on the list. Eighteen people every day, thousands each year, could be saved and have a second chance like I did, if we all checked “Yes, I want to become a registered organ donor.” One organ donor can save up to eight lives and enhance the lives of up to 50 people! A swift check of “yes” is all it takes to saves lives and be a hero to someone and someone’s loved ones.
You might be supportive of organ donation, but are you a registered donor? As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today.” Don’t wait, donate.
For more information about organ donation and becoming a registered donor, please visit these websites:
Watch my video and see exactly how organ donation has saved my life “The MOtivational MOvie” which shows my two-year journey of having a life-saving liver transplant, brain surgeries, and my life as a survivor.
As you may already know, it is my dream to get on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and raise awareness about organ/tissue donation. I have made a short-movie called the “MOtivational MOvie” about my journey of overcoming a life-saving liver transplant and a fatal fungal infection in my brain that I acquired post-transplant (which has nearly a 100% mortality rate in transplant patients).
Organ Donation Month happens to be right around the corner during the month of April, so there is no better time to share this video than now : ) Please help me share “The MOtivational MOvie” so it can get into the hands of Ellen, and also raise awareness about the power of organ donation! Thank you so much for your support and helping me make my dreams come true!
Dearest friends, family, and supporters,
I am overwhelmed with gratitude and excitement to announce that I will be participating in the Transplant Games of America in Houston, TX, July 11-15! I will be representing the Transplant Team of Connecticut in the Golf, 5K and two other sporting events of my choice! This life-saving organ donation has given me an opportunity to lead a life with meaning and purpose, honor those affected by transplants, and inspire others to save lives through the generosity of organ donation.
Participating in the Transplant Games just two years after my miraculous transplant and brain surgeries is a dream come true! I am so excited at this amazing opportunity to travel, meet fellow transplant recipients and donors, and get back to my athletic roots! In order to make this dream become a reality, I need some serious help fundraising. This year it will cost an estimated $50,000 to send the Transplant Team of Connecticut to the games. In order to afford this, I will be setting up a personal donation page to raise a goal of $2,500 for my participation.
If you are interested in donating so I can compete at the Transplant Games of America, please visit my GOFundMe page at http://www.gofundme.com/JustSayMo
The Transplant Team of Connecticut, Inc. is a tax-deductible, 501c(3) non-profit organization. Personal checks can be mailed to: PO Box 1073 SMS, Fairfield, CT 06825 with the memo: “In support of Monique Gesualdi.” (Tax ID#08-0778187).
Thank you so much for your continued support and I CAN NOT wait to make you proud at the Transplant Games in July!