How Organ Donation Has Saved My Life

April is Donate Life Month!

 

“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.

Mark Cuban came up to me and said, "Hi Mo. Mark Cuban.  Mike has told me so much about you..." at my best friend Allison Micheletti's wedding in Dallas, TX in September of 2013.

Mark Cuban came up to me and said, “Hi Mo. Mark Cuban. Mike has told me so much about you…” at my best friend Allison Micheletti’s wedding in Dallas, TX in September of 2013.

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 ūüôā

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.

On May 3, 2012 I had my life-saving liver transplant from an anonymous organ donor.

On May 3, 2012 I had my life-saving liver transplant from an anonymous organ donor.

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.

After the second brain surgery at Yale to remove a fatal fungal I acquired in my brain as a result of a weak immune system post-transplant.

After the second brain surgery at Yale to remove a fatal fungal I acquired in my brain as a result of a weak immune system post-transplant.

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.

Before my liver transplant and brain surgeries in May/June of 2012.

Top: Before my liver transplant in May 2012.  Bottom: April 2013, a bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding, and Sept 2013, cutting the ribbon to kick-off the 2013 the American Liver Foundation’s Liver Life Walk in Stamford, CT.

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:

UNOS-United Network for Organ Sharing  www.unos.org

Donate Life America-www.donatelife.net

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.

 

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I Am Grateful; I Am Not Satisfied

Don’t worry this isn’t a dictionary lesson.

Grateful:  a) feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful b) expressing gratitude Satisfy: a) to make happy, to please; b) to gratify to the full; appease

Overall, the last two months have been, for the most part, pretty busy and entertaining for me. ¬†After the holidays were over and January rolled around, I went to St. Augustine, FL to visit my mom, step-father, and to surprise my little sister for her 25th birthday for about a week. ¬†While I was there, my grandparents came to visit, and then I rode with them back to their winter home in Fort Meyers and stayed an additional week. ¬†The following weekend after returning from Florida, I went up to Boston for a short weekend to spend time with a few of my friends from college who live decently close to each other. ¬†The weekend after that I went to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT and saw Bon Jovi put on a 2-hour kick-ass live show…for free! ¬†I can definitely agree that January and most of February were rather eventful months for me. ¬†The last few weeks, on the other hand, have been more on the dull and uninteresting side. ¬†I am not complaining, just stating facts.

I’ve been basically¬†confined to the house with¬†sporadic modes of transportation available to me here-and-there (depending on my family member’s schedules’), and it has begun to start to put me a little-bit “on edge”. ¬†I absolutely believe I do a great job of finding ways to entertain myself and keep my mind busy. ¬†I am also rather¬†physically¬†active, circumstances considered, which keeps me entertained frequently.¬† Still, it is unfortunately starting to wear away at me a bit;¬†not having my independence that is.

I have noticed I have been getting very frustrated. ¬†Frustrated that I can’t drive. ¬†Frustrated that when I need to go somewhere that I need to find a ride. ¬†Frustrated that I usually can’t be alone when I’m shopping, or alone at all sometimes. ¬†Frustrated by all of the brotherly teenage bickering and yelling and farting. ¬†My only “escape” is the room I stay in, but it is still not fully excluded from everything considering it is household public-access to the mini-office, work-out, and playroom.

This blog is not about me bitching up a fit. ¬†This blog is about me realizing and sharing the true difference between what being grateful and being satisfied is. ¬†Yes, I am frustrated that I cannot drive, but I am extremely grateful that I have enough of my vision field to still do many things. ¬†Yes, I get frustrated always having to depend on a ride, but I am grateful that I have family that is willing and kind enough to drive me around. ¬†Yes, I get very annoyed when the boys are loud and fighting, and when there never seems to be a moment of “fresh, clean air” while either of them are in the room if ya know what I mean, but, still, I am grateful to have them as my “brothers”. ¬†Yes, I am frustrated that I used to live¬†independently and now I feel like I am somewhat re-living my early teenage years, but I am grateful that my family has allowed me to be a part of their home, grateful to call them my family, and above all, I am grateful to be alive.

Today in the shower, as my mind was racing, “What is wrong with me? ¬†What is your problem Mo? ¬†Why are you on such a short-fuse so much lately? ¬†C’mon get it together Mo.”¬†¬†I kept thinking and asking myself questions, and thinking some more. ¬†I came to the conclusion that¬†I am grateful¬†for everything and everyone in my life, but¬†I am not satisfied¬†with my life and that there is a difference.

Well, what is the difference between being grateful of your life and being satisfied with it?  The difference, for me at least, is I am so very appreciative of my life and that I have been given a second chance to make it satisfactory and fulfilling, but I am currently not fully satisfied with it.  Yes I am alive, but I want to be living; not trapped.

Not being able to drive does restrict my freedom and independence more than I would have ever thought, but I have been making-due. ¬†The problem is I don’t want to “make-due.” ¬†That has never been a mind-set of mine, and I don’t want to be content with “making-due.” ¬†Ever.

I dream of being on my own, having a career, living in my own house, driving my own car, etc. ¬†Not that I want to be alone all-of-the-time, I just dream to simply have my independence back. ¬†I’m 27 and I live with my aunt, uncle, and cousins and the closest thing to my old “Mo-bile” now is riding shot-gun in my grandma’s Toyota Camry…with my grandma. ¬†The luxury of “leaving and going as you please” doesn’t seem like a luxury until you have it suddenly snatched away from your feet. ¬†I know “independence” is what I want, but how do I get it? ¬†I went to the mall the other day and I didn’t see anything on sale for “Independence.”¬†Purchase now and your first 3 months are free!” ¬†Haha, I wish.

So, since “independence” isn’t for sale, how am I going I take my dreams and put them into an active game plan? ¬†This can be tricky for my particular situation, because some of my goals are somewhat dependent on my medical progress, doctor‚Äôs diagnoses, etc. ¬†My goals aren’t like, “I want to lose 10 lbs.” or “I want to run a 5K.” ¬†While some of my goals are indeed like those, the ones I am talking about now are much different, such as, “I want to be able to see” and “I want to be able to drive”. ¬†The only control I really have with goals like these is to just continue keeping-up with all of my doctor’s appointments, medications, staying healthy, and thinking positive. ¬†After that, I am not sure if there is anything else I can do, but just patiently wait.

I often wonder what other people would do and how they would react if they were in my shoes.  The reason I wonder, is because I am constantly in conflict with myself, and always looking for more, and I wonder is that normal or not?  Then I question should I be satisfied with how things are?  Is it bad that I am still not yet satisfied with my life?  With all said and done, I did get a liver.  I survived two serious brain infections.  I am healthy.  I am alive.  I have wonderful friends and family.  Is it selfish of me, that I want more for my life than just being grateful and awake each day?  I want to be satisfied.

I would be satisfied if I was living every moment to the absolute fullest I could each day. ¬†I know that isn’t possible due to time and monetary restraints, but this doesn’t stop me from trying. ¬†I will steadily plug away each day at my goals until I get to where I want to be. ¬†The problem is, I am never completely satisfied with where I am at, and I always want more.¬†¬†Mo, always wants mo’–I am always trying to out-do myself in whatever it is I do. ¬†I am my own worst enemy, and whether that is a good or a bad thing, I have yet to determine.

In one way, I believe it is a great thing, because I’m always trying to work harder, to make things better than they were before. ¬†Settling is not in my vocabulary-for anything, or anybody. ¬†On the other hand, sometimes I think I’m ready to do things, but my body is not, I push anyway, and I end up setting myself back a tiny-bit further from where I began. ¬†It is vicious cycle of balancing, and that is something I have gotten much better at, yet still have plenty of room for improvement.

The truth of it all is I really don’t know what will make me truly satisfied? ¬†Will I ever be able to get to a point where I can say, “That’s it? ¬†I am here and this is the best life can possibly be.” ¬†Who knows? ¬†But ya know what? ¬†That is okay because it keeps me continuously working hard at my goals. ¬†When I’m working hard at my goals, trying until I can’t try any more, that is the one thing that I do find satisfactory in my life. That feeling that I’ve done everything I could possibly do, leaving no room for excuses. ¬†It is a hard feeling to get to, especially with me since I am never satisfied ; )

“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.”
~Andrew Carnegie, American Industrialist & Philanthropist 

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” ~unknown

 

Livin’ on a Prayer

In the hospital after my second brain surgery in (June 2012) vs. (January 2013) living it up--visiting familyat the beach in St. Augustine, FL

In the hospital at Yale after my second brain surgery in (June 2012) vs. (January 2013) livin’ it up–visiting family at the beach in St. Augustine, FL

Well, I haven’t posted a blog in awhile, but in one way that is a good thing for me. ¬†It is good because I have been very busy this past month, and the way things are looking, I am going to be pretty busy for a while it seems. I am the kind of person I have do something all of the time; keep moving, keep going. ¬†If there is nothing for me to do, I find something to occupy my time. ¬†When I am home alone, with no mode of transportation, I discover and create ways to keep myself busy. ¬†I put effort into making each moment productive, in a way that can help me better myself physically and/or mentally.

Recently, I have been a huge fan of the work-outs provided on “On Demand” and I will do 2-5 of those workouts throughout the day (depending on how short/long they are). ¬†Killer Core is one of my favorites right now. ¬†I tried out one of the cardio dances, and let’s just say I will probably not be letting anyone see how ridiculous I must look doing that one! ¬†I’ve also been building a website for my aunt’s new organization that we are in the midst of establishing (I can’t divulge much about that now but stayed tuned!). My aunt is very excited about the organization and her big plans, and I am very excited to be her right-hand (wo)man and utilize my writing and computer skills. ¬†We both¬†foresee very big things coming, and I am anxious to see how things pan-out.

The holidays are always a busy time for everyone, but through the holidays and shortly after I had several friends come to visit me, I went on a day-trip to Massachusetts for my cousin’s¬†cheerleading¬†competition, and then I spent two weeks in Florida visiting some of my family. ¬†Just like that, January came, and now it is just about gone. ¬†It was a great month, but I also have so much to look forward to and keep me busy in the next few months. ¬†A productive Mo is a happy Mo.

Four of my really good friends, (whom I’ve met in college at Furman), all currently live within a rather short distance of Boston (just a few hours from me), so we are having a re-union this weekend in Boston, which I am also very excited for! ¬†Besides my family, there is not one thing I love more in the world than my friends. ¬†Those whom I consider my closest friends, I will have their back no matter what, and I hope they would do the same for me. ¬†One of the best characteristics I consider of myself and my fellow Italian family is loyalty. ¬†So if I deem you to be in the “MO-fia” as I call it, you’ll always be in good hands; but if you’re not, better start saying your prayers ; )

Speaking of prayers, the following week after traveling to Boston, I have ¬†Bon Jovi and Taylor Swift concerts to look forward to. ¬†I can’t wait to be Livin’ on a Prayer at Bon Jovi, TSwiftski is one of favorites. ¬†We have a CD my aunt plays in the car, and when Livin’ on a Prayer comes on we crank the music up and we sing that song as loud (and it’s horrible) as we can. ¬†My aunt has told me that when she hears it she thinks of me, and Yale, and how I was “livin’ on a prayer”.

Besides the concerts, I will be doing some travelling, and during which I will get to spend a couple of visits back in Greenville, SC (where I was living when I got ill). ¬†While many of my close friends are dispersed around the country, some of my closet friends still reside in Greenville, so I am thrilled to be able to go and see them. ¬†These won’t be your normal visits; ¬†we’re talking one of my best friend’s bachellorette parties in Charleston, and her wedding in Greenville, SC this spring with a group of us who haven’t all been together in the same place, at the same time, since probably college….I am already anticipating stomach pain from laughing so hard. ¬†I can’t wait to be singing karaoke, and fist pumping, and “livin’ on a prayer” with some of my best friends. ¬†Those are some of the best times I’ve had.

When I get excited about things that are going to happen, I often times begin reflecting on the good ole’ times, and can’t wait to have new good times. ¬†One of our favorite karaoke songs, and probably one of the most popular of all-time is of course, Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. ¬†Arguably, you could say I was; “livin’ on a prayer,” this past year. ¬†I often times find myself thinking a lot, about all sort of things. ¬†Why am I alive? Why are they dead? ¬†What if I did this instead of that? ¬†How can I make this gluten-free recipe delicious? How many days until Justin Timberlake’s new CD comes out? ¬†How is the Cowboy’s defense going to be next year? ¬†Why did so-and-so say that to me? ¬†How am I going to afford health insurance when my Cobra expires?–there is no telling what is going through my head at any given moment. ¬†Things that I question, I try to research and educate myself and by making myself some-what more knowledgeable on the subject. ¬†I usually just end-up attaining a lot of useless facts, and being left with a ton of unanswered questions.

For instance, how did I get a life-saving liver transplant on the very last day I needed one when just one day later I would be dead? ¬†How did I survive not one-but TWO brain surgeries for invasive aspergillosis which has a 80-90% mortality rate? ¬†How could my body endured three MAJOR surgeries with-in a five week span? ¬†How was I able to run the mile in 10:39 last month when I couldn’t even walk in May? ¬†The strangest part is, every negative thing thrown in my way this past spring/summer, not only did I come out alive, but I came out swinging! ¬†I know¬†I strive to work hard to be the best that I can be in everything I do, but that certainly has it’s limitations. ¬†Just like I have my “MO-fia,” there is someone, something, somewhere that has my back. ¬†I am very grateful for what must be some-sort of divine intervention, which I like to think of as my guardian angels, and I don’t think I have just one.

I can’t explain the answer to these questions I asked above with a mathematical equation, or a scientific law. ¬†I also can’t explain it with a religion necessarily either. What I choose to explain it with is a lot of love and a frame-of-mind; a mind-set that is unwilling to compromise, unwilling to lose. I consider myself a believer-I believe in my family, I believe in my friends, I believe in my guardian angels looking over me, and most importantly I believe in myself. ¬†I work hard at my goals, because I believe I can achieve them.¬†I am here now, alive and making great strides, and for that, everyday, I give thanks for everyone’s belief in me, my amazing medical team, my mental and physical strength, my family and friend’s love and support all combined into one big positive force that propelled me to push with all of my might through the numerous, death-defying obstacles in my way. ¬†I have gotten knocked down many times, but when I have gotten up, I only stood taller and stronger. ¬†I lost my pulse four different times, and I am still here, doing better than ever. ¬†I don’t believe there is anything or anybody out there that can knock me down, and keep me down, and whether that is true or not, it doesn’t matter because it is what I believe. ¬†Someone can try, but good-luck with that, you will have the “MO-fia” after you, and I’ll be too busy “livin’ on a prayer”. ¬†: D

“We’ve got to hold on, ready or not.
You live for the fight when it’s all that you’ve got.
Wooaaa, we’re halfway there. Wooaaa livin’ on a prayer.
Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear. Livin’ on a prayer.”