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 🙂

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.

 

Lessons Learned in the ICU

As you may already know, I belong to the internationally recognized club, Toastmasters. From speech #4, “How to Say It’, here is my fifth speech, “Lessons Learned in the ICU” given on February 5, 2013.  For more info on our club, please go tohttp://www.westconntoastmasters.org.

“The greatest wealth is health.”  ~Virgil, Ancient Roman Poet

Good evening Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and honored guests.

As many of you already know, in May of 2012 I was fatally ill; I spent a total of 71 days in the hospital or ICU.  I survived a life-saving liver transplant, and two life-saving brain surgeries to remove a fatal fungal infection in my brain, called invasive aspergillosis.  While spending as much time in the ICU as I did is not something that I wish upon anybody, I did learn three very valuable life lessons from my experiences in the ICU that I’d like to share with you tonight.

The first lesson I learned in the ICU, is that you might not always be able to change your circumstances, but you can always change your attitude, and a positive attitude almost always preserves over a negative attitude.  When you are as sick as I was in the ICU, you can’t always take care of yourself, and when you can’t take care of yourself, that means someone else has to.  Initially, it made me feel uncomfortable to have all of the nurses and doctors poking and prodding at every nook and cranny of my body.  One time in the ICU, I was with my aunt Caryn, and cupping one side over my mouth with my hand I leaned over and whispered to her, “Aunt Caryn, I’m embarrassed they have to wipe my butt.”  Aunt Caryn started laughing.  I was shocked! “Are you seriously laughing? I just told you that I’m embarrassed about them wiping my butt, and you’re laughing?!”  While chuckling she responded, “If it makes you feel any better, you will be wiping mine in 20 years!”  At this time we both started laughing uncontrollably!  While I was humiliated at first by my lack of privacy, it was something that had to be done for my greater well-being. By being surrounded by my hilarious family, I was able to laugh and make light of the very heavy situation going on, which made things appear to not be as severe as they actually were.  Instead of dwelling on all of  the negative that surrounded me, I was able to focus on positive energy, and I think that played a huge part in my survival.

The second lesson I learned while being sick in the ICU, is that life really is about the “little things.”  I learned that we should learn to appreciate the “little things” while we are fortunate to have them, because you just never know when they will no longer be available to you.  When I was in the ICU, there were many things I couldn’t do on my own.  I couldn’t walk on my own, shower on my own; at times I couldn’t even breathe on my own. I was also restricted on what I could and couldn’t eat, and sometimes I couldn’t eat or drink at all.  When I was discharged from the hospital, I was instructed no restaurants, no movie theaters, and no shopping malls for six months.  This meant no Cheesecake Factory, no Loews to catch a movie, and no Target for six months. I am on a life-time restriction of no gluten, no alcohol, no sushi, no salad bars, and, as of now, no driving.  I guess that means no more driving to Ruby Tuesday and hitting up the salad bar before the 6:00 showing of “Lone Survivor” and then driving my friends to go grab an ice cold beer and some sushi after the movie.  I was restricted from common, day-to-day things that we don’t even think twice about; we just do them.  My entire lifestyle has had to change, and I didn’t realize how important some of the “little things” were to me until now, that I can no longer enjoy them.  I wish I had appreciated these “little things” that I was so privileged to experience and enjoy before my illnesses.

The third and final lesson I have learned from my time in the ICU, is that your family is the most important thing you have in your life.  Being sick is a burden.  There’s no way to say it besides it “sucks”.  It sucks for you and it sucks for anyone around you, because as I mentioned before, when you can no longer take care of yourself, that means someone else has to.  While I was sick in the ICU, I learned that some people just couldn’t be bothered.  Those same people who couldn’t be bothered, are sometimes the people you needed the most.  My sickness brought out the best in some people, and it also brought out the absolute worst in others.  I’m only going to talk about the best though.  One of the best things that could have happened to me is when my aunt Caryn and cousin Rocco got on a plane, flew down to SC, picked me up and drove me up here to Connecticut.  One week later I was admitted to Yale receiving the best medical attention I could receive. Without a doubt in my mind, I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for my aunt Caryn and cousin Rocco coming to get me and bring me closer to some of the most reputable medical facilities in the country.  I learned family is something you should never take for granted.  When all else fails, for me it was my health, my vision, my strength, and my hope, I always had my family.  Because of my family’s love and support, I was able to get my strength, my health, and my hope back and I am making a fantastic recovery, despite the horrific odds against me!

After being ill, I have learned that no matter what circumstances you are given in life, a positive attitude almost always perseveres over a negative attitude.  I have learned that life really is about all of the “little things,” and that your family are the most important people in your life, and with their love and support you can rise above any challenges or adversity that you are faced.  I will leave you with this:

“Some lessons can’t be taught; they simply have to be learned.” ~Jodi Picoult