Stories of a Second Chance

Personal Accounts & Testimonies

Our donor families, living donors, and transplant recipients are always on our minds and at the core of what we do.

On Saturday October 11, 2008 I received a phone call no parent wants to have. My son had been in an accident and was being transported to Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids. He had become unresponsive on the scene and had quit breathing. The Doctors at Spectrum had called in a neurosurgeon after the CAT scan; Nick had a 2cm bleed in his brain. After surgery the neurosurgeon told us Nick’s prognosis was not good, to be prepared. Nick never did regain consciousness; the bleed to his brain had already done too much damage. We were not prepared to let him go, we talked with Ashley Kloosterman from Gift of Life about donating options. She told us everything we could expect from her and the Gift of Life team. Throughout the day, there were streams of Doctors and nurses in and out of Nick’s room. At 11 am they came in and did the first testing for brain death, the most excruciating test I have ever been through, willing Nick to breathe on his own, he did not. At 2pm they came in and did the testing again, at that point Nick was pronounced and we were saying goodbye to the most loving, caring boy in the world. The nursing staff at Spectrum was amazing to our family and friends, the Gift of Life team was so respectful of our wishes and the support was phenomenal. The calls went out to some of the luckiest people in the world; they would be receiving organs donated by a wonderful, selfless young man.

Nick donated lungs, kidneys, spleen, pancreas, heart valves & corneas. The lives he was able to save seems like an amazing gift to people who never expected to see their next birthday, their grandchildren, take part in everyday life, the gift they received had to seem amazing. Through our loss, someone else’s life changed. Through our loss, we knew that Nick would have wanted to help others as he had done during his young, short life.

Throughout my grieving process, I knew I had to do something in memory of Nick. I have held an auction each year in memory of Nick, a place where family & friends can share memories and be together, but had no idea what to do with the money collected. I contacted Shelly Morrell, president of Second Chance at Life, asked her if her organization could use the money. She has been the most amazing person I’ve met in this journey. She helped us set up a foundation fund in Nick’s memory at Spectrum Hospital. This fund is to help recipients in need & donor families. Second Chance at Life has donated a generous amount of money to the fund in Nick’s memory. Through Second Chance at Life, recipients can have some of their medical needs met with the money in this program, it takes some of the stress and burdens off of them so they can begin to heal.

Although this is just a snapshot of the journey I have begun, I feel there is more to be done in raising awareness, helping other parents & continuing to help people in need. Everyone grieves differently, and through this process I have met the most amazing people. The only suggestion I would like to raise is this: if you were an organ recipient, please do not feel guilt at someone’s loss. They made a choice to become an organ donor, through another families tragedy, you were given a gift, a “Second Chance at Life” please at some point during your recovery, think about writing your donor family, it is the greatest gift they could ever receive, knowing their loved one was able to save a life.

In 2010, Second Chance at Life teamed up with Donor Mom, Collette Taylor, to create the Nicholas Iverson Fund with Spectrum Health. The Nicholas Iverson Fund was created in memory of her son, Nick. Each year Collette has an auction in memory of her son and gives to this fund. Second Chance at Life has committed to give Spectrum Health $30,000 over five years ending in 2014.

Thank you Collette for raising $3,000.00 at your auction on 10/5 for SCAL and the Nicholas Iverson Fund!!

Spectrum has already put Collette's hard work into good use by assisting a 63 year old gentleman who had a Ventricular Assist device and recently a heart transplant. This gentleman having difficulty affording transplant medication, because his Valcyte and Everolimus are very expensive. The co-pay is $500 for each of these two medications. This 63 year gentleman needed dental work to get on the list, assistances with his medication and additional expenses incurred for his transplant. Thanks to the Nicholas Iverson Fund, this patient was able to get financial assistance when he needed it the most.

In April 2012, my father’s life was saved by a complete stranger through the gift of organ donation. My father was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease just two months prior to his transplant surgery. His disease progressed very rapidly. The first phone call we received for a potential organ went to a young woman ahead of him on the list. The second phone call he was too sick at the time to receive the organ. Thankfully, the third time, he received a healthy liver and was home from the hospital in under two weeks. I remember telling my father as I hugged him outside of the operating room, “You will be walking me down the aisle in five months, you don’t have any other option!” He smiled and said, “You got it.”

I will never forget that moment they took him back for the surgery, there was much uncertainty, yet so much hope. My family all gathered in the hospital waiting room and held hands and thanked the donor family for their generous gift. We prayed for the loss of their loved one; their unknown circumstances and grief, and for the new life my father was so lucky to receive. My father not only walked me down the aisle that same year, he danced the night away. Since his life-saving transplant, he has been able to return to work, attend two of his children’s weddings, and be present for the birth of his three granddaughters.

After many years of being told I had chronic Bronchitis, my family doctor finally suggested I see a Pulmonary Specialist. During my visit with the Pulmonary Specialist, I was diagnosed with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Disorder/Disease). My doctor explained that there was no cure and it was a progressive disease. Progressive, it was, within three years, the disease progressed so much that I was told to make an appointment with the University of Michigan and consider having a lung transplant. Excuse me, what? I had never heard of such a thing. With my breathing getting worse and finding myself on 24/7 oxygen for assistance, my wife and I decided a transplant was the answer. I was listed in July 2010. Within a month, August of 2010, I got the call I had been waiting for, a new lung was available.

My wife and I drove to the hospital; I was prepped and whisked away for transplantation. Many hours later as I was coming out of anesthesia, I see a nurse on my right with tears in her eyes, and to my left, my wife, shaking her head – I thought I died. Once I realized I was alive, I was told that at the last minute the surgeons decided the lungs weren’t good enough to transplant. Wait, what? I have to go back on the list? Back on the list I went.

After thinking I won’t make it until Christmas, in October 2010, we received a late-night call saying that a single lung was available. Off to U of M we go hoping this time I come home with a new lung. I am happy to say that day; I underwent a successful single lung transplant. Not only did I have a successful surgery, but I was up and walking ten hours after transplant.

Today, I am 6 ½ years out and going strong. My wife Judy and I discovered that each of us believed I would not see Christmas, but never shared that with one another. Every day, I pray for and thank my donor, Mary, the beautiful young lady who gave me a Second Chance at Life.

My Family is a team. Through ups and downs, good times and bad, we handle all of life’s challenges and we handle them together. So when I discovered I was suffering from Fuchs’ Dystrophy, a blinding eye disease, my family joined forces to make it through. Just 37 years old at the time of my diagnosis, I was single-handedly raising my 8-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. When my doctor told me I was going blind and that I would need a cornea transplant for both eyes, my first emotion was fear – fear that I wouldn’t be able to provide and care for my children; however, within a matter of weeks, I received my first cornea transplant. What happened afterward was the miracle that is the gift of sight. Thanks to this gift, I was able to see the freckles on my son’s face and the strands of my daughter’s hair. I could identify both kids on the field during sports. Most importantly, though, I was able to remain the sole provider for my family.

But our journey did not end there; with the altruistic and team-like mentality that was well-ingrained into our family’s life, we knew we wanted to give back to organizations like Second Chance at Life and causes that help make futures possible for those waiting for the gift of life, sight or mobility. As a family, we were able to share our story with not only the donation community but Southeastern Michigan via various local news programs and other events that focus on this mission.

Whether it is attending a donor family gathering, speaking at a press conference or filming a public service announcement, our family feels strongly about sharing the story of my gift of sight so that my story can help others navigate their way through their journey or to simply raise awareness for the importance of becoming a registered organ, eye and tissue donor to help people just like me. My donors not only saved me from going blind, they enhanced my life beyond my sight and has enriched it beyond any words could ever express.