April is a month that can bring new meaning to the word hope, whether you're looking for respite from a long, harsh winter or a candidate on the transplant waiting list. As it's often seen as a time for renewal, it's fitting that April is National Donate Life Month, a time to recognize new life that can be made possible through organ and tissue donation. It's a month that has special meaning for many in the Harboring Hearts community, who watch family members wait for a heart transplant that might never come, or who personally struggle with their health each day, hoping that each ring of the phone is the call that will save their life.
The fact is, heart transplantation can touch any one of us when we least expect it. It was the very force that brought Harboring Hearts' co-founders, Michelle Javian and Yuki Kotani, and the original founding members -- Jessica Melore, Hadley Mongell and Sally Touma -- to help drive its mission. Michelle and Yuki each had fathers who languished for months in the hospital while waiting for heart transplants. Jessica suffered a massive heart attack at age 16, with no prior health problems, and waited nine months for a heart transplant. While that second chance came for us and our families, we represent thousands who are still in need. Chances are, someone you know either has or will be personally touched by donation in some way.
Over 110,000 people are waiting nationwide for an organ transplant, with over 9,500 in New York City alone. Of the 300 people waiting for a heart transplant in New York, only slightly more than half of them received one last year. Today, 18 people will die because they didn't receive one in time. Every 13 minutes, the need becomes even more dire, when yet another name is added to the list.
For heart transplant candidates and their families, who already feel like they are living on borrowed time, this can mean more months of waiting. It means more strain on families as they watch their loved ones' health deteriorate by the day, and more trips to the hospital for treatment. For patients, it's a precarious place of limbo: caught in a state when you're sick enough to be eligible for transplant, knowing that a further decline could mean death or removal from the waiting list because your body couldn't sustain an organ even if one becomes available.
Those fortunate enough to receive transplants can go on to live full and healthy lives. They have competed in the Olympics, climbed mountains, joined triathlons and emerged as leaders in their industries. Many, like Jessica, choose to embrace life by sharing their transplant success stories to inspire others and traveling the world, climbing to the top of the Parthenon, zip-lining through Costa Rica and walking the Great Wall of China.
But while most transplant recipients don't see themselves as "fragile," their second chance comes with life-long responsibility. They must endure ongoing biopsies and evaluations to test for organ rejection. They take a daily cocktail of anti-rejection medications that suppress the immune system, rendering them more susceptible to infection and other complications. It's a trade-off that heart recipients like Jessica would not think twice about -- considering the alternative -- but it can translate into more hospital stays, higher medical bills and more families and caregivers faced with high hotel costs or another long night in a cramped hospital chair.
Harboring Hearts will continue to serve as a form of relief to heart patients and their families during this process, offering housing needs when the road seems arduous, and a place for comfort and community for when hope is in short supply.
To learn more about organ and tissue donation, please visit Donate Life America.
Follow Michelle Javian on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HarboringHearts