TOLEDO, Ohio — In the midst of April as National Donate Life Month, several Ohioans will take a seat to take a stand on the importance of organ donation.
Life Connection of Ohio, the nonprofit organization that promotes and facilitates organ donation in northwest and west-central Ohio, is partnering with WTOL 11 for the annual Donate Life Sit-in.
Normally, this marathon event takes place at WTOL 11 studios, where transplant recipients, donor family members, living donors and those who support the cause rotate in and out of Life Connection of Ohio’s Green Chair.
This year’s event is going virtual, and on Wednesday, people are encouraged to participate by snapping a picture of themselves in their favorite chair while holding a sign with their connection to donation or a quote about why they support donation.
You can watch special interviews with Life Connection of Ohio volunteers and organ recipients at our YouTube channel here.
The Green Chair’s meaning is two-fold. When it is empty, the Green Chair represents overwhelming sadness from the loss of someone who died waiting for a transplant. But when someone is sitting in the Green Chair, it showcases a transplant recipient’s second chance at life. The tagline of the Green Chair Campaign is “Don’t let another chair go empty” because encouraging more people to register as organ donors means there will be fewer empty chairs.
The Donate Life Sit-in will make that tagline a reality, and the timing of the event could not be more crucial. There are nearly 110,000 people on the national transplant waiting list, including over 3,000 Ohioans. The organ shortage continues to grow at a staggering rate, as another person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes. Sadly, 20 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant. The good news: One person has the power to save up to eight lives through organ donation and heal 125 more through tissue donation.
Don’t let another chair go empty! Register as an organ donor at www.lifeconnection.org
WHO’S IN THE CHAIR?
Kara Steele | Daughter of a liver recipient | Life Connection of Ohio’s Director of Community Services | Toledo, Ohio
Doctors gave Kara’s father, Harvey J. Steele, one week to live. He was in end-stage liver disease, and his only hope for survival was a liver transplant. On November 5, 1997, Harvey received the liver transplant that he so desperately needed.
A few weeks after his transplant, Harvey returned home and started making the most of his second chance at life. He immediately began volunteering for Life Connection of Ohio, where Kara currently serves as Director of Community Services.
Sadly, Harvey passed away on December 28, 2017. He did a lot of good in his 60 years of life, but the legacy he left from his last 20 years – all made possible because of organ donation – is unmatched. He was a tireless advocate for organ, eye and tissue donation, and he used his platform on K-100’s Shores & Steele to promote that life-saving message.
Harvey broadcasted live from the Green Chair at every Donate Life Sit-in, so Kara is taking a seat in his honor and sharing his story during the live interview time slot that he had filled so many times before.
Pat McEntee | Heart recipient | Life Connection of Ohio volunteer | Dayton, Ohio
Pat could not walk without stopping every couple of minutes to catch his breath. When he bent over to tie his shoes, he was extremely dizzy and short of breath. Hyper-obstructive cardiomyopathy caused his heart to fail, and an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) was implanted into his chest to buy him time. He suffered three strokes, and he was in desperate need of a heart transplant.
On August 13, 2017, after being on the national transplant waiting list for 1,068 days, Pat received a life-saving heart transplant. Just one week later, he wowed medical staff as he walked a whole mile within the walls of the hospital – without being out of breath.
When he returned home, Pat and his wife, Amy, immediately jumped back into volunteering for Life Connection of Ohio to spread the word about the importance of organ, eye and tissue donation. Pat is wholeheartedly grateful to his donor and donor family for giving him a second chance at life.
“Every day, I pinch myself to remind myself it’s real. I’m so blessed,” Pat said. “I will work every day to honor the gift that has been given.”
Tammy Sprow | Wife of a donor hero | Life Connection of Ohio volunteer | Delta, Ohio
Tammy’s husband, Cory, made his mark in the Pike-Delta-York school system. He was a science and health teacher, and he coached football, baseball, golf and basketball. He eventually became principal at the elementary school. Cory had an unforgettable smile and sense of humor, and he was a loved husband, father, uncle, brother and son.
Sadly, on January 3, 2013, Cory passed away. In one final lesson in generosity, he saved three lives through organ donation and healed many others through tissue donation. Tammy was not surprised that Cory was a registered organ, eye and tissue donor – he had a huge heart and would help anyone with anything.
“Giving his organs and tissues was completely in keeping with his character and how he lived his life,” Tammy said.
Cory is missed every day by his family, but they find comfort knowing that Cory – who they consider a true hero – lives on in those whose lives he saved through donation.
Jeff Abke | Cornea recipient | Life Connection of Ohio volunteer | Perrysburg, Ohio
The rapidly thinning cornea of Jeff’s right eye was causing him to slowly go blind. No glasses or contacts could help the keratoconus causing the problem. But everything changed on May 17, 2012, when Jeff received a sight-restoring cornea transplant. Jeff thinks of his donor and donor family often.
“A day with a drastic improvement to my quality of life may be the worst day for someone else’s family. That was not lost on me,” he said.
Jeff is most thankful that his gift of sight allows him to clearly see his son and daughter grow up.
Byron Clark | Heart recipient | Life Connection of Ohio volunteer | Relocated to California but currently back “home” in Toledo, Ohio
Byron’s congestive heart failure led to end-stage heart failure, and his only hope for survival was a heart transplant. His heart was functioning at only 10%. Byron could not tie his shoes or get up from the couch without getting extremely dizzy. He slept on multiple pillows because of fluid retention and difficulty breathing.
In February 2015, an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) was implanted into his chest to buy him time. Waiting for a transplant was emotionally draining, but Byron and his wife, Debbie, found support.
“God brought the right people into our lives that we needed at the time. The people that really helped us get through the emotion going through the process was Life Connection of Ohio,” Byron said.
Everything changed with one phone call – a heart was available for Byron. On June 23, 2016, Byron received a life-saving heart transplant.
Byron’s 12th grandchild was born the same night as Byron’s transplant, and Byron is forever grateful that his gift of life enables him to spend more time with his family.
Tonya Gomez | Double lung recipient | Life Connection of Ohio volunteer | Archbold, Ohio
Tonya was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was just 9 months old. That disease took over her life – she could not laugh without getting a coughing spell, she fought exhaustion to stay awake and she wore oxygen 24 hours a day because her lung function was at just 19%. She feared she would die before a transplant would be available, and that she would not be around for her 2-year-old son, Eric, or her husband, Mario.
But on May 25, 2004, Tonya received a life-saving double lung transplant. Taking her first deep breath after her transplant is something that she will never forget. Since then, Tonya has met her donor family, and she said she lives every day like her donor, Adam, is watching.
“I’m honoring Adam by taking care of the lungs I’ve been given. I received this gift, and I feel compelled to share it with everybody,” Tonya said. Tonya’s story will be featured in the book “Because of Organ Donation” by Brenda Cortez, which will be released on April 23. Tonya serves as a manager for Team Ohio Transplant Athletics, a non-profit organization affiliated with the Donate Life Transplant Games of America, a biennial Olympic-style competition for transplant recipients that showcases the power of transplantation and honors donors and donor families.
Kathi Flew | Mother of a donor hero | Life Connection of Ohio volunteer | Norwalk, Ohio
Kathi’s 20-year-old son, Dylan, lived by the mantra “no regrets.” So it came as no surprise to Kathi and her husband, Russ, that Dylan was a registered organ, eye and tissue donor. Sadly, Dylan passed away on July 31, 2006, but on that day, he saved five lives through organ donation and healed more than 80 others through tissue donation.
Dylan and the life-saving message of donation are featured on Hyway Trucking Company’s fleet of more than 400 trailers, traveling millions of miles encouraging people to be a hero like Dylan and Donate Life. “Dylan saved five lives in one day. They call organ donors heroes for a reason,” Kathi said. Kathi and Russ have since met Dylan’s liver recipient, pancreas recipient and kidney recipient, who they now consider family.
Rose Hajjar | Heart recipient | Life Connection of Ohio volunteer | Ottawa Hills, Ohio
Rose was born with a heart defect. Her heart’s right atrium and ventricle were underdeveloped, which caused inadequate blood flow to her lungs. She had three open-heart surgeries before she was 3 years old. When she was in kindergarten, Rose was diagnosed with protein-losing enteropathy. She endured countless hospital stays, years of medical tests, and she grew up relying on a pump that provided a continuous infusion of medication. She developed masses in her liver, daily joint and muscle pain, and her growth was stunted.
On February 6, 2018, Rose was added to the national transplant waiting list in need of a new heart – the only cure for her disease. Thankfully, Rose received her gift of life on December 14, 2018.
“It was a miracle that a family in their time of grief made this decision and said yes to organ donation. Rose is able to live life outside of the hospital, outside of suffering, because of this gift,” Rose’s mom, Joy, said.
Rose’s transplant has allowed her to enjoy normal activities – playing with her sisters, singing and dancing, playing piano and eating her favorite food, grape leaves. Rose, now 13 years old, has her whole life ahead of her thanks to her gift of life.
“I am so grateful for what my organ donor has done for me and my family,” Rose said.
Wendy Nikolai | Wife of a donor hero | Life Connection of Ohio volunteer | Dayton, Ohio
Genuine. Hilarious. Kind. Dedicated. Compassionate. Hardworking. Joyful. Those are just a few of the words Todd Nikolai’s wife, Wendy, uses to describe him. Todd was a giver who enjoyed helping his neighbors, friends and family, and his favorite role was being a father to their daughter, Carina.
But on June 3, 2008, Wendy’s world came to a halt when her 40-year-old husband died from a brain hemorrhage. After talking with the rest of Todd’s family and ensuring her Catholic faith supported donation, Wendy made the decision to let Todd’s giving spirit live on in others.
That day, Todd saved three lives through organ donation and enhanced the lives of more than 60 others through tissue donation.
“It was such an uplifting experience for me,” Wendy said. “Donating my husband’s organs to give life to others lifted me through the grief of his death. I felt blessed. Organ donation is not only something that you do for yourself, but as a survivor, I can say it’s something that helps those you leave behind. It’s amazing to think that a little bit of him goes on and keeps other people alive.”
Allie Herr | Liver recipient | Life Connection of Ohio volunteer | Metamora, Ohio
Biliary atresia made Allie a very sick baby. Her life was consumed with countless medications, injections and feeding tubes. Her skin and whites of her eyes were extremely jaundiced. She had a huge distended abdomen with tiny extremities – at 2 years old, she weighed only 15 pounds. Allie slept up to 20 hours a day because her energy was nonexistent. She was in desperate need of a liver transplant.
After one year and nine months on the waiting list, Allie received a life-saving liver transplant on January 21, 2006.
Fast forward 15 years, and Allie’s energy supply is seemingly endless. Allie enjoys playing golf, showing cattle and lambs, and rodeo–barrel racing and pole bending.
Allie showcases her athleticism at the Donate Life Transplant Games of America, a biennial Olympic-style competition for transplant recipients, where she has earned more than 30 medals. Allie is grateful for the gift she received.
“It’s unbelievable to see how sick I was back then and how healthy I am today. Without organ donation, I would not be here,” Allie said. “If I met my donor family, I would give them a big hug. Obviously, the words thank you are not enough, but my family and I are forever grateful for my second chance at life.”
Kevin Fultz | Son of a donor hero | Life Connection of Ohio volunteer | Toledo, Ohio
Kevin’s father, Michael Keith Fultz, enjoyed riding his bike, taking long walks, fishing, playing cards, volunteering at animal shelters and going on cruises. He was always quick to share a smile or start a conversation, and he loved people.
Michael Keith served as a police officer for 25 years, and even in his death on April 15, 2016, he still found a way to serve – by giving the gift of life through organ, eye and tissue donation. Kevin has since met his father’s kidney recipient, who is grateful for her gift of life.
“It’s kind of hard to explain how one person can save so many lives just from a selfless act, but it makes it easier in a tragedy to find beauty in that,” Kevin said.
Donerik Black | Heart recipient | Life Connection of Ohio volunteer | Centerville, Ohio
Cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure meant Donerik desperately needed a heart transplant. After almost five months on the national transplant waiting list – including a 49-day stint in the ICU – Donerik received that gift on February 26, 2015, one day before his 45th birthday.
Donerik’s new heart allows him to lead an active life. He enjoys BMX racing, working out, playing the drums, and rooting on the Ohio State University and University of Notre Dame football teams.
Donerik lives every day in honor of his donor – who he considers his hero – and his donor family, who entrusted him with the most precious gift.
“I think of the man who donated his heart to me daily. I think about him most when I am doing something that I thought I would never be able to do again,” Donerik said. “If it wasn’t for that man’s selfless decision to be a donor, I wouldn’t be here today.”