Posts Tagged ‘patient story’

Emory Heart Transplant Patient Shares the Love

Lester Crowell

Lester Crowell

Not many people can say they’ve had multiple hearts in their lifetime, but one grateful Emory Transplant Center patient can and is now working to make it possible for others to say the same.

On Sunday, July 17, over 400 guests attended the first annual “Angels of Life” Hair and Fashion Show held by Three-13 Salon, Spa and Boutique of Marietta. The event raised over $31,000 for the Georgia Transplant Foundation and was planned by Lester Crowell, Emory patient and managing partner of Three-13 Salon, to help fellow transplant patients and to commemorate the salon’s 37th anniversary.

According to Crowell, Three-13 Salon has a strong history of philanthropic work, from donating to Ronald McDonald House to volunteering their time for the Cobb County School Systems. But after undergoing his second heart transplant, the business’s managing partner decided he ought to focus on something very close to home: transplant patients.

“It was fantastic for our first event,” Crowell said. “I think we raised a lot of awareness about transplants and organ donations.”

The event took place at the Cobb Energy Centre and consisted of a silent auction followed by a hair and fashion theatrical show featuring products sold by Three-13 Salon. Several transplant patients shared their testimony of how their lives were changed through organ donors. Both Dr. Andrew Smith, MD, Clinical Chief of Cardiology for Emory University Hospital, and Dr. David Vega, MD, director of Emory’s Heart Transplant Program, spoke on stage in support of Crowell, their patient, and his cause.

For Crowell, his own journey towards a heart transplant began when he was 13. What started as recurring chest pains grew into an illness called Idiopathic Hypertrophic Subaortic Stenosis (IHSS) with serious consequences. He began seeing doctors at Emory University Hospital when he was 19 and was told he had a runaway heart.

“My heart would speed up for no reason. It was a congenital defect,” Crowell said. Several family members have struggled with the disease, but not all have opted for heart transplants.

“I thought it was sort of a good thing I didn’t have to dress up for PE anymore,” Crowell said. “I didn’t have to run the laps…that’s all I thought about.” But his condition continued to worsen.

“If I didn’t eat anything, I wouldn’t have chest pains. I got very used to not eating all day long until the end of the day,” he explained. Doctors told him he had cardiomyopathy when he was in his 30’s. At age 40, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

“By the time I was 43, I couldn’t talk and breathe at the same time. That’s when I got my first transplant,” Crowell said.
Nine years later, his transplanted heart developed chronic rejection, a common occurrence in transplanted organs. After waiting almost a year for another heart, Crowell underwent a second transplant on December 4, 2010. This time around, he was more prepared.

“I knew what to expect, so it sort of seemed easier,” Crowell said. Since receiving his third heart, life has continued as usual. “I’m not in fear of having a heart attack every day,” he said. “I’m living a normal life.”

The two-time transplant patient said he was fortunate to have insurance to help pay for his transplants and treatment, but he knows that this is not the case for everyone. Through Three-13’s annual “Angels of Life” Hair & Fashion Show, Crowell hopes to continue gathering donations for the Georgia Transplant Foundation so the charity can continue to help others obtain a second or, like Crowell’s case, a third chance at life.

One Good Transplant Deed Leads to Six Changed Lives

Imagine waking up one morning in good health and deciding out of the goodness of your heart to donate your kidney to someone you didn’t even know – anyone, anywhere. That’s exactly what Jon Pomenville of Anderson, SC, did recently. Little did he know, it would result in the drastic change of the lives of six individuals and their families.

Jon wasn’t looking for credit. In fact he was completely comfortable with remaining anonymous throughout the process. But during a recent visit to Emory University Hospital for a post-surgical follow-up, Jon met many of the individuals whose lives were changed – right there in the transplant clinic waiting room. Jon and four of the other donors and recipients in what is referred to as a paired kidney transplant were coincidentally scheduled for follow-up appointments within a short period of time of one another. It was only a matter of minutes before the patients – recipients and donors – two father and son combinations and Jon, the man who would give to anyone – were hugging, shaking hands, and recounting their lives and experiences. As one person began recounting the experience, eyes and ears began to focus on the tale being told from across a crowded room.

The Emory Transplant Center opened its Paired Donor Kidney Exchange Program in 2009, providing greater hope for patients in need of kidney transplants. A paired exchange donation is a process that allows healthy individuals to donate a kidney to either a friend, loved one, or even altruistically to a stranger, as was the case with Jon, despite incompatible blood matches. In paired donation, a donor and recipient are matched with another incompatible donor and recipient pair and the kidneys are exchanged between the pairs.

Paired donation is another form of living donor transplantation, which means the donated organ may come from a living person such as a friend, spouse or family member. Donated kidneys also come from recently deceased donors. While most kidneys from deceased donors function well, studies have shown that a kidney from a living donor, either a blood relative or an unrelated person, provides the greatest chance for long-term success.

Because of Jon’s donation, a young 7 year-old boy named Zion received a life-saving kidney from an unrelated donor because his dad, Mike, was able to donate. And Gerald Smith of Five Points, AL, received his life-changing kidney transplant because his son, Matt, a recent University of Alabama graduate, donated his kidney – to Zion. And lastly, 20 year-old Edward Hill of Macon, GA a young man with a history of health challenges, would also receive his kidney transplant (from an unknown donor) at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – completing the six-person cycle.

6 Person Paired Kidney Exchange

The decision Jon made to altruistically donate his kidney to a any person, anywhere set off a chain reaction that has drastically improved and changed lives. As the mother of one kidney recipient put it, “when we received that call a few weeks ago, it truly was a miracle. The donor program at Emory is an incredible thing that will help many people like my son, and I am as thankful as anyone could ever be because of it.”

The donor program at Emory is incredible, but without people like Jon Pomenville, and generous selfless acts of kindness such as his decision to donate his kidney, stories like this would not be possible. For more on this amazing story and the lives touched by Jon’s decision to donate, watch our short video below:

Good Things Come in Twos (x2!) for Henry County Woman

Over five years ago, Kerry King felt very sick with prolonged episodes of nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, and swelling.  She visited a community-based medical clinic, but her blood pressure was so high, they sent her to a local hospital where where she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and an enlarged heart.

After her diagnosis, an ambulance rushed Kerry to Emory University Hospital where she was admitted to an intensive care unit and diagnosed with a rare lung disorder, primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH.) PPH is characterized by increased pressure in the pulmonary artery, whereby the pulmonary artery carries oxygen-poor blood from the lower chamber on the right side of the heart to the lungs where it picks up oxygen.

After a heart catheterization and battery of other tests, Kerry was discharged from Emory University Hospital and returned home to Henry County with around-the-clock intravenous medication to mange the symptoms. On medication 24/7 for nearly five years, Kerry was forced to live a very limited lifestyle. Daily tasks became a major challenge, “I couldn’t even walk up the stairs to the bedroom at night – my husband carried me.” Trips to the hospital became more frequent and it became clear something had to be done.

Two days after Christmas in 2009, Kerry was placed on a lung transplant list at Emory, for not just one, but a double lung transplant. With her condition worsening by the day and after being informed she had about six weeks to live, all she could do was wait. And with nearly 2,000 people in the U.S. currently awaiting a lung transplant, finding two lungs for Kerry’s transplant had the potential to pose a serious barrier in saving the life of this Hampton, GA native.

Less than a month later, the good news came, and now, Kerry counts herself among the most lucky to have found a double lung transplant in time to save her life. Today, just over a year removed from her life-transforming experience, Kerry counts her lucky charms in the gifts that surround her each day, her twin sons, Justin and Austin, and the second chance at life she has thanks to her transplant that took place at Emory University Hospital.

After months of rehabilitation, Kerry returned home from the hospital.  That night, Kerry was enjoying her family and when bedtime for her twins came around, her son Justin went to the stairs and called to his Daddy to complete the only nightly routine he remembered in his young life, “Daddy, it’s time for you to carry Mommy upstairs.”   But on this night, for Kerry, those stairs were no longer a challenge.

Knocking the ‘What Ifs’ Out of the Park

Georgia native and Wake Forest University baseball player’s life saved by Coach Tom, Emory Transplant Center, and divine intervention.

Kevin Jordan Wake Forest Kidney Transplant at Emory

Wake Forest University baseball coach Tom Walter and Wake Forest student athlete Kevin Jordan, with Dr. Alan Kirk, the Emory Transplant Center surgeon

We can find a reason in almost every situation to ask, “what if?” But what if, we didn’t? What if instead, we took a more active role in doing the right thing regardless of chance? Sometimes, it’s the ‘what ifs’ in life that prove to reveal a clear purpose in hindsight, and that’s exactly what’s been demonstrated in one of the most amazing stories we here at Emory have witnessed.

One year ago, while still a senior at Northside Columbus High School in Columbus, GA, Kevin Jordan was diagnosed with ANCA vasculitis, an autoimmune disorder that typically leads to almost immediate kidney failure. Kevin, an all-star baseball player who, at the time was being actively recruited by both Wake Forest University (WFU) and Auburn, was faced with an illness that could potentially change his future not only in baseball, but in life.

When faced with life-altering barriers, many of us give up– not Kevin. Despite his diagnosis meaning days that were previously filled with class and practice would now also need to accommodate 11-12 hours attached to a dialysis machine, he displayed the same courage and passion he is known for on the field. The same courage and passion that led Wake Forest University baseball coach, Tom Walter, to extend an offer to Kevin to continue his student-athlete career at WFU.

Despite circumstances, Kevin didn’t give up. He accepted the offer to attend Wake Forest and in doing so, immediately became part of a family he previously didn’t know existed. A family that would prove to play a role so fundamental to Kevin’s life that from it, a true genetic/medical connection would be established.

During his time at Wake Forest, Coach Tom noticed that Kevin’s strength and speed on the field had begun to deteriorate since high school. What hadn’t, was his “sweet swing” of the baseball bat. Kevin was clearly being impeded by his condition, but continued to attend practice with his team daily. He knew each day he would return to his dorm to spend the next 12 hours with his dialysis machine, but he kept his head up.

At this point, Kevin was in desperate need of a kidney. After both his mother and brother failed to meet matching criteria to serve as living donors, he didn’t have very many options. And that’s where Kevin’s second family comes into play. As much as he does his own two daughters, Wake Forest’s Coach Tom considers each and every player he’s ever coached to be part of his own family. Not even a year into Kevin’s time at WFU but already part of the family, Coach Tom himself volunteered to step up and be evaluated for a kidney donor match.

With only a 15% chance of a non-family member making it through the organ transplant matching to donation process, the chances of Coach Tom’s kidney being a viable option for Kevin were slim, but… what if? Coach Tom proved to be a viable organ donor for Kevin, and without hesitation, he agreed.

As if the family connection wasn’t already strong for members of the Wake Forest baseball team, it just got a whole lot stronger. After completing the living donor transplant from Coach Walter to Kevin on Monday, Emory’s Dr. Newell and Dr. Kirk have established an official medical bond between family members at WFU. Today, Kevin, Coach Tom, and doctors Newell and Kirk spoke on the results of the procedure and just two days after the transplant, both Kevin and Coach Tom were bright eyed and hopeful for things to come.

Coach Tom was asked at the recent press conference, what if one of his daughters needs a kidney transplant in the future and serving as the donor is no longer an option? In his response, we saw the same strength of character that Kevin has demonstrated all along. Coach Tom remarked that much like you can’t live your life as a hermit for fear you might be in a car accident upon leaving the house, so too we cannot live our lives in fear of ‘what ifs’.

Coach Tom previously served as head coach of the University of New Orleans (UNO) program and during his time there is when Hurricane Katrina hit. Coach Tom looks at his experiences with his UNO family in the same way he does his experiences at WFU and he attributes them to some form of divine intervention. More than anything, this story teaches us to stop questioning and worrying about ‘what ifs’ and to instead focus on doing the right thing, assuming you will be given the opportunity at the right time.

A combination of strength of character and a multitude of elements of chance for Kevin mean that instead of facing a lifetime of hardship, he has just 8 weeks of recovery time ahead of him. And if his past is any indication of his future, he is sure to continue as he has in the past– with passion and ambition to overcome even the most trying circumstances. And with any luck, he’ll be back on the diamond with his coach and family in no time.

View the video of today’s press conference with Kevin Jordan, Coach Tom, and the Emory Transplant Team.

Jo Ellen Kimball – the Miracle of Transplant

Jo Ellen Kimball became somewhat of an Emory University Hospital celebrity when she became Emory Healthcare’s 300th lung transplant patient since the lung transplant program‘s creation more than 17 years ago in 1993. In this video and slideshow, Kimball tells her story and thanks the transplant team and the family of the organ donor.

For more information on Emory Healthcare’s transplant program, visit our transplant center website.

Emory Transplant Program Milestone – 300 Lung Transplants

For a young mother of two teen-aged sons, living life attached to an oxygen tank is not an ideal situation. For Jo Ellen Kimball, 40, however, this was the life she had grown accustomed to living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a condition that essentially turns the lungs to stone. As Jo Ellen’s physician and Medical Director of Lung Transplantation at Emory Transplant Center, Dr. Clinton Lawrence puts it, “Imagine trying to breathe through lava rock every day of your life.” The five-year survival rate of IPF is less than 20% and as of now, lung transplantation is the only known treatment.

Since September 17th, however, Jo Ellen’s outlook on life and future has changed drastically. It was on this day that she underwent her double lung transplant at Emory University Hospital.

After the procedure, Jo Ellen was able to regain her ability to breathe on her own after only nine days, a remarkable achievement. And after six years of life spent facilitated by an oxygen tank, Jo Ellen Kimball can now return to a normal life and possibly even return to her position as a fourth grade teacher.

As if this positive momentous life change for Jo Ellen wasn’t enough, she was also informed that her procedure resulted in even further celebration– Jo Ellen’s procedure was the 300th lung transplant performed by Emory’s Transplant Program (established in 1993).

Much like the journey Jo Ellen has experienced to free herself from the constraints of IPF, Emory’s lung transplant program has traveled quite a distance in reaching this milestone. The program is not a high-volume transplant program when compared to Emory’s other solid organ transplant programs. In fact, in 2009, 35 lung transplants were performed by the program, its most ever in a single year and a 300% increase from a decade before.

With generous donations and the help of doctors like Clinton Lawrence and Jo Ellen’s surgeon and Surgical Director of Lung Transplantation at Emory Transplant Center, Dr. Seth Force, the lung transplant program continues to grow and gain momentum.

“Emory has the only lung transplant program in the state,” notes Dr. Lawrence. “We provide a necessary and quality service to individuals from all walks of life from Georgia and surrounding states, including Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana.”

After a few weeks of recovery at Emory, Jo Ellen has since returned home to Conyers, GA to rest and recover with her family. We will be sure to keep you updated on her journey.