Shortly aftermarried in 1968, Jack started carrying his wife up flights of stairs. It wasn’t a romantic gesture, but certainly a labor of love. A heart condition diagnosed after their wedding made stair climbing very difficult if not impossible for Lois. And as grateful as she was for Jack’s faithfulness in carrying her, she was even more grateful that she could start walking up flights of stairs after she received a heart transplant in February of 1996.
“My kids were just fascinated when they saw me walking up steps as they had not seen that before,” says Lois. “For so many years, Jack carried me up steps. And my children never saw me run. I was limited in what I could do with my own kids, but not now with my grandchildren.”
Lois and Jack are the parents of a son and daughter, and grandparents to five grandchildren. The couple has lived in Bartonville for 29 years. Jack is a retired minister, serving most recently at Bartonville Christian Church for 21years and retiring in 2002. Lois was the church secretary for 12 years and retired from CEFCU in 2006 after working there 16 years. “We enjoy traveling now,” she says.
Lois’ enthusiasm for life and her gratitude for her health are apparent throughout her conversation. “I got another chance at life and it’s been an unbelievable blessing,” she says. “Otherwise I would have missed so many little things.”
She has a scrapbook of articles and cards and even her handicapped-parking sticker, and they serve as reminders of her struggles, but more importantly, her triumphs. She received her donor heart on February 21, 1996, at OSF Medical Center. The previous May she had suffered a heart attack and was on the donor list for nine months to receive a heart transplant. As her condition worsened, she waited six weeks in the hospital for the transplant. She says she was the 98th person in Peoria to receive a heart transplant. (Some four years ago they stopped doing heart transplants in Peoria and patients now go to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.)
Four weeks after the transplant, four difficult weeks during which her condition worsened more than once, she was taken out of ICU and moved to a regular room. “A couple of times they thought I might not make it,” says Lois. “That was a much more difficult time for my family than for me as I wasn’t aware of a lot of what was going on.” When she finally did get to go home, she had spent three months in the hospital. “It was a long time,” she says.
When she first went home, she was taking 52 pills each 24-hour period. Less than five months later, she returned to work. She had worked as a teller but after the transplant, her immunity was compromised and contact with the public limited so she worked in records. “I was a detective,” she says smiling. “I worked with a wonderful group of people.”
Four years after the transplant, Lois was diagnosed with breast cancer and on February 25th of 2000, she had a mastectomy. She also received radiation treatments. “I was one of the fortunate ones as I didn’t have any fatigue from the treatments.” She was on a regiment of medications for five years to keep the cancer from returning.
Today Lois is enjoying retirement, traveling, and most importantly her good health which allows her quality time with her husband and family. “I try to stay healthy,” she says. “They worked too hard to save me for me not to be wise and keep healthy.”
She and Jack also volunteer their time visiting those waiting for transplants, and encouraging people to become organ donors. “If people knew what organ donation can mean to the recipient, they would do it,” Lois believes. “Organ donation gives life.”
April is National Donate Life Month. Organ/Tissue Donor Program staff and volunteers will set up booths at the hospitals and other locations encouraging people to sign their donor cards. There is also a monthly meeting the first Monday of every month at TGI Fridays in East Peoria at 6:00 p.m. for anyone interested in organ donation. The group volunteers to pass out literature and help people make informed choices.
Lois believes more people would sign up to be donors if they understood more fully how the program works. “There is no charge to the donor’s family. Organ donation does not disfigure the donor’s body. You’ll never know there’s been a donation,” she explains.
When Lois shares her experiences as a heart transplant recipient, she tells her story with gratitude and optimism. “We had so much support from family and our church family and friends. I have a real bond with the transplant co-coordinators. And I can’t say enough for the wonderful doctors I’ve always had.” And always she remembers her donor and says she initially struggled through feelings of guilt because “I was alive and someone had to die. But then you come to the realization that you didn’t cause their death and they had made provisions to allow someone else to live.”
She says the longest a person with a heart transplant has lived after the procedure is just over 22 years. “That’s a great incentive to me,” she says gratefully.
“National Donate Life Month was established in 2003. Every day in April, people across the U.S. make a special effort to celebrate the tremendous generosity of those who have saved lives by becoming organ, tissue, marrow, and blood donors and to encourage more Americans to follow their fine example.
“Make it known: I want to be a donor.
Register with your State Donor Registry.
Say YES to donation on your driver’s license.
Tell your family, friends, physician, and faith leader that you want to be a donor.
Fill out and sign a donor card.
“If you signed up before January 1, 2006 to be an organ & tissue donor, a family member or other legal authority must still give additional consent for you to donate. Registering after January 1, 2006 makes your decision to be a donor legally binding without the need for any other approval. Illinoisans can access the new Illinois donor registry online at www.LifeGoesOn.com, or by calling 1-800-210-2106 or by visiting any Illinois driver’s license facility.
“More than 98,000 people are in need of an organ for transplant.
Each day about 77 people get the organ transplant that gives them a second chance, but 17 to 19 others die because they did not receive an organ transplant.”
For more information, go to organdonor.gov or www.DonateLifeIllinois.org or www.giftofhope.org or call 1-800-210-2106