Liver Recipient Pays Fortune Forward on Thanksgiving Day

Liver transplant recipient put her grateful spirit into action and served a Thanksgiving feast to transplant patients and their families at the Howie's House.

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Now an active and healthy woman, last year Joanne wasn’t sure if she was going to survive.  After years of suffering with Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion she had in the 1970s, Joanne was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2013.  She knew that Hepatitis C affected her liver, but never imagined it would threaten her life.  She was shocked when her doctor told her that not only did she have liver cancer, but that she would need a liver transplant to survive.

She underwent a treatment to “freeze” and isolate the tumor that was growing on her liver, in an effort to prevent the cancer from spreading.  She was immediately added to the organ transplant waitlist, and knew that she may have a very frightening few months or even years of waiting ahead of her.  “While I was on the waitlist, I was really sick.  I was weak, felt terrible all of the time and lost tons of weight. It was a really trying time for me and my family.”  Joanne said.

After commuting for months from Delaware to Philadelphia for appointments and treatments, Joanne knew that something had to change, and she reached out to Gift of Life’s Howie’s House to learn more about this “home away from home” for transplant patients and their families, and to volunteer. Originally from Audubon, PA, Joanne moved to DE after her husband was offered another job.  After 13 months of waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, she received the call that she had been desperately waiting for – telling her that a liver was available.

“When I was so sick and waiting Howie’s House gave me a lot of hope and it felt very safe.” — Joanne

“I didn’t really know anything about transplantation and all of the people who are waiting before it happened to me.” she said.  “After a year of driving back and forth from DE, I was so relieved to find out about the Howie’s House.  I stayed there with my husband and parents for nearly two months after I received my transplant. When I learned that I had liver cancer and would need a transplant, my husband and I stayed the night at a hotel in Philadelphia. We were both so scared and felt really alone that night.  The Howie’s House wasn’t just a place for us to stay – it was a place where I was able to meet other people who were going through the same thing that I was.  Just to see people who were recovering and doing well after their transplants – when I was so sick and waiting – it gave me a lot of hope and it felt very safe.”

Joanne has tremendous gratitude for her donor, her family and for the support of the Howie’s House.  This Thanksgiving, she and 20 of her family members made the decision that they would put their grateful spirit into action – and cook and serve a Thanksgiving feast to transplant patients and their families who are staying at the Howie’s House.  “We will make two turkeys and two hams, and all the sides – stuffing, mashed potatoes and vegetables. We tried to plan a diverse menu so there would be a dish that each person could enjoy.” she said.

“I’ve been feeling so good since my transplant – I just think this is a perfect way for me to give back.  This is my first Thanksgiving since I’ve been given a second chance at life, and I want to honor my donor and their family.  I know this is the first holiday that they will be facing without their loved one.  I just feel blessed to be able to see another holiday, and I don’t want to waste it.  I want to help others.  Some mornings, I wake up and feel my side and am just in awe that a person – a family – who didn’t even know me could do this. It’s amazing.” Joanne said.

Gift of Life Donor Program has worked tirelessly for the past 41 years to coordinate donors’ generosity with those in need.   Since 1974, Gift of Life – the organ procurement organization for eastern PA, southern NJ and DE – has helped save nearly 40,000 lives through organ donation, and enhanced over half a million lives through tissue donation. Currently, nearly 5,900 individuals in Gift of Life’s region – and over 122,000 nationally – are awaiting a life-saving organ transplant.  In the U.S., 22 people die each day while waiting. For more information or to register, visit donors1.org.  It only takes 30 seconds to register and one organ and tissue donor can save or enhance the lives of up to 50 people.

Gift of Life Howie’s House serves as a “home away from home” for transplant patients and their families by providing lodging, meals and supportive services to those who travel to Philadelphia for transplant-related care. Since opening in July 2011, the Howie’s House has provided over 27,000 lodging nights of care. For more information about the Howie’s House visit www.GiftofLifeFamilyHouse.org

Watch a clip from PHL 17 Action News or listen to the KYW interview here!

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