At only 3 weeks old, Courtney´s doctor noticed she was jaundiced during a routine check-up. Soon after, she was diagnosed with alpha-1antitrypsin deficiency (Alpha-1), a genetic disorder that leads to severe lung and/or liver complications.
For about 80 percent of patients, the disorder affects the lungs; the remaining 20 percent suffer from liver complications. Of the small number of patients dealing with liver problems, about 5 percent of their cases are fatal. Courtney fell into that 5 percent.
She was soon diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, a disease that results in the scarring of healthy liver tissue. The disease has no cure, and it became clear that Courtney would need a liver transplant.
Courtney´s doctor told the family about the possibility of a living donor transplant. The procedure, a milestone in transplantation, was very new at the time and had just been successfully completed in November 1989. Her physician´s younger brother happened to be on the transplant team for the first procedure ever performed.
In May 1990, Courtney´s mother was tested for compatibility. She was a perfect match.
Before Courtney could receive her transplant, the hospital required the Williams family to raise $150,000 for the procedure. Fortunately, they had help with this daunting task. With NFT´s help, they raised the entire sum in just five months. On Aug. 14, 1990, Courtney received a portion of her mother´s healthy liver.
Today, Courtney is thriving and looks forward to beginning a career in nursing. In July 2008, she participated in the U.S. Transplant Games in Pittsburgh, where she competed in a variety of athletic events with other transplant survivors. While there, she met the woman who received the very first living donor liver transplant. The same month, she visited the Chicago hospital where she received her second chance at life.
"I have a great life. The National Foundation for Transplants is a big part of why I have a great life, because they are why I am here today." said Courtney.
Weslynn Bates literally had a change of heart. In May 2000, she received her much-needed heart transplant and began a new life.
Before her transplant, Weslynn spent five years in and out of hospitals and was eventually diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. She had surgeries to implant a pacemaker and defibrillator, followed by a Left Ventricular Assist Device to keep her heart pumping. When doctors said a transplant was her only hope, Weslynn and her husband, Michael, worried about the financial burdens their family would face.
With NFT´s help, Weslynn´s family and friends raised more than $100,000 to help with her expenses. They held numerous fundraisers, including concerts, auctions and casino trips. They sent appeal letters and worked with local radio stations, and Weslynn´s coworkers rallied behind her. A generous gift from an anonymous donor helped them reach their goal shortly after she received the transplant.
She continues to receive donations today, and Weslynn is a frequent visitor to NFT´s offices. She counts on NFT to help with her follow-up care and the 17 daily medications she must take to remain healthy.
Today, Weslynn is thriving. She works full-time and enjoys watching her youngest son play football and basketball. And she owes it all to the generosity of others.
"People gave," she said. "People I didn´t even know gave money for me to have this life and be with my family."
When Susan started a new job in the 90s, she was unable to afford proper health insurance. Diagnosed with melanoma the previous year, she was eligible only for catastrophic policies, which increased her monthly premiums by 134 percent. She managed without the insurance, until she was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
At the time, there was no cure for CML, and her only hope was a bone marrow transplant.
A search through the National Bone Marrow Registry located several candidates who matched on six different levels. The final step was testing for a component of the DNA, but all the American donors refused to take this step, despite being perfect matches in all other areas. Susan extended her search internationally and found three matches in the United Kingdom, all willing to undergo the DNA testing. Out of those matches, one turned out to be the perfect match - matching in all seven areas.
Peter Andrews lives in Reading, England and had been on the bone marrow registry for six years before he got the call about Susan. Without hesitation, he agreed to help. Susan received Peter´s bone marrow on November 25, 1998 at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center (formerly MCV Hospital).
The transplant cost more than $100,000, and Susan had to raise at least $25,000 before the hospital would even add her to the waiting list. With no health insurance, she faced significant medical expenses.
To overcome these financial challenges, Susan turned to NFT for assistance. With NFT´s help, she raised nearly $140,000 for her transplant and follow-up care.
"I could not have had the transplant without NFT´s help," said Susan. "I never would have known how to raise that much money on my own, and it was encouraging to know the staff was there for questions, advice and help along the way. NFT is a trustworthy organization with a competent, compassionate staff. I thank God for the invaluable work they do."
Susan and Peter began contacting one another by mail and e-mail, and her daughter met Andrews several years later during a trip abroad. Ten years later, Peter and his wife flew to Richmond to meet Susan for the very first time.
"Meeting Peter was a dream come true," said Susan. "I´ve kept a photo of Peter and his family front and center on my mantel for years now. When I look at it, I´m reminded that a complete stranger gave me back my life, and I´m grateful beyond words. I was thrilled to meet the man who selflessly gave me the greatest gift of all."
His name is Rain, but on Father´s Day weekend in June 2007, his family and friends were praying for sunshine. That´s because they were planning to sell lots of lemonade at stands across the country - all to benefit a little boy who recently received a lifesaving heart transplant.
Rain Test-Balsley was only 7 when he received his heart transplant in May 2007 at All Children´s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The idea for "Lemon-Aid for Rain" began when his brothers had an idea to sell lemonade in the hopes of raising $100 for Rain´s medical expenses. Their mother told some friends and family members about her sons´ idea and their desire to help Rain. Soon, many volunteers were eager to help with the fundraiser.
Volunteers sold lemonade and cookies in several cities in Florida and in eight other states, raising more than $5,000. Rain´s aunt, Mary Mason, who spearheads the fundraising campaign for the NFT Florida Heart Fund for her nephew, says the experience was "humbling and touching" and adds "we´re so excited to have caring people all over the country dedicating their time to Rain."
In 2006, Rain was a typical little boy playing football with his cousins, when he suddenly collapsed and lost consciousness. After being transported by ambulance to the hospital, tests revealed he suffered from restrictive cardiomyopathy, a condition that restricts the walls of the heart from stretching properly. Rain underwent surgery to implant a pacemaker, but doctors told his parents he needed a heart transplant to live.
On May 3, Rain received his new heart and was released from the hospital only 13 days later.
The transplant was a blessing, but Rain will need medications everyday for the rest of his life to keep his body from rejecting his new heart. These costly medications are as important to his life as the transplant itself.
Fortunately, Rain and his family can count on NFT to continue providing fundraising support for his ongoing expenses.