Memphians await life-saving transplants with the help of a local non-profit

The following excerpt is from a piece in The Commercial Appeal written by Kayleigh Skinner:

Robert Jackson has had trouble breathing his whole life, and 10 years ago doctors figured out why.

In 2005, Jackson, 39, was diagnosed with pulmonary sarcoidosis, a disease that causes small lumps to develop on organs. In Jackson's case, the granulomas affected his lungs. When they fail to heal, they scar and inflame the tissue. Today, he uses an oxygen tank to breathe.

The Memphis-based National Foundation for Transplants helps Jackson and thousands of others across the country "fundraise for things not covered by insurance," said Emily Joyner, NFT spokeswoman.

Jackson needs a double lung transplant, a surgery that costs roughly $800,000, according to NFT. While most of the cost of the surgery may be covered by insurance, he also needs to secure enough money to pay for the many costs associated with it. He will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life and needs funds to pay for food, lodging and transportation after the operation.

Before a patient begins working with NFT, a fundraising consultant verifies they are a transplant candidate and contacts the transplant center with a letter verifying their need, Joyner said. Together, the consultant and patient figure out how to raise money, whether it be through word-of-mouth, bake sales or mailing out appeal letters to friends, family or local businesses.

"It's their (the consultant's) job to come up with ideas and try to remind them that they're not quite as alone as they think they are," Joyner said.

Ondra Harris, 46, is working with NFT to raise money to pay for the costs she's incurred after her recent heart transplant.

Four years ago, Harris was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart. Over time, she became bedridden and unable to care for her two sons, Christopher, 12, and Aden, 9. Her heart function dropped to about 10 percent, she said. Doctors told her she would need a new heart.

Within months of being placed on a transplant list in July, her prayers came true. She received a new heart on Sept. 11.

"I just think it's the biggest blessing in the world — everything just lined up perfectly," she said. "I was able to get mine a little quicker because I was healthy, besides the heart."

To read the full article and see photos, please visit The Commercial Appeal's website.