National Organ Donor Day: Local donors and transplant recipients recall their journeys

local news

"It is an incredible gift."

ODESSA, Texas (Big 2/Fox 24) – February 14th does not just celebrate a global Hallmark holiday. It also marks “National Organ Donor Day” in which advocates increase awareness for a life-saving decision.

For heart transplant recipient, Cindy Keel-White, her story goes back decades. She was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 15. During her treatments, she went through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, which at the time, she and her family did not realize was severely damaging her heart.

Keel-White was camping in Oregon with her family when she had a major heart attack in 2009. She was quickly transported to the hospital where she received a double bypass, but the doctors told her the damage to her heart was irreparable.

“March 26, 2011. That’s when I received my heart transplant,” said Keel-White. “It just takes your breath away. And you think about it every day for the rest of your life.”

She was transported from a hospital in Boston to a hospital in Los Angeles when they could not find her a match. On her last day at the hospital, she received the call from her coordinator.

“I cried because I knew that there was somebody that had died,” explained Keel-White. “And I knew that there was a family that was going through what my family had been fearing.”

But experts say there are still 113,000 people, like Cindy, who are still waiting on the list now. Of those, ten thousand people are in Texas alone.

“We had 15 donors in 2019 that impacted 44 lives,” said Southwest Transplant Alliance’s Organ Recovery Coordinator, Jenna Johnson. “It’s about one percent chance that someone can become an organ donor so it is very rare.”

Donor, Christin Timmons, says it is a statistic she is happy to be.

“I just kind of had this weighing on my heart that said this is really what I need to be doing – what God wanted me to do. To see that he’s now experiencing everything that he should be experiencing is a blessing.”

Timmon’s recipient, Ethan, just turned 15. The two now spend every milestone together. A transplant recipient, Carol Cates, says it is a bond she understands all too well.

“I wouldn’t be a nurse today if it wasn’t for that,” said Cates. “My husband wouldn’t see today if it wasn’t for the kindness of someone saying, ‘I want to give my organs and tissues after I don’t need them anymore.'”

She hopes potential donors will look past the misconceptions and horror stories portrayed in Hollywood movies.

“It is an incredible gift.”

If you would like to sign up to be on the donor list, you can head to your Department of Motor Vehicles Office or DonateLifeTexas.org.

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