Committees on the board of Transplant Life Illinois include PR/Marketing, Membership, Recruitment, Development, and Donor Family Liaisons. Other voting members of the board include our members-at-large and TGA representatives. Ex-officio and past presidents serve as advisors.
Jason Kechik had a heart transplant at Northwestern in 2017 that didn't go as planned. A year later, he climbed 108 floors after he had been told he may never walk again. He came in second to last that day, but persevered until the end iin true Jason fashion.
Prior to Jason's transplant, he ran his own public relations and marketing firm. During the pandemic, he changed course and opened his own shop, Authentic Memorabilia and Framing. He hopes to bring his marketing expertise to Transplant Life Illinois and participate on Team Illinois at the 2024 TGA.
He is currently followed by a team at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and is newly married to Lara Ann.
Leah Gleason has volunteered for TLI since 2014 and has overseen everyday activities (member communications, website, database management, media, grant writing, etc.) for the benefit of all members. Leah also serves as TLI representative to Donate Life Illinois.
Her daughter, Lucie, had a liver transplant almost 20 years ago at age 5. Lucie competed in two Transplant Games for Team Illinois. Leah serves as an ambassador for several donor organizations, including Gift of Hope and the United Network for Organ Sharing.
After a long career in corporate communications, Leah now owns a writing and editing company. When she’s not advocating and working, Leah enjoys traveling with friends and family, judging high school speech tournaments, and cheering for multiple (and competing) college sports teams.
Eric Fischer’s twin brother, Kurt, died suddenly in 2005 of a malfunction in his heart’s electrical system while he was playing baseball. They were 27 years old. Out of caution, doctors implanted a defibrillator in Eric. Everything was normal for over two years until Eric’s heart went into ventricular tachycardia. He passed out, but the defibrillator shocked his heart back into the correct rhythm and saved his life. This became frequent and eventually any physical exertion caused him to get shocked. Eric could not pick up his little kids. He walked with a cane. On March 4, 2013 he was blessed with a new heart after only a matter of days on the 1A transplant list.
In August 2022, he competed in San Diego in his first Transplant Games winning 6 medals, in basketball, volleyball, track & field and darts. Eric celebrates life every day with his wife, son, twin daughters, and their dog, Amber. He loves movies, camping, the Chicago Bears and White Sox. While having family adventures and making memories, he continues to remember and honor the two lives lost that allowed him to continue his story.
Claudia Acevedo traveled to San Diego in 2022 to honor her 26-year-old son, Jaime. He passed away on Oct. 12, 2018, and became an organ donor.
“We called him the Cisco Kid,” she says. “He was as loving and caring a person anyone could have ever met. He was kind to everyone he met and could always entertain you with interesting news from around the world.”
As sad as it is to lose a child, she says, Claudia knows that Jaime would have been proud that he was able to make a difference in so many people’s lives.
“He was witty and could make anyone laugh,” she continues. “Jaime had the goofiest crooked smile that would make you smile right back. His heart beats on.”
Claudia hopes to raise funding for Transplant Life Illinois to support more donor families who wish to honor their loved ones at the Games.
Donor Family Liaisons
Mark and Pat Samel
Pat and Mark Samel have long been a part of Transplant Life Illinois. Ever since the death of their son Mike in 2001, Pat and Mark have shared with others their experiences as a donor family. Mike’s generosity enhanced or saved at least 23 lives.
Following Mike's death, the Samels wanted to become more involved with the transplant community but didn’t know how. “I didn’t know how to reach out to donor families,” Pat said. “We wanted to, but we didn’t know how.”
Mark said they met a few other families who were involved through Team Illinois, but initially they didn’t participate in team activities. That was until they attended the 2014 Donate Life Transplant Games in Houston. “Once we went to the first event and saw firsthand the response from recipients, it changed how we thought of being a donor family.”
Adds Pat regarding the Transplant Games, “Complete strangers come up to you and hug you. They don’t know who you are, but they want to say thank you to someone.”
For donor families, getting involved with Transplant Life Illinois can be part of the healing process following the loss of a loved one. “They’re new to this new reality and trying to find answers as to why they lost someone,” Mark says. “It was hard for us to understand that people we didn’t know wanted to embrace us, and this became part of our healing process.”
Pat said Transplant Life Illinois has become an important part of her and Mark’s lives. “They took us in as family and showed of lots of love.”
Today Pat finds herself on the other side of transplantation – she recently underwent a transplant herself.
“I had neck surgery, and a week later I got skin tissue,” Pat said. “We tell everyone about organ donation, and what it means to us, and now I’m a recipient too.”
Jennifer is the blessed recipient of a liver transplant at Indiana University Health in 2018. She received her undergraduate, law and MBA degrees at Indiana University - Bloomington.
Jennifer was an attorney in Chicago for almost 20 years focusing on real estate, commercial lending and bank regulatory matters. She is also a practicing watercolor and pastel artist.
Jennifer hopes to use her skills to assist Transplant Life Illinois in its many worthy endeavors.
Gina Baxter has been a staunch supporter of Team Illinois since the mid-2000s. Her husband, Mack, is a liver recipient and former Team Illinois competitor.
Gina served as Team Illinois manger for three Transplant Games and is an organizer of Team USA for the World Transplant Games.
Gina is lending her time and expertise to Transplant Life Illinois for special projects and board counsel.
Tina Y. Montgomery, MBA is Community Outreach Supervisor at Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network. In her role she is responsible for driving community outreach’s strategic purpose--to increase awareness of, visibility for, and engagement with organ and tissue donation throughout Gift of Hope’s donation service area.
Tina has served as a member-at-large on the TLI board since 2018.
Colette Jordan co-founded our 501c3 nonprofit in 2011. Colette served as treasurer for three years and has handled most of the team logistics for the past four Transplant Games.
A liver transplant recipient [Nov. 1, 2006, at Northwestern], Colette brought her many years of experience as a licensed social worker and transplant advocate to the leadership of Transplant Life Illinois.
Colette retired from the Board in 2022.