Cornea Liaison

Tobey Vistine: You know Anthony and Alex's mom

When my oldest son Anthony was four years old, he had scarring of the cornea and was losing his vision. In 2003 he received the gift of sight through a cornea transplant. Without the transplant, he would have completely lost his sight. Soon after his transplant both Anthony and I became ambassadors for Eversight Illinois and advocates through Gift of Hope. Today at 15 years old and thanks to his restored vision, Anthony competed and medaled in swimming, golf and a 10K Run at the 2016 Transplant Games of America in Cleveland.

 

My second son also received a transplant at age four almost 10 years from the time of Anthony's transplant. Alexander, now five years old, underwent spinal fusion to correct a severe congenital scoliosis curvature that was at 72 degrees and growing. During the spinal fusion, doctors used cadaver bone to promote healing, future growth and stability. Alex has healed well and is learning to ride a bike, play sports and has a curvature reduced to less than 30 degrees. 

 

Watching Anthony participate on his high school cross country team and learn to drive as well as being able to watch Alex run and climb is something I will never take for granted. Throughout our journey we have met so many individuals whose lives have been touched by transplantation in some way and hearing each story is always a truly humbling experience. I want to honor Anthony's cornea donor and Alex's tissue donor by spreading awareness, encouraging others to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor and play a more active role in the mission of Team Illinois.  My goal is to recruit more cornea and tissue recipients to participate as well as expand the team’s relationships with Eversight Illinois and Allosource, and the medical community in Illinois that processes and distributes cornea and tissue. 

 

I am excited and thankful to be the Team Illinois Cornea and Tissue Liaison. I am also beyond grateful to be the mom of two amazing boys that have been blessed to have an enhanced life due to organ, eye and tissue donation.

 

Please contact me for more information at tavistine@yahoo.com

Tissue Liaison

Pat Samel: Donor Mom and Tissue Recipient

Pat Samel brings a unique perspective to her activities with Transplant Life Illinois. Pat, along with her husband Mark, share Donor Family Liaison duties with Terry and Sheila Walters. Ever since the death of their son Mike in 2001, Pat and Mark have shared their experiences as a donor family. Mike’s generosity enhanced or saved at least 23 lives. 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.”

            Following the death of their son, the Samels wanted to become more involved with the transplant community, but didn’t know how that would come about. “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.”

You may reach Pat and Mark Samel at mark@thesamels.com or pat@thesamels.com.

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