PEORIA - One Central Illinois woman is proof, every day, of just how much the gift of life truly means. Because of a generous donor, her life is continuing. Now she is using that gift to it’s fullest.
“I can't say that it's scary. Because you don't have a choice. Because this is your only choice. And I knew for a long time that the transplant was going to be the only way that I was going to live.
Carrie Stephen suffered from a serious lung disease, autoimmune and pulmonary fibrosis, for years. She had a lung transplant last June, and knows she wouldn’t be alive today without her donor family.
“When I talk to people about signing up for organ donation I say that people can't breath and are struggling for breath. Imagine that you can't breath. Imagine that you can't chew gum. Imagine that you can't get out of a chair without having shortness of breath.
Before surgery, Stephen could only use 16 percent of her lungs.
Now she is training for a 5K Marathon. Maybe even more impressive, she worked towards earning her M.B.A while she was recovering. Now Stephen is a Pediatric Surgery Physician at Children’s Hospital of Illinois OSF
“It’s really taking care of the gift that someone gave. I always say I'll do anything to make my new lungs a happy, healthy home.”
Not only is Carrie recovering well from surgery, she encourages others to be organ donors- to help give the gift of life.
“Carrie, as you said, is very type A. Which I personally love. She really spread the word out there. There is no one better.” said Michelle Reef of Gift of Hope.
In Illinois, alone, 5.000 people are waiting for organ donations. Michelle Reef works for gift of hope and sees that dire need.
“I don't think people know the critical need of organ transplants. We were talking before. Eighteen people a day die without a life changing transplant,” continued Reef.
The gift of organ donation isn’t just for those on the receiving end. In a small way, it provides a chance for donors to continue to live on.
“I've had the benefit of corresponding with my donor family. And they are very sweet and will always be part of my life. And we are forever connected. I am sort of part of their family because I have mom's daughter inside of me.”
April is National Donate Life Month. To learn more about Illinois’s initiative to get people registered- and to register yourself- visit http://www.lifegoeson.com/.