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College Station

Cody Wicker – Stem Cell Donor

Cody Wicker is being honored for his peripheral blood stem cell donation that gave a woman with leukemia a second chance. Cody registered for the Be The Match Registry in his hometown of Lewisville at a drive at his high school Dallas Jesuit. When he came up as a match four years later, he was a senior in college at Texas A&M University. It was a life changing experience for him that will always be remembered.

"Donating peripheral blood stem cells to a patient with leukemia was truly an amazing experience for me. Just the opportunity to give someone out there a second chance at life is something that I am so thankful for. I know if a family member of mine was going through such a difficult experience, that it would mean everything to me to be able to have more time with them. When I took 5 minutes and signed up as a senior in high school I never thought that I'd get this chance, but am so happy God blessed me with such a life changing opportunity."

Matthew Pokorney – Marrow Donor

Matthew Pokorney is being honored by the Lone Star Circle of Life because of his unselfish gift of a marrow donation to a little girl with leukemia.

Matthew had joined the registry in 2014 at a drive sponsored by his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta. He was contacted several months later and asked if he would be willing to donate marrow for this little girl. Matthew never hesitated and said “Yes!” A year following the donation, Matthew was able to meet the little girl whose life he saved at The MAZE event at Texas A&M. Thank you, Matthew, for your life-saving gift of life for a little girl in need!

Devin Love – Blood Recipient

Diagnosed at birth with a rare form of congenital heart disease, Devin has had to undergo several surgeries. During her most recent surgery in February, Devin received her first blood transfusion. Weeks later, during her recovery, another transfusion was needed. Devin is thankful for this gift of Life. She now thrives as a young woman and has become very passionate about helping commit for life with an annual blood drive in her home town.

Jack Milligan – Stem Cell Donor

Jack Milligan is being honored for his peripheral blood stem cell donation for a woman with leukemia. He registered at a drive sponsored by his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta, in 2014. He along with several other fraternity brothers, later became matches for patients in need.

Thank you, Jack, for your gift of life.

Arron Lopez – Organ Donor

It didn’t matter how much he disrupted his class by talking out of turn, Arron Lopez’s teachers couldn’t be upset with him. It was his smile. “He’d get out of his chair give his teacher a hug and smile, and his teacher would say, ‘I just can’t be mad at him.’ “He’s been that way since kindergarten,” Arron’s mother, Lisa McAdams said.

“As carefree and fun-loving as he was, Arron wanted to come across as tough,” his mother said. And despite a no-guns rule at home, 19-year-old Arron had a gun that he kept at his girlfriend’s house. One night while trying to make his friends laugh, the gun accidentally fired and Arron was killed. “It was just a stupid, senseless tragedy,” Lisa said.

Arron’s fun-loving, never-met-a-stranger personality fueled his parents’ decision to donate their son’s organs. “I just imagined him going up to the recipients and saying, ‘Man! You got my heart!’ Or, ‘Wow, you got my lungs!’ Arron would have thought it was really cool to help someone else,” Lisa said. Arron donated six organs, including his heart, lungs, pancreas and kidneys.

As Arron’s organs give life to others, Aaron’s sister is also keeping his memory alive. Two years after his death, she gave birth to a baby boy and named him Arron, after her brother.

Joshua Leal – Stem Cell Donor

Joshua Leal is being honored by the Lone Star Circle of Life for his life-saving donation of peripheral blood stem cells for a man with leukemia. Josh joined the Be The Match Registry during The MAZE event held at Texas A&M in Fall 2016. Almost 6 months after he registered, he found out he was the best match for this patient.

“Finding out that I was somebody’s match absolutely floored me. I had been praying and hoping that I would be able to give a part of my life to someone in this way, and I’m endlessly grateful that I was able to. It just amazes me to think that my own life has provided life to someone else. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.”

Texas A&M Delta Tau Delta Fraternity – Be The Match Advocates

The Delta Tau Delta Fraternity at Texas A&M University has been holding recruitment drives for the Be The Match Registry each semester for the past several years. Due to their efforts, well over 500 individuals have joined the Be The Match Registry and six of those newly recruited members have gone on to donate marrow or stem cells to patients searching for a match. We thank them for their continued efforts to save lives through donation.

Luke Feuchter – Stem Cell Donor

Luke Feuchter is being honored by the Lone Star Circle of Life because of his unselfish gift of a peripheral blood stem cell donation to a woman with leukemia. Luke had joined the registry at a drive held by Delta Tau Delta in 2014 and was contacted a year later to see if he would be willing to donate stem cells for a patient in need.

Thank you, Luke, for your gift of a second chance to this patient!

Dr. Verity McInnis – Donation Champion

Be The Match On Campus (BTMOC)- Texas A&M would like to honor Dr. Verity Mcinnis because of her time spent bringing awareness to the Byran/College Station community about cancer. Dr. Mcinnis gladly accepted the BTMOC adviser position in 2015 and has helped our organization tremendously. She is always thinking of new ways to grow our organization and to educate more people in the community. She also created Erin's Dream Race, a 5K in honor of Erin Buenger who passed away from neuroblastoma. With her help, BTMOC is able to help host and promote Erin's Dream Race to bring awareness to childhood cancer, blood cancer, and to raise money for both the Coalition of Childhood Cancer and Be The Match. The members of BTMOC appreciate all of the hard work and knowledge that Dr. Mcinnis brings to our organization!

Houston

Evan Taylor Lacombe, Tissue Donor

Evan Taylor Lacombe, the son of LSCOL rider Thomas Lacombe, became a tissue donor at age 28 in November 2016. His passing happened at a time that his father’s company, GlobalSpeak Translations, was working on the translation for the annual calendar for one of their clients, LifeGift.

Evan’s father said of his son, “Aside from having LifeGift as a client, both I and Evan always felt that it was important to perpetuate good will and to leave the world a better place through our personal works and contributions. Evan was an old soul who thought more of others than himself. If there was someone in need, a homeless man, on the street, a mother with a disabled vehicle on the side of the road, or a young child whose dog was found wandering and lost, Evan was that person who would stop and share a helping moment.”

Larry Joseph – Donation Champion

Larry Joseph is being nominated as a Lone Star Circle of Life Honoree because of his outstanding commitment to LifeGift during Hurricane Harvey. While not a transplant recipient, donor family or someone waiting, we consider Larry to be a donation champion in his role as inventory control specialist at LifeGift.

During Hurricane Harvey, Larry braved the high waters and came to LifeGift to check on the security of the building and report any damages to his supervisor because she could not get in due to the impassable roads. Larry came on Tuesday, when it was still raining to check on the condition of the building. Because of Larry's commitment and dedication to his job, LifeGift was able to remain operational and continue its lifesaving mission to save lives through donation in the midst of one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the greater Houston area. We applaud Larry for his dedication and hard work and therefore, would like to recognize him as a Lone Star Circle of Life Honoree!

Jorge Tamez – Organ and Tissue Donor

Jorge Tamez was trying to save the life of a horse after Hurricane Harvey floods and was attached by fire ants. Jorge was a registered donor and while he was trying to save a horse, he saved the life of more than 50 people. He was able to donate his heart, right and left kidney, liver, and tissues.

He was only 28 years old, loved his wife, horses and soccer.

Fergy Rodriguez – Tissue Donor

Always smiling, talking to God and dancing to hymns, tiny Fernandita “Fergy” Rodriguez was an angel to her family. When a car accident took her away at only 15 months old, Fergy’s parents, Nancy and David, knew she had simply gone home. For the funeral, they chose not to grieve her passing, but to celebrate her life. Everyone wore bright, happy colors. Though Nancy says the grieving process will never really be over, she also realizes that Fergy will never really be gone – she and David donated Fergy’s tissues.

“Knowing that a part of her is living in someone else is very gratifying,” Nancy said. The Rodriguez family honors their little girl through a support group they started for grieving families. Nancy and her mother, Martha Torres, are also LifeGift volunteers.

Joe Gonzales – Donation Advocate

Joe Gonzales, fondly referred to as “Mr. Joe” by LifeGift personnel, was on duty at LifeGift as the security guard during Hurricane Harvey. Despite several attempts to send him home, Mr. Joe stayed at LifeGift to make sure our building was safe. He ended up spending three nights and four days at LifeGift, constantly checking in with Jessica Leibold, senior managing director of purchasing and facilities, alerting her to any issues with the building.

In our eyes, he is truly a Harvey Hero and allowed us the ability to remained focused on our lifesaving mission – to save lives through organ and tissue donation.

Joyce Pfleeger – Stem Cell Recipient

Joyce Pfleeger was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome and received a stern cell transplant in 2013 from an unrelated donor. A former nurse who taught at San Jacinto College South Campus, Joyce was pleasantly surprised to find some of her former students were now taking care of her during her stay at MD Anderson. Joyce credits her successful recovery to having a great donor, being in otherwise good health going into her illness and transplant, and to the state of the art medical care provided by her healthcare team. In fact, over the past couple of years Joyce has recovered enough to fly to California to meet her donor and has been able to resume many of the activities she and her husband Jerry had planned for their retirement, including parasailing, hiking and paddle boarding. Jerry is a very diligent caregiver and the Pfleegers both volunteer with Be The Match Peer Connect Program, helping other patients and their caregivers who are on this journey as well.

Kisa Williams – Blood Recipient

Kisa was born with Sickle Cell Anemia, an inherited disorder of the red blood cells. Normal red blood cells are round, but in sickle cell anemia some red blood cells become deformed, so they look like the sickles used to cut wheat. Growing up with the disease was very difficult, simple things like playing outside with friends sometimes caused severe pain in her joints. Kisa’s parents gave her alternatives to physical activities. “My mom made sure I had every colored pencil, every marker, every type of construction paper and paint, I was the kid with the largest crayon box with the sharpener on the side (my pride and joy),” she said.

Designing ballerina clothes was Kisa’s first sign of being a fashion designer. She would often sit in her mom's closet and rearrange her handbags and play dress up with them; that is where Kisa’s love of handbags was born. After pursuing a career in real estate, she decided to go back to school and study something that she had a passion for. Kisa currently attends Houston Community College studying Fashion Merchandising.

Kaitlyn Daniel – Blood Recipient

Kaitlyn had scoliosis surgery just before Thanksgiving in 2015. The surgery went well, but recuperation was not so smooth. After several uncomfortable days in the hospital, her doctor determined that her body was not bouncing back because her red cell count was low. Without a blood transfusion, anemia would have kept her from healing promptly. Luckily, because of blood donors donating the week before Thanksgiving, units were available for her. Her body was able to heal perfectly after that. Kaitlyn and her loved ones are forever grateful to blood donors in the Houston area!

Amanda Lewis – Blood Donation Champion

When Hurricane Harvey brought flooding to Houston, Amanda was hard at work helping The Blood Center fulfill its lifesaving mission. As a senior shift coordinator in the Hospital Services Department, Amanda was onsite during the storm not only helping hospitals to have their needs met, but also helping to ensure the building remained safe. Her commitment during this time helped save lives and kept The Blood Center operational to the extent possible.

Trevor Plumley – Blood Recipient

Trevor was born in heart failure and needed his first units of blood when he was only two weeks old. At eight years old, he developed ulcerative colitis and has had multiple hospital stays and transfusions of blood due to it. Doctors say that he has replaced his entire blood almost three times.

Trevor is now 12 years old and a very active Boy Scout. It was determined that he is one of the youngest Eagle Scouts in his region. He did so by completing is project by creating a huge blood drive and community health fair. Trevor wanted to give back to the community and raise awareness of the on-going daily needs of blood. His goal was to have a large blood drive and help save someone’s life just like someone did for him – and he did!

Now an Eagle Scout, he continues to work with Gulf Coast Regional Blood center so that others can live!

Ezra Abraham – Gamma Globulin Recipient

Ezra was a perfectly healthy 15-month-old when he began showing strange symptoms. He was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, which can cause heart problems. The disease was treated with intravenous immunoglobulin made from donor plasma. Ezra was fortunate to have access to this treatment because of generous blood donors.

Frederick “Ziggy” Stovall-Redd – Marrow Transplant Recipient

Ziggy is nine year’s old and was originally diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at the age of four. After undergoing treatment, he relapsed on January, 2014. The new relapse and diagnosis was Central Nervous system leukemia. Later that year, Zig along with his family, moved to Houston and started receiving treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He was progressing greatly! He even reached a milestone of completing radiation therapy an in May of 2016, he completed his cancer treatment and got to ring the bell!

But only four months down the road, Ziggy's family found out he had relapsed again. This time in the bone marrow. Zig recently had his bone marrow transplant in July due to a having a wonderful female donor from Europe.

Kevin Williams – Marrow and Stem Cell Donor

Kevin Williams is being honored as both a marrow donor for a 13 year-old with severe aplastic anemia several years ago and as a stem cell donor for a man with leukemia seven years ago.

“I joined Be the Match Registry in July 2010 at the Houston Police Academy. I felt it was my duty as an officer to continue my oath of serving the community and saving lives. I also had relatives and friends who were affected by cancer and it wasn’t a great feeling to witness the pain and suffering they endured. So when I got the chance to sign up on the registry I did it without hesitation and in hopes of being that selected donor.

Well I’m happy to say I did get the opportunity to be a match for two different recipients who were in need of a transplant and it was the greatest feeling knowing that I made a difference in someone else’s life. Although both my recipients have now passed away, I was able to provide them with a little extra time with their families and friends.”

Clifton Mays – Stem Cell Donor

Clifton Mays is being honored for his stem cell donation seven years ago to a young woman with leukemia. He said of his experience, “I joined Be The Match registry at the Houston Police Department Training Academy in May of 2009. I was eager to join the registry because of the inspiring presentation given by the Be The Match representative who shared informative information about the Marrow Donor Program. However I was really moved by the story of Ronnie Mascheck, my fellow officer, whose son was affected by Leukemia. At that point I definitely knew it was my duty to get on the registry in hopes of being a match for someone like Ronnie’s son. I have always been encouraged to help others and being that person who wants to make a difference in someone else’s life.”

Longview

These honorees will be recognized at our Lone Star Circle of Life event in Longview. The event will be held Thursday, October 5 at 3 p.m. at the Institute for Healthy Living, 3133 Good Shepard Way.

Alaina Riley Mercer – Marrow Recipient

Alaina Riley Mercer In 1991, Alaina was seven years old and diagnosed with Fanconi's anemia. Her five year-old brother, Leonard, donated marrow to her. Her transplant was facilitated at Cook's Children's Hospital in Ft. Worth.

Alaina is doing well today and is happily married. She serves on the board of Because I Care, a donor recruitment group in Longview. Her brother is now a physician in Florida.

Mary Ann Mertz – Marrow Donor

Mary Ann Mertz In 1987, when Mary Ana was 25 years old, she donated marrow to her 23 year-old brother, Rod Hart, who had chronic leukemia. Her collection was done at Methodist Hospital in Minnesota.

Rod is doing very well today. He now as eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Issac Cooke – Organ Donor

"Isaac Cooke was born October 7th 1982 in Tyler. He was the third child and son of my parents, who had nine children in all. We were all home schooled and raised in the country on a small farm. Needless to say coming from a big family you learn to share, work together and your brothers and sisters are your best friends.

Fast forward to the night of June 21, 2001. Isaac was in an motorcycle accident as he headed to check on a friend that had gone to the Emergency Room. Isaac hadn't signed up as an organ donor, so in the early hours of June 22nd, my Mom, Dad and a few of us siblings that lived in Tyler made the decision to let Isaac's organs be taken for donation.

Looking back on that night, in the blur of grief and sadness, the decision for organ donation was the one silver lining moment in such a dark cloud. Knowing that so many other people's lives were touched, helped us cope as a family in the days and month even years down the road."

~ Issac's bother, Seth Cooke, 2017 LSCOL Team Member

Terry Braun – Blood Donor

Terry Braun Terry Braun is being nominated as an honoree for his continuing donation of blood, now in excess of 14 gallons. In recent years, he has added platelet donations to his blood donations. His wife added, "Our children, inspired by him, are blood donors as well. Our grandchildren await "coming of age" to donate, too."

Terry and his wife lost their 11 year-old grandson, Thomas Larry, following an accident at Lake O'The Pines on a scouting trip. Thomas became an organ donor and is also being honored

Thomas Larry – Multiple Organ Donor

Thomas Larry Last year, Thomas Larry notice the small heart on his mother's drivers license and asked what it was for. She explained that it meant if anything ever happened to her, she would want to donate her organs to help others. Thomas replied that if something happened to him, he would want to donate his organs to.

About two short months ago, Thomas was the youngest boy scout involved in a fatal boating accident at the Lake O' The Pines. Thomas was able to donate his corneas, heart valves, kidneys and liver. Multiple lives were saved because of his wonderful gift.

Del Covington – Stem Cell Transplant Recipient

Del Covington In 2005, Del was the associate pastor at First Methodist Church of Hallsville, when he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. Three years later, Del had a stem cell transplant.

He was fortunate to meet his donor, Pete Herting, of Oakdale, New York at the annual Because I Care banquet in 2010. Del is doing very well today and is grateful for the "gift of life" Pete gave him.

Beverly Johnson – Stem Cell Donor

Beverly Johnson In June of 2007, Beverly Johnson took part in an international transplant. Her stem cells were collected in Dallas and flown to Larry Parks of Alberta Canada, who had been diagnosed with acute leukemia. Larry and his wife flew to Longview in 2014 and met Beverly at the Because I Care banquet. He said "God brought us together and through medical science, my life was saved." Larry is doing very well and enjoying retirement.

Michael Lewis – Donation Advocate

Michael Lewis Michael Lewis is being honored by the Lone Star Circle of Life team for the many years of advocacy for organ donation and his support for the Lone Star Circle of Life. Michael's daughter, Lauren, was killed in an automobile accident when she was driving to Texas A&M. The Lewis family generously shared Lauren's life through organ donation and became advocates for donation.

Michael has also been an active member of the Lone Star team on several tours and sponsored events for the tour.

Thank you Michael, and the Lewis family for your support for the gift of life

Jeff and Jon Keller – Marrow Recipient and Donor

Jeff and Jon Keller Jeff Keller was diagnosed with acute leukemia in June of 1993 at the age of 18.

Jeff's identical twin brother, Jon, donated marrow to him, thus saving his life.




Rebecca Barker – Blood Transfusion Recipient

Rebecca Barker "I was blessed to receive life-saving blood after surgical complications and contracting an anaerobic bacteria that nearly took my life. I am thankful for all donors!"

Judy Hagle – Searching for Transplant

Judy has been battling liver disease for several years. She is now in the final stages and has been put on a liver transplant wait-list. Judy's son, Will, is riding into Longview with the Lone Star team for Judy and to help bring awareness to the need for donors.

Stark Novak – Organ Transplant Recipient

When Chris and Salem Novak learned their unborn son had a congenital heart defect, they gave him a name fit for a fighter: Stark, after Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man. After Stark was born on June 8, 2012, he fought through three surgeries — all before the age of two. But in the summer of 2014, his heart began to weaken significantly, and physicians put his name on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

"I was hysterical," Salem said of learning that her son would need a heart transplant. She couldn't imagine another child losing their life so that Stark could live. A chaplain put it to Salem this way: "Accidents happen every single day. We won't pray for that to happen, of course. But we can pray that if an accident happens, the family makes the decision to donate." Because a family made the generous decision to donate in October 2014, Stark is alive and well today. The 5-year-old started kindergarten this past fall.

Now, Salem is a volunteer for Southwest Transplant Alliance, and she shares her family's story as often as she can. "I want people to be aware, not only of congenital heart defects, but also of organ donation," she says. "If our story could save someone's life, or give comfort to someone else who has lost a loved one, that's wonderful."

Samantha Watkins – Organ Donor

When Samantha "Sam" Watkins's family realized that the 18-year-old wasn't going to survive her most recent seizure, they let the hospital staff know of Sam's decision to donate her organs. Little did Sam's family know that when she turned 18, she had registered her decision to be an organ, eye and tissue donor.

Sam spent a lot of time caring for children who have special needs. Because of her work with this population, Sam was aware of the importance of organ and tissue donation. During Labor Day weekend in 2016, while Sam was serving as a camp counselor for special needs children, she hit her head on a bunk bed and had a seizure. Though Sam had no history of seizures, they continued. On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, she had a grand mal seizure that she did not survive.

But because of her decision to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor, Sam's spirit lives on. She donated her heart valves, both kidneys, liver and other tissues. Her mother, Barbara Watkins, has spoken to the man who received Sam's liver and plans to meet him in person soon. He is the father of two children. "Because of Sam, he gets to be a dad," Barbara said. Barbara also hopes that Sam's story will prompt people to register to become organ, eye and tissue donors. "There are so many people waiting for transplants," she said. "If you can save someone, why not do it?"

Mobberly Baptist Church – Donation Champions

Mobberly Baptist Church has supported Because I Care since its first event in January 1990. Because I Care is a volunteer donor recruitment group affiliated with Be The Match Registry.

The pastor & staff members have shown support by attending and participating in fundraising events and Because I Care's annual banquet. Mobberly Baptist Church has donated funds annually to enable Because I Care to pay tissue-typing fees for potential donors. Donor recruitment drives have been held at the church several times. The church's faithful support has been a blessing to Because I Care's board of directors for nearly 28 years.

San Antonio

Justin Bateman – Organ Donor

It’s a tragic scene no one wants to come upon, two SUVs collide, one wrecked beyond recognition. Passerby Justin Bateman was compelled to stop to try and help. He soon finds a 22- year-old woman fighting for her life. Justin, who family members describe as the “kind of guy always willing to help,” jumped into action. While others looked on, he sat and held the young woman’s hand encouraging her until her final breath. As news of the horrific accident spread, so did the unofficial naming of Justin as “The Good Samaritan.” Sadly, just one month later, Justin himself was involved in a fatal motorcycle accident. Once again, his humanity for others was revealed. Knowing Justin’s desire to help others, his family said yes when approached about the gift of organ donation. Justin saved four lives. For his family, knowing his legacy would continue, gave them strength to carry on.

In December 2015, Justin's family met Radu, the man who received the heart of their hero. The meeting was full of tears, joy and hugs from all, including Justin’s son. Justin’s mom feels they could not have asked for a better recipient and are looking forward to visits with their new extended family.

Zachary “Zach” Baza - Multiple Organ Recipient

Zach Baza was born October 14, 2007. The only boy and baby of the family, he was his parents pride and joy. The excitement turned to concern when doctors discovered he had several blockages in his small intestines. Over the next four months Zach had three surgeries to remove the blockages so that his digestive system would work. The surgeries were unsuccessful and since Zach had been on TPN (intravenous nutrition) for so long, he went into liver failure. His parents were told that there was nothing more that could be done for Zach and he would soon pass away. The next day, however, the NICU Director informed them of a special program out of state that specialized in small bowel and liver transplants. There was a glimmer of hope that Zachary’s life could be saved. Calls were made and within days Zach was flown to the special hospital to wait for his life-saving gift. After a month of waiting his parents were informed that if they did not get “the call” for organs within the next couple of days, Zach would be too sick to transplant. The following Sunday they received the wonderful call that a gracious family had donated their loved one’s organs just in time for Zach!

Zach received three transplants: a small bowel, pancreas and liver on April 14, 2008. For the next several months he recovered and in November, 2008 right before Thanksgiving he returned to San Antonio.

Today, Zach is nine years-old, in fourth grade, and running and playing as if he was never sick. His family feels very blessed and often you’ll find Zach and his mom, Carmelita spreading the word about the Donate Life Texas registry and the critical need for organ, eye and tissue donation.

Rowan Windham – Transplant Recipient

10-Year old Rowan Windham was diagnosed with Shwachman- Diamond syndrome (SDS), a rare genetic disorder when he was just four months old. SDS affects the blood, bone marrow, and pancreas which required him to take 20 different types of medications and make weekly trips to the doctor. He had made 1,200 visits to the doctor in his life.

Rowan’s only hope for a cure was a bone marrow transplant. There were no matching donors on the national registry. After two unsuccessful bone marrow transplants from his parents, Rowan gained his wings on December 15, 2016. Rowan’s wish is that his story inspires 1 Million Marrow Matches. This year, GenCure Marrow Donor Program is dedicating their donor recruitment efforts to Rowan and his wish to inspire 1 Million Matches. So far in 2017, GenCure Marrow Donor Program has added over 14,000 donors to Be The Match Registry. One donor closer to fulfilling your wish Rowan!

“If you can’t see the good….make the good” -Rowan Windham

Jon Ugarte – Cord Blood Recipient

Like a lot of 22-year-olds, Jon Ugarte’s favorite things to do are listen to music, dance and spend time with his family. But Jon, who is living with Down syndrome, is also a survivor of lymphoblastic leukemia. In 2006, Jon was one of thousands of patients with life-threatening diseases hoping for a marrow donor match to make a transplant possible. Only 30 percent of patients have a match within their families; the rest depend on the community at large. After his diagnosis, Jon’s mother Lisa began to learn about his disease and the need for a transplant. Several marrow drives were held for Jon, adding multiple donors to the national registry.

The drives did not find a marrow match for Jon, but the Ugartes’ prayers were answered when a cord blood match was found in January 2011. Cord blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby is born. An alternative to a marrow transplant, cord blood is also rich in blood-making stem cells and can be used to treat patients with certain cancers and fatal blood disorders.

Throughout Jon’s battle with cancer, the Ugarte family also hosted blood drives. Jon’s five years of chemotherapy treatment required multiple blood transfusions, sometimes as twice a week. Even after his cord blood transplant, Jon received blood transfusions to keep his body in stable condition to continue to fight the disease. After completing his treatments for the leukemia, Jon is in remission. He is in good health and good spirits, and the Ugartes are thankful for the work of GenCure and the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center.

Emmalee Crane – Blood Recipient

Emmalee, on her ninth birthday, found a mass in her bladder that ended up being rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer. She then started the long road of becoming a cancer survivor. During her treatment she received the gift of blood, many times especially during a 16 hour surgery where they removed her bladder. It was an uphill battle for 11 months with intense chemotherapy and major surgery but she came through and is has been in remission for three years.

It was a hard year for her. The chemo and the pain took its toll. When she was done with treatment she was weak from being mostly bedridden and very unhappy. Camp discovery turned her around. The physical activities strengthened her debilitated body and their love and acceptance strengthened her soul. She found friends and a type of family that had endured the same hardships as she had. She was able to find herself again at Camp Discovery and find joy in this new life that she has been dealt.

Camp Discovery – Cancer Advocate Group

Camp Discovery is a unique camp experience for children affected by cancer. The camp is open to children ages 7-16 from several hospitals in Texas. Approximately 74% of the volunteers are cancer survivors, with over 50% of those being former campers. Staff members are dedicated to providing understanding, leadership, compassion, safety, and direction to our campers, as well as enjoying the experience with them.

The main purpose of Camp Discovery is to provide these wonderful children a fun and “normal” camp experience, an experience they would not be able to get at a traditional residential camp. Other things take place like learning new skills, individual growth, and personal development. Speak with any of our long time volunteers and they could all tell you wonderful stories of what they have seen and experienced at Camp Discovery. During Camp Discovery children will experience perhaps the best week of their life by swimming, fishing, climbing, canoeing, laughing, dancing, singing, horseback riding, and simply being with other people who can relate to their situation.

Jacob Marez – Donor

Jacob was born in San Antonio, Texas and lived here his entire life. He was a sophomore at MacArthur High School. Jacob loved his Minute Maid Tropical Punch juice, Ruffles potato chips, burnt popcorn and crusty chicken nuggets. He loved stirring up ant piles, riding wild roller coasters and swinging as high as the trees. We will remember his crazy laugh popping fireworks and his excitement at any type of swimming, especially playing in the waves of the ocean. We will miss you Jacob and keep you close to us in our hearts.

Aaron Brady, The Brady Family and Team Brady

Husband and father of two, Aaron Brady was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia on March 3, 2017. Aaron’s family was told that the best hope for a cure would be a bone marrow transplant in which a donor must be found. The Brady Family immediately started educating our community on the need for committed marrow donors and encouraging others to join Be The Match Registry. Together, they set of goal of adding 100,000 donors to Be The Match Registry.

Aaron’s Wife, Carrie started a facebook page called “We are all the Bradys” where so many have poured out their Love for Aaron and his family. Carrie, called upon friends, family, and colleagues to host marrow donor registry drives and Team Brady was born. In just seven months, Team Brady has added over 2,000 donors to Be The Match Registry and held over 50 donor registration events. Aaron is currently recovering from a haploidentical transplant from his Brother. Aaron and his family are an inspiration to so many. We Love The Brady’s…We are all the Bradys. Onward to 100,000 donors, Go Team Brady! Marrow Matches are starting to come up from Team Brady events. See message below from Aaron’s Wife, Carrie:

“I wanted to let you all know that I received ANOTHER note from a friend that someone who #swabforaaron was a match for a patient - giving a child, husband, father, mother, sister, or friend a lifesaving opportunity. This is so amazing, and I hope it inspires you to look for opportunities to host drives wherever it exists - sports events, school events, churches, anywhere! YOU can be a part of saving lives and families. I have contacts in San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas if you need help. But #bethematch can hook you up anywhere. It is so easy to give this life saving, "Powerball" gift. I continue to pray I get the call to win the Powerball of restoring life.”

The Colony

These honorees will be recognized at our Lone Star Circle of Life event in The Colony. The event will be held Friday, October 6 at 3 p.m. at Lava Cantina, 5805 Grandscape Blvd., The Colony, TX 75056.

Cindy Johnson – Stem Cell Donor

"I joined the registry over 20 years ago, when I was working at Frito-Lay in Plano, TX. I felt honored to be called and I hoped I would be a match. I was told I was not quite a match but they wanted me to go ahead with the donation.

The donation process was painless and everyone was very nice at Carter BloodCare in Fort Worth. The hardest part was staying still for 5 hours and no bathroom break! I cried when I learned my recipient had died just a couple months before I was able to meet him. I am still sad I was never able to meet any family or hear his story.

I am 53 years old with a daughter that is almost 24, son that is 21 and wonderful husband. I work part-time in marketing."

Mia Martinez – Stem Cell Recipient

"When Mia was eight weeks old, we took her into the ER because she had a high fever. After numerous tests she was finally diagnosed with Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis. (HLH) HLH is a rare life-threatening immunodeficiency with a 100% fatally rate if left untreated. 4 days later she began her 8 week chemo regimen which was then followed by a week of intense chemo. At 4 months old she received her life saving stem cell transplant. Mia has gone through so many obstacles and ups and downs in her short life but yet she has touched the lives of so many people. She is a fighter and the true definition of perseverance. She will be 4 years old in November and she is full of life and happiness. She loves to be around people and especially kids. She got a rough start at life but we want to share her story to as many people as we can to help raise awareness for HLH.

Johnston Walker Keegan – Organ Donor Organ Recipient

"In passing at four days old, Johnston’s family chose to give life to my son, Keegan. The boys were born on the same day, almost exactly six hours apart. At almost the same hour that we were told Keegan would not survive without a heart, the Walkers were being told that Johnston had suffered terminal brain damage from SIDS. In their grief, the Walkers chose life for Keegan We strive to honor Johnston’s memory and gift with every breath and every day we are blessed to have Keegan with us."

Angie Leon – Stem Cell Donor

"I joined the registry because ever since I was little, I’ve always liked the idea of helping others and what better way than this! When I received the call telling me I was a possible match, I was at work and remember I cried so much for joy. I ran to tell the provider I worked for that I was a possible match. When I received the all to be a donor, I was filled with emotions. I was happy, yet nervous. I thanked God for this."

Prasanthi Ganesa, MD – Marrow Donor

Dr. Ganesa joined the Be The Match Registry in 1999 at Texas A&M. Throughout the years on the registry, she kept her address current and recommitted whenever asked by Be The Match. Seventeen years after joining the registry, she received the call saying she was a match for a child with leukemia. Dr. Ganesa gave this child a second chance this past year by donating marrow. 

Dr, Ganesa says, "I am a medical oncologist at The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Fort Worth and treat patients with cancers. My job is to help patients fight for their lives. However, donating my bone marrow was the most personal and direct way to make a difference for someone fighting for their life and I am truly grateful for the privilege."

Thank you, Dr. Ganesa, for your wonderful gift.

Richard Tutt – Marrow Donor

"I joined the registry a few years ago after participating in a blood drive at church. My experience with Be the Match has been was positive, fulfilling and rewarding.

Beginning from my initial phone screen and questionnaire the nurses and coordinators were very attentive and kind. Things were explained to me comprehensively and with care. I felt I was given all the necessary information to help me with my decision to donate. I also want to thank Jamie Herrin who assisted me with scheduling the surgery; it was quite a busy time for me. Jamie was patient, understanding and worked with my schedule.

It was important to participate in giving this gift. It was a way for me to positively impact someone's life and family. While it was a challenging time for me personally, I still wanted to make the decision to donate, and to show my children that even when things are not as we would have it; we can still make decisions that can benefit others and not just look to only benefit ourselves.

The act of my donation was to "Be a Match" to someone I could help and to set an example to my children on how to serve and think about others. I’m so grateful I was able to participate in the program and I am very excited and proud to have done so."

Edward Hagan – Stem Cell Transplant Recipient

"I was a couple of months short of my 65th birthday when I went to the hospital with a pain in my back which turned out to be kidney stones caused by Acute Leukemia. I had six months of chemotherapy to put the leukemia in remission but I needed a STEM cell transplant.

Fortunately for me, my 60 yea- old younger sister was a match. Remarkably she had been cured of Hepatitis C just six months prior to my diagnosis. I walked the ‘Light The Night’ fund raiser the evening before I went into the hospital for the transplant. My sister flew in from Nashville and donated her stem cells. I had my new birthday transplant on November 10th 2015. Was in the hospital the minimum 21 days and released. I was fortunate in that I didn't have any GVHD or infections.

Once I got my strength back, I contacted Be The Match about being a volunteer, met Cliff Ackerman, and started volunteering. Cliff is a great guy to work with and I have volunteered at a number of his events. As all transplant survivors will tell you, we feel extremely fortunate to have benefited from the decades of research that started when I was a child in the 1950s, and are alive today to spread the word about the amazing success of STEM cell and bone marrow transplantation. It saves lives.

Michael West – Stem Cell Donor

"I signed up for the registry in 2012 as a high school senior and matched with a patient a year later. I was asked to donate for this patient in 2015.  He made an amazing recovery after receiving the donation – I saved his life! I have also organized and volunteered for several Be The Match events."

Jose Paredes – Stem Cell Donor

"Walking through the campus of UT Arlington a few years ago, I saw the booth for Be The Match and since I already donated blood regularly, I decided to go ahead and submit a sample. I never expected to get called as I know that chances are fairly low. I received the initial text message that I was a potential match for a young girl the day I got back from my honeymoon and I was surprised but mostly excited. As I got information about the odds of being chosen even from the smaller pool, I didn't think I would actually be the best match. After all of the testing and being declared the best match for the recipient, I knew there was no way that I couldn't donate."

Jay Jakkal – Marrow Donor

Jay Jakkal is being honored for his marrow donation to a young lady with leukemia.  Jay said about his donation, "I joined because it was by almighty God’s grace. I was at an event for my kids and just wanted to be a blessing that God wants us to be. It is the least I could do for people suffering from cancer and need help. I wish I could meet or know about the girl on how she is doing.

I want to say "Thank You" Jamie and Be The Match organization for being such a tremendous blessing in making this happen. God Bless you.

Elaine Donahy – Stem Cell Donor

"In August, I was able to be a donor for a patient after being a Bone Marrow Transplant nurse for five years and volunteering for Be The Match for three years.

Now, as a Nurse Practitioner taking care of Bone Marrow Transplant patients, I finally was able to truly give more of myself to a special person in need! I feel so blessed and honored to have spent so many years with recipients and now to be a donor! It has truly been an amazing experience."

Michele Robinson – Organ Donor

Michele Robinson is being honored as an organ donor. She donated a kidney to her momma, Rose Mary Hatfield, on April 11, 2007. Her gift gave her and her brother almost ten more years with their momma.

Michele and her husband John have always been active in their local 4-H. Their daughter McKalah was a proud third generation 4-Her and her favorite projects were her livestock projects, specifically heifers, steers, and pigs. Although McKalah graduated over four years ago, you can still find Michele and John in the barns, always willing to help other kids and families out with their livestock projects.

Andre Tucker – Kidney Recipient

It hasn’t quite been three months since Andre Tucker received a kidney transplant, and yet he’s already been to visit patients at the center where he underwent dialysis for nearly five years. His message to these dialysis patients? Stay positive and keep fighting. "It can get really discouraging sometimes," Andre says of being a dialysis patient. "Some of these patients wait five, 10 or 15 years for a kidney transplant, and I want them to know it’s possible, and it can happen." It finally happened for Andre in July of 2017.

Andre is a corporate trainer, husband, father of two and a lifelong athlete — primarily a basketball player. During his illness, he switched to lower-impact sports like golf and softball. Andre is looking forward to playing basketball again soon, and taking his family on a vacation — something they couldn’t do while he was receiving dialysis.

Ariel Tinajero – Stem Cell Donor

Ariel Tinajero joined the Be The Match Registry when he was at Northlake College where he is pursuing a degree in psychology. Now 22 years-old, he just donated peripheral blood stem cells several months ago.

When asked him why he joined, he said, "Because Cliff asked him if he wanted to save a life?"

Victoria Wallace – Organ Donor

"Victoria was only 15 when she passed. Her parents made the decision to donate her organs. Because of this generous gift in their darkest moment, I am alive today to help change lives. From what her parents have told me, Victoria had the kindest heart, joy of life and was a very generous person. I feel that she needs to be honored for the sweet girl that she was."

Kent Canada – Stem Cell Donor

Kent Canada is being honored because of his stem cell donation for a patient with Myelodysplastic Syndrome. He registered with the Be The Match Registry twenty years ago and received the call to be a donor in 2015.

Taylor Storch – Organ Donor

"It went from the best family vacation to the worst family vacation in a light-switch of a moment," said Tara Storch. The Storches were on Spring Break in Colorado in March 2015, when their oldest daughter, 13-year-old Taylor, died in an accident on the slopes. Because Taylor's parents, Tara and Todd, decided to donate their daughter's organs, Taylor gave the gift of life to five other people. Taylor donated her heart, pancreas, liver, both kidneys and corneas.

"We had never thought about organ donation before Taylor's death," Storch said. "But when we learned that was an option, my husband and I knew immediately that Taylor would have chosen to donate." Though her life was tragically cut short, Taylor is still impacting families today through a foundation her parents started in her honor: Taylor's Gift. The foundation's purpose is two-fold: to share the importance of organ donation and to help organ donor families during their time of need.

"We really started this with the intent of increasing organ donation registrations. That's the engine of the foundation," Storch said. "But our giveback is our Legacy Gift program." The Legacy Gift program provides financial assistance to donor families who may be struggling to pay bills or cover funeral expenses after the loss of a loved one. The program, which is funded through philanthropic donations, has helped nearly 200 families since 2015.

"As a grieving parent, you start looking for purpose," Storch said. "Organ donation was the good that came from our tragedy."

Waco

Gabriella Ornelas – Searching for a Match

Gabi Ornelas is from Temple. Her favorite subject in school is art and she one day wants to become a YouTube star!

In July of 2015, Gabi was diagnosed with Acute lymphocytic leukemia. She did not have a match within her family so she is currently searching the Be The Match Registry for a matching donor. There has been a big outpouring of support for Gabi from throughout central Texas and the Brazos Valley.

Amy Dahl – Donation Champion

Amy has been a donation champion at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Hillcrest for many years. She advocates for staff education; provides practical opportunities for staff to participate in caring for organ donors and their families; promotes a culture of donation within her department and hospital on many levels; has personally gone above and beyond to facilitate collaboration with Texas Organ Sharing Alliance, the Lone Star Lion's Eye Bank, and United Tissue Resources. Amy's compassionate support of donor families and her support of nursing staff throughout the donation process set her apart as servant leader.

As a nurse manager, Amy leads by example by still participating in the donation process and sharing her expertise with her staff. Amy has worked with members across the hospital's interdisciplinary team to support donation efforts. It is a joy to see Amy's heart and hard work in action.

Casey Billingsly – Stem Cell Donor

Casey Billingsly is being honored by the Lone Star Circle of Life because of her donation of peripheral Blood Stem Cells to a man with severe aplastic anemia. Casey joined the Be The Match Registry at a drive in Mexia. It was six years before she was contacted and told she was a possible match. A short time later, she found out she was the best match for this patient and donated her stem cells to give him a second chance for a normal life.

“I joined the registry while working as a phlebotomist in blood collections, so I knew first-hand the importance of donating. I was very excited about the possibility of being a match, and the opportunity to impact someone's life in such a meaningful way. Six years passed and finally the call came! I am so grateful for this life giving experience. It’s truly life changing not only for the recipient, but for the donor as well.”

Thank you, Casey, for your wonderful gift of life!

Sandi Lane – Stem Cell Donor

Sandi joined the registry over ten years ago. She came up as a match for a man in Europe with myelodysplastic syndrome last year and donated peripheral blood stem cells to give him a second change of life.

Randy LeGrand – Organ Donor

Randy LeGrand is being honored as an organ donor. In 2004, he donated a kidney to his sister, Melanie Hartman.

This unselfish gift enabled Melanie to live life to the fullest including being a team rider for the Lone Star Circle of Life tour. Melanie says her brother is very humble about his donation and is an amazing Dad, brother and friend.

Jeanie Sides Johnson – Stem Cell Transplant Recipient

Jeanie ‘Sides Johnson is being honored by the Lone Star Circle of Life as a two-time Marrow Transplant Recipient. She received her first marrow donation from her sister, Claire Sides Northcut, in 2003. Jeanie and her family were always aware that not everyone finds a matched donor, so they have supported the Miracle Match Marathon since the first year it was held. Under Jeanie’s leadership, Midway ISD had several relay teams at Miracle Match and she also started the district’s running and training program which encourages involvement in many local races.

Jeanie had a relapse with the cancer this past year, but was lucky to have her three siblings who are matches. Her brother, Jim Sides, was her donor for her second transplant in May of this year. Jeanie says, “My 100-day biopsy showed the transplant worked, and I’m 100% cells from my brother, Jim. I am still recovering, not completely thriving, needing transfusions and having a few setbacks from time to time. I'm having difficulty transitioning to Jim's A positive blood type. But, I'll take the struggles! I feel very blessed to be alive. I'm making plans to return to work soon on a part-time basis.”

Jeanie is also helping Be The Match through supporting sales of special Phoenix brand t-shirts. She says,” Jeanie is an inspiration to us all, but says her inspiration is from her siblings’ willingness to donate.

Joseph Villa – Stem Cell Donor

Joseph Villa is being honored by the Lone Star Circle of Life because of his donation of peripheral Blood Stem Cells to a man with acute leukemia.

Joseph joined the Be The Match Registry at a drive held by Camp Gladiator in 2014. A year later, he was contacted to see if he would be a donor for this man in need.

Thank you, Joseph, for your wonderful gift of life!

Todd Warner – Kidney Transplant Recipient

Todd Warner is being honored by team member Melanie Hartman, who met Todd on the 20K cycling coarse at the 2014 Transplant Games in Houston. Todd had been diagnosed with end stage renal failure in 2002 and was on dialysis for four years before he received a kidney transplant. He married his wife Rebecca and they have two young children, Brennan and Evelyn.

Todd's kidney has failed and he is currently on dialysis and waiting to be listed on the transplant list. While he is waiting, he enjoys cycling competitively, playing music and helping with his kids soccer, cub scouts and dance classes.

Melanie says, “He believed in me and helped coach me, a complete stranger to the end. I have kept up with Todd and his wife Rebecca via face book since the Houston Games. I am truly inspired by both Rebecca and Todd's positive outlook on life and the strength that they show to the people around them. It would be an honor to cycle for them.”

The Global Embassy of Activists for Peace – Donation Champions

The Global Embassy of Activists for Peace (GEAP) have partnered with Carter BloodCare of Central Texas since 2015. GEAP's "Life is in the Blood" program objective is to contribute towards the formation of a voluntary, altruistic and habitual culture of safe blood donation, to increase the active and effective participation of the citizens with the objective of guaranteeing the supply of blood and its components to every person that needs it. By partnering with Carter BloodCare and volunteering to recruit donors at community drives, they have helped raise awareness of the importance of voluntary blood donations and ensure our hospitals have the blood they need for their patients.

Since 2015, The Global Embassy of Activists for Peace have volunteered to recruit donors at 30 community blood drives which have collected more than 500 pints of blood. Because of their commitment to saving lives through blood transfusions, they have made it possible for over 1 ,500 people to enjoy their next special moment in life.

Rita Spinks – Stem Cell Donor

Rita Spinks joined the registry at a blood drive in San Saba, Texas 15 years ago. She now lives in Waco and is married to her wonderful and supportive husband, Steve. They have four children and six grandchildren.

Rita thought her age might play a factor in being able to donate, but once she found out she was a match, she was ready to go. She was a match for a young man in Europe who had leukemia. Rita believes being able to donate her stem cells has been one of the most incredible experiences of her life. She encourages everyone to get on the donor registry!

Jim Olmstead – Blood and Marrow Donation Advocate

Jim Olmsted is a 55-year-old radiologist who has spent his career diagnosing and treating cancer patients. He recently discovered what it is like to be on the patient’s side of the team. Jim was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) in 2016. He is a competitive cyclist, racing Cat 1 division in mountain biking. He noticed an unusual and rapid drop in performance in his racing and developed unexplained bruising. He drew his blood and, under the microscope, it was clear to him that he had a very unusual blood cancer. A bone marrow biopsy immediately followed and confirmed APL. This is a very aggressive form of leukemia, uniformly fatal within weeks of diagnosis without prompt treatment. Fortunately, new treatment protocols have been developed which have flipped the tables on the outcome statistics. Jim was immediately admitted to Providence Hospital where he spent 30 days receiving chemotherapy and blood products to combat internal bleeding and restore his depleted platelets. A long-term blood donor, he is grateful to others who provided him with lifesaving platelets and blood products.

After treatment in the hospital, Jim had to undergo outpatient chemotherapy 5 days a week. Jim continued to practice medicine and ride his bicycle, even completing the triple threat at the Hotter’N Hell 100 and, a few weeks later, the Enchanted Circle Bike Tour. He has found that riding in the back of the tour was a new experience but every bit as fun as the front!

Jim was declared cancer-free in December of 2016. After receiving this news, he was able to train for and complete his first marathon in February of 2017, and then a full Ironman in April.

Jim continues to enjoy life, watching the success of his two sons, Ricky and Randy, who are medical students who also share his passion for medicine and blood donation. While no longer able to donate blood products, Jim is still a strong advocate for blood donation and marrow donation. Jim is living proof that one never knows when they or a loved one will require this lifesaving treatment.

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