Jewell Cardwell: Transplant recipient breathing much easier
Cuyahoga Falls woman plans to walk Saturday in LifeBanc fundraiser
By Jewell Cardwell
Beacon Journal staff writer
Beacon Journal staff writer
Monica Carden Phillips is eternally thankful for all of her blessings. And she wants everybody to know it.
She's not settling for just being a say-something person; she'd much rather be a do-something person. So she's doing something Saturday morning at Blossom Music Center.
The Cuyahoga Falls woman, 44, will join hundreds of other foot soldiers who are fortunate to be alive because someone made the unselfish decision to save a life through organ or tissue donation. Registration for LifeBanc's Gift of Life run/walk gets under way at 7:30 a.m.
Phillips, a wife, mother and former banker, received a double-lung transplant 11 weeks ago at the Cleveland Clinic. She has formed her own team, appropriately called Eternally Thankful.
It's the best way Phillips knows to say thanks for the gift of life. It will be several months before she's allowed to write a letter to the anonymous donor's family. Then it will be up to the family whether to have any contact with her. ''I hope they do want to meet me,'' Phillips said. ''The donor family gave so much to me! ''I know if I were the donor, I would want my family to know the difference I made in someone's life.'' The difference in Phillips' life has been just that — life itself.
''For the first time in my life, I'm able to really breathe,'' Phillips said of the asthma that had engulfed her life since infancy. There was a period when it was dormant. But when it came back, it was with a vengeance. A few years ago, she was diagnosed with advanced idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis — a scarring or thickening of the lungs for which there is no known cause or cure.
A double-lung transplant was the only recommended treatment. She was placed on the transplant list. She waited with no guarantees and prayed for the phone to ring.
It did at 6:30 a.m. May 24.
''My husband [Mike] had his hand on the doorknob, ready to walk out the door for work, when the phone rang,'' Phillips said. ''He answered. And Chris — who was on the other end from the Cleveland Clinic — asked, 'Can you wake her up?'
''I know this is going to sound strange, but when I went to bed the night before, I said in my prayers, 'My parents [who winter in Florida] are here. Everyone is here. I really need this. So anytime would be a good time.' ''And the next day, I'm getting a pair of lungs that work perfectly.
''I will never be able to put into words how grateful I am to the donor family. It's a very emotional thing. Here my family is celebrating that I have my life. Things couldn't have worked out any better for me.
''Then you have the other family on the flip side, who is still grieving.''
Phillips said she's unsure what her next career will be but it will be something ''that involves giving back. Maybe I'll start a nonprofit for my disease or working for LifeBanc. ''I'm sure a lot of people say that after receiving an organ. But I plan to make good on it. I don't know how yet, but I will.''
Those signing on to join Phillips' Eternally Thankful team include her husband; their daughter, Jamie Raymond, 22, of Tallmadge; her father, Joe Carden of Lake Wales, Fla.; her aunt, Kathy Medwid of Akron; and good friend Harold Jones of Kent.
Hadie Bartholomew, LifeBanc's media and community affairs coordinator, said more than 1,000 people have registered for the run/walk, including organ and tissue recipients and donor families.
''The event honors the lives of the donors, the recipients and those still waiting,'' Bartholomew said.
Nationally, more than 100,000 people are on the waiting list for life-saving organ transplants. On average, 18 die each day waiting. ''Of course, I think everyone should be an organ donor,'' Phillips said, taking a deep and now easy breath.
Even in the midst of their own unspeakable suffering, Melissa and Matthew Jones managed to turn their attention to doing what they could to save the lives of others. In 2009, the Hudson couple's 23-day-old daughter Caroline Ann lost her battle to survive.
Her parents made the decision to donate her organs and she left this Earth as a heart valve donor; someone else lived because of her.
In honor of their daughter, the Joneses have formed Team Caroline and also will be stepping off in the Gift of Life walk and run.
The 10K and 5K runs begin at 9 a.m., followed by the 1.5K fun walk for recipients, donor families and teams. All proceeds go to educate the community about organ and tissue donation.
To register, log onto http://www.lifebanc.org or call 888-558-LIFE. Find a team to support.
On the Web site, you can also become a registered donor and maybe help save a life.