DEERFIELD, Ill.—Astellas Pharma US, Inc., a pharmaceutical company, today announced the winners of the second 2010 Transplant Scholars Awards. The company awarded a dozen $5,000 educational scholarships to transplant recipients and living donors from around the country to help them pursue their educational goals. Scholarship winners were chosen from among 283 entries by a panel of judges who evaluated the essays on the level of hope, courage and achievement that the entrants demonstrated.
"We planned to award five scholarships this year," said Charlotte Berlin, senior product director, immunology, for Astellas. "However, once we started reading, we were so gripped by the stories of the challenges these students have overcome and their drive to give back–from advocating for the rights of others, to working in the medical field to delivering teddy bears to sick kids, that there was no way to stop at five."
Astellas wishes the following winners the best as they take on new academic challenges and make the world a better place in their own unique ways:
Kyla-Tana Aquino, kidney recipient from Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Kyla-Tana was 15 years old when she was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure and learned she needed a kidney transplant. Luckily, Kyla-Tana's parents were both generous donors. She received her first kidney from her father and six years later, received a kidney from her mother. Generosity runs in the Aquino family, and Kyla-Tana also gave back to the transplant community through a children's book about her experiences called "Kyla's Kidney Adventure." The book was distributed through the National Kidney Foundation to educate others of her kidney disease. More recently, Kyla-Tana co-led a public relations campaign for Donate Life California to increase organ donation awareness on her campus. Now, Kyla-Tana is enrolled in a Master's program at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Kyla-Tana hopes to educate the public about organ donation through public relations and wants to take action to ensure no one has to wait for an organ transplant.
Tonisha Daniel, liver recipient from Dolton, Ill.
Tonisha was only 14 when she was diagnosed with Cirrhosis of the liver and told she needed a liver transplant. Prior to her diagnosis, Tonisha's family was largely unfamiliar with the organ transplantation process, so this inspired Tonisha to share her story and advocate for the importance of organ donation, enabling other families to learn from her situation. Leading up to her transplant in May 2004, Tonisha advocated alongside Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, and following her transplant, continued to share her story while in college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by organizing health fairs and registering college students as organ donors. Tonisha is passionate about going to medical school and hopes to work at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, the same hospital where she received her transplant.
Michelle Davis, kidney recipient from Pensacola, Fla.
On Christmas morning, 2007, Michelle received a phone call that was life changing. After enduring 18 years of end-stage renal disease, a kidney was available. Her successful transplant led her to advocate for kidney health, healthcare reform and the need to financially assist kidney transplant patients with their immunosuppressant drugs. She always had a desire to return to college, but her health did not permit it until after her transplant. Now, she is pursuing her associate degree in health care reimbursement at Virginia College in Pensacola while also serving as a patient ambassador with Dialysis Patient Citizens.
Jennifer Eckhoff, liver recipient from Pensacola, Fla.
Jennifer was a college sophomore studying to become a social worker when her family learned that her mother was ill with hepatitis C and needed a liver transplant. Jennifer delayed her schooling to take care of her mother. Jennifer's world collapsed when her mother died in 2001. When she finally returned to school, she realized that she enjoyed taking care of her mother and decided she wanted to work in medicine. She studied more about hepatitis C and learned that it could be passed from mother to baby, so she got tested and learned she too had hepatitis. She went on to get her Medical Assistant degree and worked at a local family practice office. In 2008, Jennifer became ill and found out she too needed a liver transplant. With her second chance, Jennifer wants to continue her education and obtain a nursing degree and hopes to work as a transplant nurse to offer others facing the same situations she's been through comfort.
Septima Hardy, kidney donor from Atlanta, Ga.
Septima was in nursing school when she found out her younger brother had kidney failure and would need a kidney transplant. Septima and her father both got tested to see if they could be living donors to Septima's younger brother. Luckily, they both matched. Since Septima was in the middle of nursing school, her father donated his kidney. Septima had a number of nursing jobs after finishing school, but never felt truly satisfied until she began working as an organ procurement coordinator. Even though Septima later became a full-time intensive care unit nurse, she was soon reconnected with organ donation, as her younger brother needed a second kidney transplant. After donating in February 2008, Septima took a job as a Transplant Outreach Coordinator, working under the surgeon who performed her brother's first transplant surgery. Septima wants to take her nursing and transplant experiences to the next level and is looking to pursue an advanced nursing degree.
Daniel Harris, kidney recipient from Glen Ridge, N.J.
Daniel was a normal high school senior and two-sport varsity athlete when he learned he had high blood pressure. Daniel's physician encouraged him to see a cardiologist and then a renal specialist "just in case," and soon received a diagnosis of MPGN Type II or Dense Deposit Disease. When Daniel began freshman year at the University of Vermont, he was focused on his Elementary Education major, but the thoughts of needing a kidney transplant lingered. By the end of his first semester, Daniel needed a transplant. Fortunately, his aunt was a perfect match and Daniel received her kidney in February 2008. Daniel has always wanted to be an Elementary Education Special Education Teacher and knows that the challenges and triumphs he has faced during the transplant process will give him greater understanding and empathy as a teacher. Daniel looks forward to completing his undergraduate degree and also serving as inspiration to other young transplant recipients.
Ted Hodges, heart recipient from Salina, Kansas
Ted had just completed his junior year at Notre Dame when a seemingly everyday flu turned out to be viral myocarditis. After his diagnosis, Ted experienced many medical procedures and challenges: the surgical implantation of mechanical assist devices (BiVADS) to sustain his heart, the tracheotomy and the stroke. While Ted's classmates were preparing for senior year, he spent his summer working with doctors, nurses and physical therapists to prepare for a heart transplant. Apart from the support and encouragement of his transplant team, Ted was also greatly inspired by other transplant recipients. Ted has taken an active role in the transplant community since his heart transplant in September 2009 and has raised money and awareness through various initiatives, such as the "Teddies for Teddy" program at a local elementary school. Ted looks forward to returning to Notre Dame to complete his English degree and plans to continue his support and dedication to the transplant community.
Ginger Ireland, liver donor from Kansas City, Mo.
Ginger Ireland remembers watching a video with her nursing school classmates about living donation and not giving it much thought at the time… but it ended up changing her life. A few years later, in 2002, her father was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and was placed on the transplant waiting list. The doctors predicted it would take more than a year to receive a liver and so when her father's condition seemed to have declined, Ginger recalled the video and called his transplant coordinator to inquire about being tested as a donor for her father. In 2003, she successfully donated part of her liver to her father. Ginger is now beginning her senior year at KU School of Nursing and hopes to become a transplant coordinator.
Odunola Ojewumi, heart and kidney recipient from Beltsville, Md.
Odunola has been fighting for her life since 5th grade when she was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardio-myopathy and chronic kidney failure. In 2002, at the age of 11, she received a heart and kidney transplant. Her desire to pursue higher education stems from that transplant. However, last year, she had to give up school when she developed a form of post-transplant cancer. Yet, this setback has not deterred her dreams. She was selected as a the US Ambassador for the United Nations Populations Fund due to her immense work in public health, including chairing the Young Political Leaders of Tomorrow and the Darfur Committee. She also lobbied for a bill to provide health care to the 800,000 uninsured Marylanders and has started her own children's charity, Sacred Hearts Children's Transplant Organization.
Alexandria Schultz, liver recipient from Toledo, Ohio
Alexandria has endured a plethora of diseases in her short 18 years. As a child, she was diagnosed with Polyarticular Arthitis and Hypothyroidism; later, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and had to undergo an emergency colectomy. In the fall of 2005, Alexandria became jaundiced and learned she would need a liver transplant. Four days after she was placed on the waiting list, Alexandria received a new liver. Now, Alexandria is experiencing the independence of a college student at Bowling Green State University and living on campus, something that she never imagined herself doing, since she was always homeschooled growing up due to the health risks posed by a normal classroom setting. After everything that Alexandria has been through, she has made it her goal to raise awareness about organ donation and wants to continue volunteering for The Arthritis Foundation, Make-A-Wish and Life Connections of Ohio.
Kayleigh Sechi, liver recipient from South Hadley, Mass.
Kayleigh was diagnosed with fulminant liver failure on Thanksgiving Day in 2009, and her doctors determined she needed an emergency liver transplant. Kayleigh had stayed at Mount Holyoke College over Thanksgiving that year to save money so she could return home to Florida for Christmas. Her mother arrived to the hospital just as Kayleigh was entering a coma. Doctors weren't sure if Kayleigh would survive another 24 hours, but miraculously, a liver became available for her transplant. Kayleigh's mom moved to Massachusetts to be with Kayleigh as she recovered. Kayleigh says she is so appreciative of everyone who contributed to her successful transplant; most importantly, her donor's decision to register. Since her transplant, Kayleigh began volunteering with Donate Life to educate others about organ donation. She has also received full credit for her college work, is working part-time and is pursing premedical studies at a major hospital. Kayleigh looks forward to applying to medical school this fall.
Rachael Wong, kidney recipient from Honolulu, Hawaii
Racheal was diagnosed with lupus nephritis during her first month as an undergraduate at Princeton University. Her transplant journey included blood disorders, hundreds of blood units, years of chemotherapy, a brain infection, hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. After a dozen years of just trying to stay out of health crises, Rachael said her life blossomed from illness to wellness when she received a kidney in 2002. Rachael's professional, volunteer and educational choices have consequently stemmed from her transplant experience. For example, he has led her state's hospice organization and sat on committees for the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and the National Kidney Foundation. Now, Rachael is in the Executive Doctoral Program in Health Leadership at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill studying the use of complementary and alternative medicine by organ transplant recipients. Rachael's research goals are to increase understanding of transplant recipient needs, improve patient care and recommend policies to improve the quality of life for the transplant community.
For more information regarding the 2010 Transplant Scholars Awards or to read the 2010 winning essays in their entirety, visit www.AstellasTransplant.com; for information on organ donation and organ donation happenings, visit www.Facebook.com/DonateLife.
Source: Astellas Pharma US, Inc.