Tag Archive for: heart transplant

Kevin Calhoun and his family.

MTN Spotlight – Kevin Calhoun, Recipient

Kevin Calhoun and his family.

Celebrating Father’s Day: “A heart transplant allowed us to have our son.”

A heart transplant, an athletic competition, and a chance encounter that led to love are the elements of a great adventure, a life’s story, and a reason to celebrate Father’s Day.

In 2017, Kevin Calhoun traveled to Spain for the World Transplant Games. He’d had a heart transplant a few years earlier and was ready to compete in soccer and pétanque.

That same year, Kaci Keller was invited by a friend to support her at the World Transplant Games. Her friend asked “Do you want to travel with me? I want to go to Spain. I want to compete.”

Kaci said, “Yes, let’s go.”

Kevin lived in Kansas City and Kaci lived in Florida. They didn’t know each other but met at Team USA gatherings at the World Transplant Games, started talking and “kind of hit it off.” At the end of the week, it was time to go back home. Kaci shared part of a conversation with Kevin. “He said, ‘I didn’t come here looking for someone, but I like you. Can I call you when we get back to the states?’” They kept in touch with each other and within a year, they were engaged.

Now they have a family, and their son, Kyle, is 4.

“It’s such a blessing and we would not be here if it was not for the heart transplant that Kevin had and truly received the gift of life,” said Kaci.

“Kevin gets to celebrate Father’s Day because his heart transplant allowed us to have our son.”

“It’s the most fantastic thing in the world,” said Kevin. “Every day, I’m just amazed at our son’s smartness, creativity and his ability. I have my wife to thank, I have the Lord to thank, and my donor to thank. It sounds cliché but I until you’re a father, you really don’t know what it’s like.”

Kevin’s Heart Transplant Journey

In 2008, Kevin was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – a disease of the heart muscle that causes the heart to have a harder time pumping blood to the rest of the body, which could lead to symptoms of heart failure.

For about eight years, he lived with the condition with medications, diet and a careful regimen. “But it pretty much got to a point where advanced surgery, or you know, a transplant was going to be needed,” he said.

“I waited a couple of weeks and that’s about when I received my gift.”  He recalled the moment by saying he “prayed that night to God and just kind of asked, ‘Prepare me for whatever this is going to look like, that way, I can kind of psychologically get prepared.’ And then that same night, I fell asleep so hard, which you never do in a hospital. I was awakened by my nurses, and they told me that my gift of life was ready.

“It’s kind of hard to talk about, but pretty much that same night was when I got my answer and received my gift thanks to my donor and his family, and it’s been good.”

Thankful to Donors

Kevin Calhoun sincerely appreciates donor heroes and their families.

“I think the focus needs to be on donor families because of what they’ve gone through to lose someone very valuable and important in their life, for someone else to be given a chance, to keep carrying on.”

He has had some correspondence with the donor family but is sensitive to speaking about the donor hero and their family out of respect.

From what he’s learned about his donor hero, the family has “painted a really nice picture of what he was like. And he was a really stellar, independent human being and what he was doing with his life is fantastic. It’s just a shame that it got taken so shortly, which makes it kind of hard to receive the gift, but at the same time…thank you.”

Together, the Calhouns are volunteer Ambassadors who represent Midwest Transplant Network by sharing information and enhancing awareness of what it means to be a registered organ, eye and tissue donors.

Father’s Day Fun

The Calhouns will celebrate Father’s Day weekend with family.

“We have a big family reunion with a lot of family from out of town. There will be a lot of fathers hanging out. Kaci, Kyle and I will probably go to the park after church on Sunday to take Kyle fishing. He’s really been getting into it.”

Scot Pollard’s Transplant Journey: A Big Heart for a Big Legend

A tall man in a hospital room, wearing a hospital gown and standing with a walker.

Scot Pollard stands with a walker in a hospital room during his care as he underwent a heart transplant. Photo provided by the Pollard family.

At 6’11”, Scot Pollard’s size has often been credited as a gift, propelling him into an 11-year NBA career following his legendary time with the Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball team, during which he helped Kansas reach the NCAA Sweet 16 four seasons in a row.

In 2021, Pollard’s heart health began to rapidly decline due to a hereditary condition exacerbated by a contracted virus. It eventually became apparent that most medical solutions would not be enough. He needed a new heart, and more than that, he needed a really big one.

The respective body size of an organ donor and a registered transplant candidate are factors in determining whether a successful transplant is possible – especially for a heart. In the case of someone as large as Pollard, the odds of finding a match are lower.

“It’s not like being tall is a curse. It’s not. It’s still a blessing. But, I have known my entire life that there’s a good chance I wasn’t going to get old,” said Pollard in an interview with the Associated Press. “And so it gives you a different perspective on how you live your life and how you treat people and all that kind of stuff.”

Pollard and his wife, Dawn, revealed his condition on social media in January. They went on to post updates and participate in news interviews to share his progress, which in turn raised national awareness for the complexities surrounding organ transplantation and the importance of organ donation.

He underwent a successful heart transplant surgery on Feb. 16, after which he “immediately felt better.” Just 13 days later, he strutted out of the hospital to a chorus of applause.

Through this journey, Pollard has learned about the lifesaving gift of organ donation, and even hopes to one day connect with the family of his donor hero. “I would love to show them this heart isn’t going to waste.” Every donor hero can save up to eight lives, and Pollard hopes that by educating his friends, neighbors and fans, he can contribute to this life-saving work. “I’m going to annoy people with becoming a donor. That’s going to be a project for the rest of my life,” he said.

In honor of National Donate Life Month, Midwest Transplant Network is proud to recognize Scot Pollard as a Green Ribbon Champion for his openness about his transplant journey and advocacy for organ donation. Green Ribbon Champions are individuals who are passionate about increasing the number of registered organ donors in their communities, understanding that a simple “yes” can help give hope and share life to the thousands in need of life-saving organ transplants.

Midwest Transplant Network invites you to consider joining your state’s organ donor registry and encourage others to do the same. Learn more about the types of donation, including the option to be a living donor, and the incredibly positive emotional experiences of organ donor families and transplant recipients.

Join the organ, eye and tissue donor registry in Kansas and Missouri at ShareLifeMidwest.com or join the national donor registry at RegisterMe.org.

MTN Spotlight – Barb Sheble, Ambassador

August is National Multiethnic Donor Awareness Month, a collaborative initiative to save and improve the quality of life of diverse communities by creating a positive culture for organ, eye and tissue donation.

Midwest Transplant Network will recognize and support National Multiethnic Donor Awareness Month with a series of original content featuring community partners, staff and volunteer Ambassadors who represent diversity and the mission to give hope and share life. We hope you enjoy the perspectives of our friends!

MTN Spotlight…Barb Sheble

In college, Barb Sheble passed out during track practice. A few months later, she got sick and passed out again. She was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition. That was in 1991.

In the mid- ‘90s, doctors said a transplant would be in her future.

“In the ’90s, you didn’t hear as much about organ donation,” said Sheble. “My only knowledge about organ donation was that a friend’s brother signed up to be a donor on his license. He died in a car accident and his organs were donated.”

Sheble said she “lived with the condition for 18 years” before being placed on the transplant waitlist in January 2009. She received a heart the same year.

Sheble, whose heritage is Citizen Potawatomi Nation, is an MTN Ambassador who’s volunteered since 2013. As a kid, she wanted to be a marine biologist; as an adult, she’s a medical lab scientist. The favorite songs on her playlist are “too many to count” because music is her peace and solace; she loves to rest and relax in the mountains, and when it comes to roller coasters or Ferris wheels, it’s “Roller coasters all day!”

What are three ways that being a transplant recipient has changed your life besides giving you another chance?

It has given me friends that I would have never met, and now I couldn’t imagine life without them. It has helped me see life on a broader scale — that the little troubles are just bumps in the road on this journey we call life.

It has taught me that we have to live each day with a purpose and to cherish what we have. Our family, friends and our experiences with those around us are more important than any of the tangible things we think we need.

Did you have any concerns or hesitancy about being a transplant recipient? If so, what were they?
Honestly, not really. I’d been through so much over the previous 18 years that to me, it was just the next thing I needed to do to keep moving forward on my journey.

How does your Native American heritage influence your conversations about organ donation?
I’m not sure I can say it is necessarily due to my heritage, but I just always want to be an advocate. I want people to know that donation works, so I talk about it as much as I can! I am proud to be Native American, and I am proud to be a recipient. My tribal ancestors were very strong-willed people, so I feel my Native American heritage has prepared me to be successful on my transplant journey.

In what ways do you advocate for organ donation?
Any way I can! I donate time when I can. I talk about it any chance I can, and I try every day to show that through transplant, you can live a full life. You can work, travel, exercise, go on hikes…you name it. I want people to see that if there is a will, you can make your ideals for your life happen. It’s all in the attitude!

Tell us about the Transplant Games. What have you experienced?
AMAZING! That one word sums up the games. Do they always run smoothly? No. But do I ever regret going? NEVER. The games and the people I know from them are what I look forward to all year long. You will always find inspiration at the games! From meeting donor families to meeting other recipients, the competition and the sportsmanship is literally the best thing!

Sheble has participated in the Transplant Games of America and World Transplant Games since 2012 in events that include shot put; discus and the ball throw; javelin; Pétanque doubles; volleyball and pickleball doubles. She’s been to Transplant Games of America in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Houston; Cleveland; Salt Lake City and San Diego, and to World Transplant Games in South Africa, Argentina, Spain, United Kingdom and Australia.

Colonial Life sales team donates $1,000 to Midwest Transplant Network

From left to right: Amanda Liezert and Marie Simms, Colonial Life; Jan Finn and Sarah Oland, MTN. Back row: Terry Shambles, MTN; Noah Costlow and Alex Sanz, Colonial Life.

A sales competition among local teams at Colonial Life meant the winners could donate $1,000 to an organization of their choice.

Amanda Liezert, Agency Manager, Colonial Life, is on the Kansas Territory team, and she has connections to Midwest Transplant Network. She previously owned Tierney Office Supplies, and MTN was a client. In 2002, her husband, John Liezert, received a heart transplant at Saint Luke’s Hospital. MTN was part of their journey. He lived until December 2020.

“Organ donation indirectly gave me my family. We were just starting our lives, and one person’s loss gave us a whole life,” said Liezert.

Amanda’s team won the contest and chose Midwest Transplant Network as their beneficiary.

“There were no second thoughts,” said Marie Simms, District General Manager, Colonial Life. “We know Amanda’s story, we love her and her family, and we know the importance of organ donation.”

The team visited MTN’s headquarters to present a $1,000 ceremonial check, received by Jan Finn, RN, MSN, President & Chief Executive Officer; Sarah Oland, LMSW, Chief Stakeholder Engagement Officer; and Terry Shambles, FACHE, FHFMA, Treasurer & Chief Financial Officer.

Gary Dixon with Chris Hutson Jr.'s family

Making Sure “Little Chris” Is Never Forgotten

Gary Dixon with Chris Hutson Jr.'s family

Heart recipient and MTN Ambassador Gary Dixon (center) with donor Chris Hutson Jr.’s family

My name is Gary Dixon. I am here today because of the generosity and gift of a stranger who I now know as Chris Hutson Jr.

In 1999, I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, which is a technical term for an enlarged heart muscle. With meds and doctor visits, life continued until 2009, when I had a defibrillator installed to restart my heart if needed, and life went on.

In January 2017 my condition worsened to the point that a heart transplant was my only option. I never realized how sick I was, but luckily Dr. Kao, my cardiologist, did. On Feb. 1, 2017, I was put on the heart transplant list, and my wait began.

On April 21, 2017, I went for what started as a routine office visit that included an exciting wheelchair ride to the emergency room. I was admitted to Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute and told I would be there until I received a heart transplant or became an organ donor.

My stay, which was about 5 1/2 weeks, had many new experiences — some better than others — and early on, the mantra of “one day closer” started to change my attitude and approach to life, and I still use it today. It also has a special meaning to Tesha, the mother of my donor, “Little Chris.”

On May 28, 2017, I got my gift. I was quickly better, not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. My family will tell you I was a different person. Little Chris was truly changing and improving my life.

I started writing my donor family right after I left the hospital. I had to thank them for my gift and let them know how it had changed my life, but it was bittersweet because I was celebrating, and they were grieving.

In June 2018, I met my donor family, and since then, I have been blessed to get to know what a caring young man my donor — my constant companion, my buddy, Little Chris — is and the loving, sharing family he comes from. We have continued to get to know each other and share stories and memories, and our families are coming together and supporting each other as our journey through life continues.

I will continue to honor my gift and tell anyone who will listen what a great young man Little Chris is and make sure he is never forgotten.

I would like to share one last thought. Every decision you make is like throwing a stone into the water; it has a ripple effect. On Feb. 1, 2017, Chris Hutson Jr. (“Little Chris”) made a decision and signed his driver’s license to become an organ donor. I am part of Chris Hutson Jr.’s ripple effect.

I appreciate you allowing me to share my story and tell you how organ donation has changed my life.

Our thanks to Gary Dixon for writing this guest blog post.