National Donate Life Month.A year before the pic on the left of my oldest brother and I was taken at the 1990 Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, I wasn't thinking swimsuit competitions and scholarship. In Sept '88, Stan and I were seven months out from the day he gave up one of his kidneys so I wouldn't die, so I could live, finish college, fall in love and marry, one day give birth, stumble across romance novels...mostly, so I simply had a chance to survive past my early 20s.
Compared to "the gift of life," the fact that a year after my kidney transplant I ended up winning Miss PA, earning Top 10 honors at Miss A (See video below), scored more than $20,000 in scholarship to finish the degree waylaid by kidney disease, got NY Times praise on my talent-competition aria (photo, right) and wore the crown may seem fairly incidental. That I my year-of-service as Miss PA allowed me to travel the country spreading the gospel of organ donation and transplantation is not.
For in doing that as Miss PA and for the next couple years as a "celebrity professional patient" and motivational speaker, I didn't just encourage tens of thousands of folks to sign organ-donor cards and share with their families their choices as I hope you'll do today here. I cried and sometimes laughed with parents whose children's organs saved lives of other adults so those men and women could live to watch their own kids grow up. I heard the news that people awaiting transplantation, with kidney disease or on dialysis whom I'd met on my travels had received the organs they'd long awaited. Folks with donor cards proudly waved them at me from audiences, passing cars and at conferences -- and wrote to tell me how mine and my brother's story encouraged them and their families to sign donor cards. And hundreds of transplant recipients and I connected and supported one another in exactly the same ways veterans of wars do.
I'd gladly live through again and again the worst days of pain or illness following my transplant -- when I contracted a funky virus and had weeks of debilitating, high-grade fevers, when I dealt with depression, lost my hair or later have had issues with sepsis, etc. -- simply to be alive today. I've known folks who couldn't get an organ when they needed one or whose transplants failed. Yet here I am, 22 years post transplant with a beautifully functioning kidney, perfect health and excellent prognosis for keeping the organ for a long time to come. Believe me, I never for a second forget my good fortune and blessings; that's why I live and do things the way I do.
So please take a second to think about signing an organ donor card, then tell your loved ones about your choice. If you've got yours already, grazie! Thank you so much! Myths abound about donation and transplantation -- like after surgery you'll automatically grow big hair and crave watching "Little Miss Sunshine" over and over -- but you can check out the facts here.
Why are you glad to be alive on this very day? And, how big was your hair in 1989?