Written by CC Cunningham, blog writer and Program Coordinator for the Chris Klug Foundation.
…’cause a West Coast [CKF] party don’t stop! And what a party it was! On September 19th, as part of our Patient Ambassador Program, sponsored by Astellas, the Chris Klug Foundation traveled to sunny San Diego, California to visit three different hospitals and speak on behalf of organ transplant and the recovery process. We were joined by our Patient Ambassadors (and 2018 Bounce Back Give Back award winners) Samantha Rick and Brian Hinsley. Brian’s wife and former care partner, Kim, joined us as well.
Brian received a lifesaving liver transplant 18 years ago after being diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis. He was the first firefighter and paramedic to receive a solid organ transplant at the time. Check out about Brian’s Donor Story here. After being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at a young age, Samantha received two double lung transplants and continues to lead an active lifestyle while getting involved with local CF and organ donation nonprofits. To learn more about Sam’s transplant journey, you can read her Donor Story here.
Our first stop on our whirlwind visit was to UC San Diego Health on Wednesday morning, where we sat in on a LVAD/heart transplant support group. Chris, Brian, and Sam shared their inspirational stories and answered questions about transplant and post-op recovery. We heard some heartwarming stories from the transplant recipients and their caregivers as well.
Later that day, CKF sat in on a children’s transplant support group at the Ronald McDonald House, hosted by Rady Children’s Hospital. We met so many courageous kiddos and their loving parents and caregivers. It was quite an emotional visit as parents discussed their experiences caring for their children pre- and post-transplant and asked questions about Chris’, Brian’s, and Sam’s transplant journeys. At the end of the meeting, one boy approached Chris and asked him questions about playing sports after transplant. He received a heart transplant when he was younger and had never spoken up at any of the monthly support group meetings in the past. He is a freshman in high school and is interested in trying out for the baseball team as a pitcher. Chris reassured him that “there are no boundaries or limitations when it comes to being an athlete post-transplant. The most important thing is to listen to your body and always be mindful of your health.”
Later that evening, we joined Diane and John Brockington, Alex Quick, and David Quick for dinner in downtown San Diego. John Brockington is a former running back for the Green Bay Packers as well as a kidney transplant recipient. He is also the founder of the John Brockington Foundation, an organ donation nonprofit that promotes resource support and awareness. John’s wife, Diane, is the Executive Director of the foundation. Alex Quick is an anesthesiologist for the transplant center at Scripps Green Hospital and his father, David, is a CKF board member. We talked transplant and organ donation over dinner with these key players of the transplant community. It was a wonderful discussion and a delicious meal!
The next day, we traveled to Scripps Green Hospital with Alex and David. Chris, Brian, Kim, and Sam had the opportunity to share their transplant stories with medical staff, transplant patients, and caregivers. Although the Chris Klug Foundation frequently visits hospitals as part of our Patient Ambassador Tour, we rarely get a chance to speak to medical staff and the people behind the scenes of the transplant process. To be able to talk about the transplant experience with that many hospital personnel was quite a unique opportunity. By providing a personal perspective of organ donation and the transplant process, these staff members can hopefully come away with a deeper understanding of the patients they are caring for. One transplant patient who was at the event, named Rochelle, had received a liver transplant no more than two weeks(!) prior. She shared her amazing story about her transplant with all of us. It was so inspiring to hear her transplant experience that was so fresh in her mind.
Last but certainly not least, we returned to UC San Diego Health to attend a support group for pre- and post-liver transplant recipients. Chris, Sam, Brian, and Kim received so many questions about their experiences—this time, the questions mostly came from patients who were on the waitlist for a new liver. It really helped to provide these individuals with the reassurance and support they need to face their future transplant with confidence.
CKF had such a blast in San Diego! It was so much fun to visit the different hospitals and healthcare centers in the area and to meet so many people whose lives have been touched by transplant—whether that be as a patient, caregiver, or as part of their career. With the beautiful weather and gorgeous scenery, it was hard to leave!
Our Patient Ambassador Tour continues on November 2nd when we head to the Big Apple! We will be visiting Mount Sinai Hospital and NYU Langone Health, in addition to supporting our charity team as they run the New York City Marathon on November 4th!