On Monday, July 17th in the first week of my internship, I had the awesome privilege of visiting UCHealth in Denver with the Chris Klug Foundation. As part of our new Patient Ambassador Program, sponsored by Astellas, I knew our founder Chris would be visiting recent transplant recipients to offer encouragement and inspiration. But I wasn’t sure what else to expect. What followed, inspired more than the patients.
After a warm welcome from our great UCHealth host nurses, we were invited to visit our first patient, a recent liver transplant recipient. We were informed that he had been anxious throughout the surgery process and could use some uplifting in his spirit as he worked through recovery.
As we entered the room, we could see the patient was timid and not feeling well. He shared that he was feeling sick, nervous about his outlook, and was ready to feel better. He was obviously concerned about his recovery.
As Chris began to share about his own experience in recovery, the patient became more comfortable and began to engage in conversation. I observed a change in his spirit and he began to smile for the first time. Our team shared some CKF gear and Chris offered a signed copy of his book. Within a few minutes, the atmosphere seemed to change and our new friend was grateful, encouraged and inspired.
Our second visit was with one of Chris’s biggest fans, a young female patient who began following him as he competed for a medal in the 2002 Olympic Games. As a huge supporter of the mission of the Foundation, she had communicated with CKF for months in anticipation of the visit with Chris. After entering the room, we learned that she had experienced more than 150 operations since she was a young girl. Despite years of kidney failure and related complications, she displayed a remarkably positive outlook that inspired our team and eventually made it difficult for us to leave.
She lit up when talking about her personal life and enjoyed interacting with our group. After a Denver Donor Dash lap around the hospital floor with our team, she smiled for pictures and she and Chris exchanged stories that kept us all laughing. As we exchanged hugs and prepared to head out, it was clear why she’d recently volunteered to become our newest Patient Ambassador.
Our final visit was with a mother who had received a liver transplant from her son, just days before our visit. The patients and family members warmly greeted us as we entered the room. As Chris shared some specifics about his past challenges and successful recovery, the family locked in on the message and began asking questions. Chris was able to inspire them in that moment, as a living example of the potential for a strong recovery.
During our time with this family, Chris kindly mentioned my own brothers living liver donation back in 2008. In a room with a liver donor and a recipient, I felt especially privileged to share about his donation and the healthy life that both he and his recipient are enjoying today.
The purpose of the Chris Klug Foundation was clear during our visits. We were able to inspire and share some joy in the face of incredibly challenging circumstances. Yet, in each moment I found myself to be the one more and more inspired. I was uplifted by the strength of those we visited and their faith and courage in the face of uncertainty.
The inspiration portion of the CKF mission was on full display this day. It was an honor to be present as everyone involved experienced encouragement throughout our time.
The new Patient Ambassador Program seeks to mobilize organ donation recipients in communities across the country. Patient Ambassadors are those with inspiring stories that can be used to encourage others and help shoulder the challenge of recovery. I am grateful I had the opportunity to witness the powerful impact the program has on each person involved.