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Local Woman Celebrates Second Anniversary of Heart Transplant; Meets Donor’s Family
Today – September 18, 2016 – is Brenda Kapp’s second anniversary of receiving a heart transplant.
As a way to rejoice this “miracle,” Brenda hosted her “Heart-iversary” celebration on July 16, gathering with 40 of her family members, friends, and two very special guests.
Brenda told exploreClarion.com, “I wanted everyone who prayed for me, who thought of me, to be at this celebration. But, I realized that wasn’t possible.”
“It was a tough decision to cut my invitation list to such a small number, but I felt it was best not only for me but also for two very special guests – Richard and Vicki Smith.”
Vicki is a cousin of Brenda’s donor, Lisa Campbell.
Brenda Connects with Vicki Smith
On July 16, Richard and Vicki traveled to Miola from Boone, North Carolina, a small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains.
Vicki told exploreClarion.com, “We are blessed with the beauty of the mountains, enjoying the four seasons – spring can be cool, summer extremely pleasant, our fall season can’t be beat for the ideal temps and beautiful foliage, however, our winters can be harsh. We have lots of snow most winters, and the area attracts skiers from all over the country.”
Area attractions include Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and one known to many – the Appalachian Trail.
Brenda found Vicki through Lifebanc, a federally designated, non-profit organ procurement organization for Northeastern Ohio. After the transplant, Brenda was given the information on how to correspond with her donor’s family.
Brenda wrote her first letter to Vicki on November 18, 2014, just two months after her heart transplant. She really wanted Vicki to receive it by Thanksgiving, but she “didn’t realize the hoops that a letter had to jump through before Vicki had it in her hand.”
Brenda says that she will never forget the letter that she received back from her. Vicki wrote that on Christmas Eve Day, she went to the mailbox and got the best present “our precious God could have given her.”
Lisa Campbell (“Cuzzie Girl”) – Brenda’s Donor
In Vicki’s words – Lisa, my sweet little “Cuzzie Girl” – was born on October 8, 1965, to an unwed mother. Being unwed and pregnant in 1965 was frowned upon, so Lisa’s mother, Joann, left her hometown and traveled to Roanoke, Virginia, to an unwed mother’s home where she planned to give birth, then put the baby up for adoption.
During that time period, children born with disabilities were unable to be placed for adoption, so when Lisa was born with Cerebral Palsy, she was unable to be placed in an adoptive home. Joann was not prepared to care for a child, much less a child with Cerebral Palsy, so she brought her to Vicki’s mother, in hopes that she could care for her. Vicki was six years old when Lisa came to live with them.
Eventually, Joann came back and took Lisa to raise.
Vicki said, “Aunt Jo worked in a private nursing home, caring for 8 to 10 patients. The nursing home provided Aunt Jo and Lisa with living quarters, so it was an ideal living arrangement. Lisa enjoyed the residents of the home and made many lasting friendships through the years. Lisa spent her entire life in a wheelchair as she never walked.”
Vicki said, “She and I were always getting ourselves ‘stuck’ and in need of rescue because I was always trying to push that wheelchair where it really should not be going. We had a few adventures in our time. Lisa would just laugh and laugh whenever we got ourselves stuck.”
The doctors told Joann that Lisa would not live to be 13-years-old. Lisa lived to be 48 years old, passing away in September of 2014.
“Lisa’s years of life far surpassing what the doctors predicted is a testimony to the exceptional care that Joann provided for her.”
“Aunt Jo saw to it that Lisa had as much of a normal life as she could possibly provide. Lisa attended school; went to summer camp ( thanks to Easter Seals); loved to travel, especially to visit family; loved being outside in the sunshine; enjoyed country music and gospel music; going to church; watching movies; and singing along with the radio and in church.”
Lisa had a mind like an elephant – never forgetting anything – and a keen sense of humor. She was always laughing. She loved life; however, she talked about one day going to heaven and being able to walk and run in green grass.
Joann and Lisa did not have a lot in life; but, they had the basics. They never looked upon themselves as being poor. They were happy; they loved one another deeply.
Age has a way of changing things, so several years after Joann retired, all those years of lifting Lisa took a toll on her back; it was Lisa who made the decision to go into a nursing home. After her birthday in 2010, Lisa moved to Valley Healthcare in Chilhowie, Virginia. She settled in and made many friends. Joann was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011 and moved into the same nursing home as Lisa, so the two of them were together, all the time, once again.
Lisa developed a swallowing problem and choked while eating, she then aspirated. She developed pneumonia, and then sepsis. The sepsis proved too much for her to fight off, so it eventually rendered her brain dead. That’s when the family made the decision to donate Lisa’s organs.
*Joann passed away on November 27, 2015. “She and Lisa have been reunited in their heavenly home, for eternity.”
The Difficult Decision to Donate Lisa’s Organs
Since Lisa’s family did not have the discussion regarding organ donation prior to her death, it was difficult.
Vicki explained that “ once you make the decision to donate, you realize that donation means life for someone else.”
“My husband and my family and I are deeply rooted in our faith and belief in God. We believe in service to others and loving your fellow man, so I knew that this gift of life was the right thing to do. I also knew that whomever was lucky enough to get Cuzzie’s heart was getting a heart of gold. A perfect heart.”
On the night the decision was made, Vicki said, “I don’t know how or when, but someday, somehow I will meet the person who gets Cuzzie’s heart and place my hand on their chest.”
Vicki was determined to have that happen.
In the fall of 2015, Vicki’s persistence to meet the recipient of her cousin’s heart became a reality.
Brenda and her husband Phil drove to Boone, North Carolina. They took Phil’s daughter’s stethoscope with them.
Brenda said that she tried not to be nervous, but she was.
“I will never forget that first eye to eye connection we had and then the tears as Vicki heard the heartbeat of her so very special ‘Cuzzie Girl.’ It was a strong, steady, wonderful, sound and what a MIRACLE. It was just like Lisa was saying to Vicki, ‘I’m doing okay, I’m going to be all right.’” explains Brenda.
Vicki said that one of the first things she did was put her hand on Brenda’s heart.
“It was amazing! I heard my Cuzzie’s heartbeat. It was an emotional but wonderful experience,” adds Vicki.
Vicki says that organ donation is not just about the recipient but about everyone connected to the recipient.
“Brenda’s husband has a wife, her son has a mother, her mother and father have a daughter, her grandchildren have a grandmother, and her friends have a friend.”
“I know Lisa is looking down from heaven, smiling saying ‘all is well with my soul and my heart too.’ Lisa would have absolutely loved Brenda!”
Lisa’s Heart Brings Two Families Together
Vicki and Richard are now family to Brenda and Phil.
“Brenda is an amazing woman – kind, generous, loving and devoted to God. If I had been able to choose a recipient for my sweet little Cuzzie Girl’s heart, I would have chosen her. I am so thankful God chose us to walk this life path together,” says Vicki..
“Brenda and I are forever connected. In many ways we are alike; we have a lot of the same ideals, values, and beliefs. We even share the same birthday – May 10th. We plan to visit each other as often as we can. We have made a lifelong connection and friendship with Brenda and Phil. I believe that all that has happened is God’s plan. It was meant to be.”
“In my eyes, we will always keep in touch. I’m hoping someday to meet the rest of Lisa’s family. It will be another powerful moment in my new life,” says Brenda.
Brenda’s Life-Altering Moment
“My life will be forever changed from that day when on September 4, 2014, when they told me I needed a new heart. I can’t tell you what it felt like to be in such a dark place mentally. Still two years out, I feel the scare; I ask myself, ‘Will I ever stop feeling that?’” questions Brenda.
For those who have seen Brenda, she looks like the picture of health again, but inside her head, it’s still so unreal.
“I don’t mean to cry when I see some of you. Depending on my day, sometimes it just sneaks up on me, that fear just floods my thoughts again. Tears of my life, tears of overcoming death, tears of joy, gratefulness, and mercy. Just a lot of emotions.”
An Adjustment for Brenda – Mentally, Physically, Emotionally
Brenda says for the first year, it was an adjusting period of healing mentally, physically, and emotionally.
First of all, Brenda went from not taking any drugs to 30 some a day. Her body had to adjust to the side effects of the medication, and it was difficult. Brenda says she would becomes nervous around people because she worried they would make her sick; she was nervous about being in the sun; she was nervous to get back into her exercise routine; she was nervous about – just about EVERYTHING.
Although – just recently, her anxiety has gotten a lot better. Mentally, she is feeling better, too. She has energy again. Some days, she feels so good, she thinks, “Did that really happened to me?”
Major Changes in Brenda’s Life
The major changes in Brenda’s life are restrictions and limitations prescribed from her Cleveland doctors. Her disease is called Idiopathic Giant Cell Myocarditis. Idiopathic means of unknown origin, since “they have no idea where she came in contact with it.”
Brenda has had to adjust to the doctors’ restrictions. They suggest that she stay in the country. She needs to be careful around dirt, molds, and mildews. She is supposed to stay out of any bodies of water such as oceans, lakes, rivers, and ponds.
And, a suggestion that would affect almost everyone – she needs to be careful about eating out because of food poisoning.
Once flu season arrives, she needs to be concerned about being in the public.
Another setback is if she is in an airplane, she is required to wear a mask because of the germs.
Unfortunately, Brenda has a chance of the disease coming back.
An Awakening, An Awareness of The Gift of Life
This change in her life has been “an awakening” for Brenda. She has become aware of the precious gift of life.
She wants to enjoy friendships. She wants people to know they make a difference in her life. She now realizes that life can be shorter then we can imagine. She needs to tell people that she loves them. And, she wants to see her son continue to grow, to be here for him, to tell him as much as she can that she loves him. She wants to enjoy her days with her husband, Phil; their beautiful grandchildren; and Phil’s supportive children and their spouses – Nate and Amanda, Brianne and Joel, and Brit and fiance Travis.
Brenda says she “does not sweat the small stuff.”
And, she now appreciates all of the things that are taken for granted.
Future Plans for Brenda
When asked what she sees in her future, Brenda says possibly some speaking engagements… maybe even a book.
“I know God has a purpose for me. He’s been revealing it.”
Brenda is reaching out to everyone to make a pledge for life and register to be an organ donor.
Those interested can sign up at DonateLifePA.org., call CORE at 800-366-677, or sign up when you renew your driver’s license.
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