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Jennifer D’Oliveira

Jennifer D’Oliveira has been the volunteer chair of the Donor Dash Committee since its inception in February 2019; TCA’s annual fundraiser for the Living Assistance Fund. Learn more about the DonorDash here.

Jennifer D’Oliveira has been a businesswoman for 35 years in many different types of business, playing a strong role in Customer Service for most of that period. She has owned wedding coordinating and dog grooming businesses, and was the founder and president of the largest Pomeranian rescue in the state of Arizona for many years. She has recently opened a new business – Desert Bloom Aromatherapy.

She became heavily involved with Organ Donation 6 years ago when her best friend’s daughter passed away and saved 6 lives with her precious final gift. She volunteers her time to Donate Life Arizona and Transplant Community Alliance. She is the Fundraising Chair for Transplant Community Alliance, the Media Coordinator for Transplant Team Arizona, and the Race Director for the Donor Dash, which supports Transplant Community Alliance’s Living Assistance Fund.

She holds an Associate of Arts Degree in Merchandise Marketing and Product Development from The Fashion Institute of Design in Merchandising in Los Angeles and recently received a certificate in Aromatherapy from the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in Phoenix, earning the designation of Clinical Aromatherapist.

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Melissa McQueen

Melissa McQueen is Executive Director of Transplant Families who works with parents and caregivers of children being listed for or already have received a lifesaving organ transplant to help guide them to support, education, and assistance to help them through this very difficult time.

Melissa believes that education and support bring hope and healing for families.   She is honored to volunteer with the OPTN/UNOS in their Pediatric Committee and their Data Advisory Committee where she helped co-author “What Every Parent Needs to Know”.  She has also been selected as leadership with Quality Improvement Collaboratives ACTION Learning Network (pediatric cardiac QI based out of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital) and Starzl Learning Network (pediatric liver QI based out of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) to give input and help co-create materials for clinicians and families.  She worked on the spearheading committee that helped Donate Life America create National Pediatric Transplant Week (every year on the last week of every April).  She is the charter chair of the Heart Center Family Advisory Council and Alumni Family Advisory Council at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.   She is proud volunteer and editor of the newsletter for Transplant Community Alliance.

Melissa is a trained developer/engineer by trade who has worked at companies such as Honeywell – Aeronautics Division, APS, Wells Fargo, and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.  Most recently, she helped to develop “My journey with” applications covering patient education from diabetes to transplant for newly diagnosed families.  Melissa holds a Bachelor’s in Computer Information Systems from DeVry University.

When Melissa is not working, she loves hiking and traveling with her college sweetheart and husband, Brandon, and spending time with their three beautiful children: Alex, Maddie, and Dylan.  Dylan received his gift of life (heart) at 8 months old and is now a healthy and happy 12-year-old.

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Brian Brener

Brian-Brenner

Brian-Brenner

by Brian Brener

My name is Brian and I am the very grateful recipient of a heart transplant which I received at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, California. I was born in South Africa 65 years ago with a rare congenital heart condition known as Congenitally Corrected Transposition of the Great Arteries (CCTGA) as well as pulmonary stenosis and dextrocardia.

The fact that doctors knew I had a problem when I was just one-year old and a complete diagnosis was known when I was 15 was in and of itself amazing considering that that occurred 50 years ago. I went to Guy’s Hospital in London when I was six and had a catheterization when I was 12. I remember my parents viewing it on an 8mm projector!

The condition reversed my ventricles with the right ventricle becoming the pumping ventricle. That ventricle, which normally pumps blood to the lungs, is designed for a pressure of 25/5 while it was actually subjected to 120/80. The doctors predicted that I would be fine until I was 55 when I would need a valve replacement. Even more amazing – they were correct as most people do not live this long without an issue. I was 57 when the ventricle deteriorated from the high pressure and I started having trouble with stamina and breathing. It was 2004 when I was told I was in Stage II heart failure and would eventually need a transplant. Up until then I had lived a fairly normal life as an IT professional, I was happily married and had three wonderful children. I played sports like doubles tennis, soccer goalkeeper, etc.

In 2006 a fortunate, in retrospect, event happened. I had numerous respiratory issues over the years with many bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis. I was finally diagnosed with Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID). I started receiving infusions of Immunoglobulin G (IgG) (which are antibody molecules) on a monthly basis. For those who understand transplants and rejection, this surely benefitted me later as I had no antibodies that would inhibit transplant.

In 2004, I consulted with Dr. Copeland at the University Medical Center (UMC) in Tucson. He became aware of my anatomy but told me I did not need a transplant at that point in time. In the years following, I was treated for heart failure by doctors at another facility but was considered a high risk candidate for transplant. I returned to Dr. Copeland at UMC in late 2008. He did a right heart (in my case left heart!!) catheterization and determined I had pulmonary hypertension and a transplant was not yet possible. With little time left to live, he inserted a left ventricular assist device, LVAD (RVAD in my case). He became confident that transplant was feasible and he believed, while others did not, that the LVAD would correct the pulmonary hypertension. He would later be proven correct. In July 2009 a catheterization was done and I was listed for transplant in September 2009.

As others have said, the LVAD kept me alive while waiting for a transplant but it was not a panacea. It did not fix valves, the right side of the heart or other issues. It required my wonderful wife to do a sterile dressing three times per week for many months. It was not an easy device to live with but what it did do was allow me to see my grandkids, visit friends, go out for dinner, go to the supermarket and the movies and I was able to continue to work full time from home.

In October 2009, I received THE call. We packed up all the LVAD gear and I drove myself through rush-hour traffic in Phoenix to Tucson for my heart transplant. I was prepped for surgery, wheeled into the operating room and was anesthetized. But physical inspection of the donor heart found it to be hard and diseased, which had not shown up in the pre-testing, and the transplant was called off. That was the first of five false alarms over an 18-month period.

In June 2010, Dr. Copeland left UMC and I was told they were no longer able to do my transplant due to the complexity of my heart issues. They contacted Jenna Rush, Transplant Coordinator with Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. I went to LA for an evaluation and was listed shortly thereafter. Air ambulance service was pre-arranged and I began my wait. On one occasion, I presented with cold symptoms in the morning and received THE call again that evening so I had to decline. That gave rise to a humorous anecdote. My wife was with our grandkids when I called her and gave her the news. My eight-year old granddaughter started crying, but my five-year old grandson Craig said, : “Talia, don’t cry. The doctor will put the heart in the fridge until Grandpa is better!” Disneyland was in their future! On another occasion I was waiting on the runway at Scottsdale Airport for the air ambulance to arrive (which was 5 minutes from landing) when the transplant was again called off. It was a scary rollercoaster ride.

On April 27, 2011, Cedars Sinai and Dr. Trento found the right heart. My wife had left town that morning to visit our grandkids in New York. Our daughter flew with me to Los Angeles in a small Lear Jet air ambulance. We arrived there four hours after the call. Surgery started at 5.30 a.m. and my wife arrived from the east coast midway through the surgery. Bill Sears, Head of Cedars Heart Transplant Ambassadors, sat with my family throughout the surgery offering encouragement. The volunteer organization at Cedars is yet another fantastic component of their care. Dr. Trento completed my complex heart transplant surgery successfully.

The rest, as they say, is the rest of my life. I unfortunately needed a pacemaker but was discharged after 13 days. We stayed in Los Angeles for biopsies and post-transplant care. My body was extremely atrophied and recovery was slow, but I walked a lot and had some home physical therapy. After three months, I returned home to Phoenix but fly to Los Angeles monthly for checkups. I was fortunate to be entered into the Allomap trial for rejection and so have only had eight out of the 13 biopsies. I have had one small scare but no real rejection episodes. I started cardiac rehabilitation and have slowly gotten stronger. Last week I completed the AHA 5 km Heart Walk.

It was a long journey but the story has a happy ending. This is due to many people and many things, not the least of which is a supportive family. I am eternally grateful to my donor family whose generous donation made writing this story possible and to whom I have finally written after much contemplation.

Additionally, I am deeply indebted to Dr. Jack Copeland, formerly of UMC in Tucson as well as all the doctors, pharmacists, nursing staff and technical staff there who gave me not only excellent care, but became personally involved and treated me as much more than a patient. They enabled the future for me. I would also like to thank Jenna Rush, Transplant Coordinator, Dr. Alfredo Trento, Dr. Lawrence Czer, Drs. Kittleson and Patel, as well as many other medical professionals at Cedars-Sinai.

There are so many ways to donate – organs, money, emotional support and/or time.
My message is simple. Please be a donor. It saves people and changes family’s lives.

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Sharon Thomas

Sharon-Thomas

Multiple Organ Transplant – Heart/Lung and Kidney

Sharon-Thomas

It was 1986 and my life seemed perfect. I had a loving husband and two beautiful daughters, ages two years and six months. I started having headaches and fatigue. After many tests, I got the news that I had Primary Pulmonary Hypertension which is the hardening of the small muscles and cells of your lungs. Most people at that time died within two years of diagnosis.

I went through the only clinical trials they had at that time, and they only made it worse.  My only hope was to receive a heart and double-lung transplant.  At this time there had only been a little over a dozen heart and double lungs transplants in the nation.  The next year or so was filled with many challenges. One of the worst was that my insurance decided that my treatment was considered “experimental.”  All at once I was trying to take care of my children, my husband, my health, and fight for payment of the treatment I so desperately needed.  My family and friends raised money and helped with childcare and meals.  My extended family even moved in with us to help with the kids.

My health eventually deteriorated so much that I had to go to the University Medical Center in Tucson.  On July 17, 1988, a young boy experienced a tragic fall and his family made the decision to donate his organs.  The transplant team went to the hospital in Vegas to retrieve the organs.  My husband was in the waiting room when he saw a doctor come in with a cooler and he asked if those were my organs…. they were!

Seventeen days later, I was out of the hospital and walking around our apartment complex in Tucson.  Within 30 days I was back home in Scottsdale, but still returning to Tucson for checkups.  I would not be here today if I had not held strong to my faith, my family, my friends, and my doctors, all of whom got me through this experience.

I am telling this story to encourage anyone who needs a transplant to have courage for today and hope for tomorrow.  I am on my 24th year as a transplant recipient; however, 11 years ago it was necessary for me to receive a kidney transplant.  Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat, because all the happy, sad, painful, dreary, and exciting moments are worth it!  Save a life; be a part of a miracle.  Be an organ donor.