A Common Bond: Gift of Hope Unites Organ Donor and Recipient Families in Emotional Meeting

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Health

It was a reunion of sorts for four families who gathered at Gift of Hope last Thursday. Though they’d never before met and aren’t related by blood, the families share a special bond that transcends ethnicity, religion, economic status and geography – created by the life-giving legacy of 16-year-old Jermaine Cullum Jr. of Chicago.

Jermaine, a 16-year-old Christ the King Jesuit Prep School sophomore, collapsed and died while playing basketball in May 2014 and gave life to three people as an organ donor: 39-year-old Tarik Causay of Chicago; 48-year-old Celia Fabre of Chicago; and 57-year-old Karen Emerich of New Carlisle, Ind. “They are my family now,” says Jermaine’s mother Tarcia Patton.

Emerich, a seventh-grade teacher, received Jermaine’s lungs during a double-lung transplant at Loyola University Medical Center last May. For five years, she battled pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that causes scarring in the lungs and makes breathing difficult. “Before the transplant, I didn’t venture out much,” the wife, mother of four and grandmother of seven recalls. Now, her “to-do” list is long, and she relishes the opportunity to cross off each item as she goes, including taking her very first rollercoaster ride in April. “I want to make sure I live a fulfilling life in honor of my donor,” she adds.

Causay shares Emerich’s sentiments. The grateful father of three received Jermaine’s left kidney and pancreas at Rush University Medical Center a year ago.

“I didn’t know him, but he’s always with me,” Causay said, wiping away tears. Diagnosed with diabetes at 16, he endured kidney dialysis for several years and spent five years on the waiting list before learning organs had been found. Causay keeps Jermaine’s obituary near his bed as a constant reminder of who gave him a second chance at life.

“He gave me the perfect gift,” he adds. Fabre received Jermaine’s right kidney and liver. At three years old, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called primary hyperoxaluria. After spending three-and-a-half years on the waiting list,

“I was ecstatic to meet them today,” Jermaine’s mom adds, “knowing that he lives on in each of them. I was hugging them and didn’t want to let them go. We have a bigger family now.”

Loyola University Medical Center’s team involved in the six-organ transplant process involving three patients who received organs from 16 year old donor Jermaine Cullum Jr. a year ago, May 2014.

Top row left to right: Jane Thomas, RN – lung transplant at Loyola University Medical Center, Erin Mahoney, Nurse Practitioner – lung transplant at Loyola University Medical Center, double-lung transplant recipient Karen Emerich of New Carlisle, Ind., Loyola University Medical Center lung transplant surgeon Daniel Dilling, MD, Dr. Amy Lu – liver transplant surgeon at Loyola University Medical Center, kidney & liver transplant recipient Celia Fabre of Chicago, Gretchen Thinrich, RN – liver transplant Loyola University Medical Center, Colleen Shidelee RN – Loyola University Medical Center, Michael Hayes, Chaplain Loyola University Medical Center.
Bottom row left to right: Erica Dixon, RN Loyola University Medical Center, Dr. Diego di Sabato, kidney and liver transplant surgeon, Claire Lengell, RN Loyola University Medical Center.

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