Holly Werlein

Gift of Life Michigan logo

My Second Chance June 14, 2006 probably seemed like a normal day for the average person. For me, however, it was the day I was given a 2nd chance at life. It was on that day, June 14, in which I received my life saving liver transplant from the Cleveland Clinic.

After being placed 1st on the national transplant list, I waited only 8 hours, which is truly a miracle. At the age of 21, I went into acute fulminate liver failure for unknown reasons. What had been a routine check up at the Cleveland Clinic soon turned into a whirlwind. I remember only 3 days in the hospital. I have no recollection of the events that took place after that, until I woke up a week later from what seemed like a nap, with a new liver.

It was the scariest feeling to wake up in ICU and try to comprehend what was going on. However, I am fortunate enough to have such a loving and supportive family that has been with me every step of the way. Now at age 25, three years after having my new liver, I was able to participate in the 17th World Transplant Games this past August in Gold Coast, Australia.

I earned 2 bronze medals in swimming and 4th place in beach volleyball. As I stood on the podium to receive my medals, thoughts of all I have been through these past 3 years spun through my head, as tears of joy streamed down my smiling face. It reminded me of my experience at my first U.S. Transplant Games in Pittsburgh, in which I earned 2 silver medals in running and 2 gold medals in swimming.

Had it not been for the selfless act of my donor and his family, I would have never had the opportunity to compete and represent Team USA. The Games consist of Olympic style events held for those who have received life saving organ and tissue transplants. It truly is a celebration of life, where we come together to show the success of transplantation. Living donors and donor families are honored as well at this wonderful, heartfelt reunion.

I wouldn’t be here today without my donor and to express my gratitude, I dedicate each of my medals I have earned to him. Celebrating my second chance at life with other recipients from around the world was breathtaking. The pure emotion and atmosphere of the Games is unexplainable. The tears, joy and heartfelt gratitude are what make the Games so amazing. It’s almost like a reunion. It’s so great to be with people that understand and appreciate life as much as I do. I wish everyone could experience it, because it truly changes a person’s perspective on life.

The courage, strength and will power it took for me to overcome this life changing experience made me truly find another side of myself that I never knew. I was so determined to get better that I think I surprised my doctors at how quickly I recovered.

I’m so blessed and grateful that I’m still able to do the things I could before. It is still surreal to me that I even had a transplant at times. I grew up a Gaylord native and have had such wonderful support from the community as I recovered, especially from my Northern Michigan Transplant Support Group.

I now reside in Traverse City as a personal chef, artist and head administrator on Transplant Café. I have now found that my purpose in life is to spread awareness and promote organ and tissue donation. I am so passionate about it and I know that’s why I was left here. It’s my mission to help others receive the second chance that I did. I have found an online network, called Transplant Café, which I am now a head administrator of.

It is an online community that serves as a supportive, fun place for those affected by transplantation. Helping others to receive a second chance is my goal and purpose in life. I hope sharing my story will help influence people to become organ donors. I’m so blessed and grateful to be alive! Please help me on my mission to raise awareness and continue my future endeavors. There will forever be a place in my heart for my donor.

I’m living, breathing proof of how organ donation saves lives! It puts a smile on face when I have impacted someone with my story 🙂 Thank you for being a donor.

Holly Werlein

Traverse City

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