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April 29, 2019

With This Organ Donor Awareness Event, Adelphi Aims to Transform and Save Lives

by James Forkan

In 2017, I watched 9-year-old singer Angelica Hale become the runner-up on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, and return as a semifinalist on America’s Got Talent: TheChampions in 2019 at age 11. I was impressed with her powerhouse vocals on songs like “Girl on Fire,” “Rise Up” and “The Fight Song.”

I also knew she would not have had those opportunities without a life-saving kidney transplant from her mother. At age 4, Angelica had nearly lost her life to sepsis and went into kidney failure.

Adelphi University’s College of Education and Health Sciences (CEHS) organized a panel discussion, “Give Life America: Organ Donor Awareness,” for Tuesday, April 30 at 2:00 p.m., at the Ruth S. Harley University Center. The panelists–an organ transplant recipient and another on a wait list, two donor moms and an organ procurement organization representative–had their own personal stories to tell.

Shortly before that event, one of the speakers, Nicole Schmidt ’96, who is on a kidney transplant wait list, said in an interview that this forum grew out of a recent conversation she had with Patrice Armstrong-Leach, CEHS assistant dean. Schmidt, assistant director of certification and student records at the College since July 2018, said, “I was telling her about my working to get on a transplant list, my experience being on dialysis and working full time, etc.”

A Ruth S. Ammon School of Education alumna who had in the past (March 2006 to July 2018) worked as an adviser in the College of Nursing and Public Health, Schmidt said she comes from “an Adelphi family–my mom [Lucille Woltmann ’00] worked for over 20 years as a Human Resources representative, my sister [Jacqueline Woltmann Hjorleifsson] is a 1992 alum from the Psychology department and my daughter [Kayla Schmidt] now attends as a freshman in STEP.”

Telling Her Story

Schmidt hoped that this forum will educate people on all aspects of organ donation—”not just on living organ donation but also on the painful decision to donate a deceased family member’s organs as well.” She explained, “The purpose of this event is to clarify misconceptions regarding organ donation and bring to light how lives are impacted.” She added, “I want people to realize those people on a transplant list are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. They look like you. It may be someone you see every day–like me. I take pride in the fact that most people on dialysis do not work full time as I do.”

Schmidt spoke briefly about her own story. “I was diagnosed with renal failure in 2015,” she said. “I did all the tests to be put on the list at New York Presbyterian Weil Cornell. I have now completed the tests to be put on the list at NYU Langone. I find them to be more patient-centered and I’m very comfortable there.”

The panel was organized by the CEHS-affiliated student organizations Future Teachers Association, led by Karli Cox, president, and Samantha Irace, Adelphi chapter president for the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Irace said Clinical Assistant Professor Cynthia Proscia of CEHS’ Department of Health and Sport Sciences, recommended reaching out to LiveOnNY. Karen Cummings, a Long Island representative for that organization, which educates the community about organ donation, will be a panelist.

Cox said she became involved in this collaborative event in part because her father spent the last two years on dialysis awaiting a kidney transplant; he passed away in February due to renal failure. The forum’s steering committee eventually decided to broaden its focus beyond the initially planned emphasis on living organ donation, she added.

Sofia Martinez, 11, received a heart transplant last summer shortly after a video of a hospital visit in Chicago by rapper Drake aired on the TV networks’ evening newscasts and went viral. Now, Sofia has taped a public service announcement urging people to consider live organ donation to “give other people a second chance at life.”

As NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt observed in March 2019, “More than 100,000 are waiting for an organ transplant right now”—looking for that second chance.

Like the many people who spoke at or attended this “Give Life America” event, I also know what it means to an organ donor recipient to have the opportunity at that second chance at life—even if it was just a chance. My brother Philip had long suffered from kidney disease, especially in the last two years of his life when he had to undergo dialysis, then a relatively new treatment, twice a week (and, later, facing the possibility of three times a week). He went ahead with the transplant, which succeeded initially. But several days later, Philip’s body rejected the kidney and he passed away at age 24.

Still, faced with the prospect of adding some years to his life, without dialysis, he felt that chance was worth the risks.


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Adelphi University, New York, is a highly awarded, nationally ranked, powerfully connected doctoral research university dedicated to transforming students’ lives through small classes with world-class faculty, hands-on learning and innovative ways to support academic and career success. Adelphi offers exceptional liberal arts and sciences programs and professional training, with particular strength in our Core Four—Arts and Humanities, STEM and Social Sciences, the Business and Education Professions, and Health and Wellness.

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