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Emotional reunion after organ transplant

Gift of Hope unites organ donor and recipient families in emotional meeting.

It was a reunion of sorts for four families who gathered at Gift of Hope today. 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.

Jermaine told his family he wanted to help others as a donor when he was old enough to register. He never reached that age, so his mother honored his wishes by authorizing donation after his tragic death.

“He inspired me to become an organ donor too,” explains Jermaine’s father Jermaine Cullum Sr.

“Jermaine really is the hero of today’s story,” adds Gift of Hope President and CEO Kevin Cmunt, who spoke to a crowded press conference. “Looking out at the recipients whose lives have been transformed by Jermaine’s gifts, this wasn’t a tragic end. It’s the start of new stories that will echo well beyond the recipients and into the community.”

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,

Fabre got the call she had been waiting for and underwent a lifesaving kidney and liver transplant at Loyola last year.

“(Jermaine) gave me life; he gave me hope when I didn’t think I had any other chances,” the wife and mother of two daughters says. “He gave me a second chance with my family.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“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.” (SOURCE: Gift of Hope)

Photo Captions

PHOTO ONE: From left to Right: kidney & liver transplant recipient Celia Fabre of Chicago, Jermaine Cullum Sr. and Tarcia Patton parents of 16 year old organ donor Jermaine Cullum Jr., kidney & pancreas transplant recipient Tarik Causay of Chicago and double-lung transplant recipient Karen Emerich of New Carlisle, Ind.

PHOTO TWO: From left to right: Dr. Diego di Sabato, kidney and liver transplant surgeon at Loyola University Medical Center, Tarcia Patten, mother of organ donor Jermaine Cullum Jr., kidney & liver transplant recipient Celia Fabre of Chicago and Jermaine Cullum Sr., father of the donor.

PHOTO THREE: 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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