How organ donation can change lives |

How organ donation can change lives

Valeria Balbo Frandsen, South Jordan, Utah

April is National Donate Life Month and, like so many other families, my family has been affected by organ donation. This is a subject that we gave little thought about until the old cliché "life or death" became our literal reality.

In August 2001, my husband and I welcomed our first child into our family. Vittoria was born with Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that most commonly affects the heart, joints, eyes and blood vessels. Vittoria didn’t let the physical challenges hold her back as she impacted everyone around her with a very strong, happy, cheerful, fearless, determined, and extremely polite personality. She was as fluent in Italian as she was in English and her artistic abilities were well beyond her years as she was always drawing and sketching in her free time. She truly amazed all who knew her.

Vittoria had her first open-heart surgery when she was 18 months old to fix her leaking heart valves. Our strong little girl endured countless doctor visits and underwent several back surgeries throughout her life. In July 2009 our life changed forever.

Vittoria was scheduled to have a preventive open heart surgery to fix her bulging aorta. Unfortunately, while in surgery, there were complications and things started to deteriorate. We found out that half of her heart had stopped working. Shortly after, when it was certain that her heart would not regain full function, the only option to save her life was a heart transplant. We waited and prayed for a heart while she fought to stay alive. It was heart wrenching to pray for a heart for your daughter knowing that the precious gift of life would come from someone else’s loss, and that our family had also been on the side of giving life.

Many years ago, my husband’s sixteen-year-old cousin passed away after an auto accident. There is no way to take away the deep sorrow of losing a child, but we had witnessed the comfort her parents had in knowing that, after doing all things possible to save her life, her passing gave that great gift of life to several others.

Finding ourselves on the receiving side of organ donation, the critical wait turned from days into weeks. On August 16, 2009, exactly one week before her eighth birthday, Vittoria took a turn for the worst and her battle to live came to an end. We ran out of time and she never received her heart and our lives without our princess would never feel normal again.

To honor her life, we share Vittoria’s story to help spread awareness about organ donation whenever and wherever we can. After losing our little girl, I know the deep and most debilitating grief one can experience and it is something I would not wish on anyone, but giving the gift of life so others can live is the greatest legacy one can leave.

My husband and I, and even our young son, are all registered donors. We feel very strongly in favor of organ donation and hope that you will join us if you haven’t registered already. Have the discussion with your family, even your kids. All of you can sign up to Donate Life!

Donating the gift of life is the most selfless and generous act you can ever do. If you are not an organ donor, please think about the lives you and your family could be saving one day. Visit and say YES to organ donation.

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