If you search for Suzie Sturm using social media, you might find her using the hashtag #DoItForTom. Tom is the name of her donor, the 25-year-old who gifted her a new liver on Sept. 27, 2016, at the UI Health in Chicago.
Suzie’s transplant journey started at a holiday party in 2014. Suzie was walking down the stairs, missed a step and fell down the flight of stairs. This fall resulted in an emergency room visit and routine blood work found her liver wasn’t functioning properly.
“At the time my two daughters were planning their weddings, and two of my grandchildren were expected any time,” she said. “I had a lot to look forward to, and I just prayed that God would make me healthy again.”
Suzie tried to return to a normal life, despite not having a solution to treat her disease. However, a trip to visit friends in Florida landed her back in the hospital.
“Doctors told me I was in liver failure and needed to return home and get on the transplant list,” she said. “I was scared, but then our friend lifted up his shirt to show us his transplant scar and said, ‘I had one 14 years ago, and you’re going to be fine sweetheart.’”
Two years went by but she never gave up hope that one day a selfless donor would give the gift of a lifesaving liver transplant. One day she got the call that match had been found. After her transplant, Suzie saw her daughters get married, spent time with her grandchildren and celebrated her new life. However, the person who saved her life was always on her mind.
“Every day I would wonder about who my donor was,” said Suzie. “I must have started two dozen draft letters but I just didn’t know what to say. How do you tell someone who lost someone they loved that you are doing well and to thank them for the gift and talk about your life?”
One day, Suzie received a call from her transplant coordinator stating they had a four-page letter from the donor family and asked if Suzie would like to accept it. Suzie agreed and started reading the letter, which began “How do we begin to tell you about our dear Tom?”
Just Keep Swimming
Thanks to Tom, Suzie has committed herself to serve as an organ donation advocate. She heard about Transplant Life Illinois, a non-profit organization that brings together transplant recipients, living donors, donor families and team supporters on a regular basis to raise awareness of the need for donations of every kind — organ, tissue, cornea, bone marrow and blood. The organization’s highlight event is the bi-annual Donate Life Transplant Games of America.
The Transplant Games are a multi-sport festival event produced by the Transplant Life Foundation for individuals who have undergone life-saving transplant surgeries. This event is designed to increase awareness of the life-restoring importance of organ, cornea, bone marrow, and tissue donation through the lives of the athlete-recipients and the lasting legacy of their donors.
The 2018 Transplant Games of America will be held in Salt Lake City and Suzie will be one of the athletes participating in several swimming competitions.
“I have always enjoyed swimming but I’ve never swum competitively,” said Suzie. “However, when I put my mind to something, I go all-in.”
Suzie hired a swim coach and trainer who is getting her ready to compete in the upcoming games. Her decision to participate in the games has had a ripple effect through her community in Washington, Ill. Thanks to media coverage about Suzie’s story and through her advocacy efforts, several members of her local community, including her swimming coach, have signed up to be donors.
“Everything I do, I do for Tom,” said Suzie. “I created the hashtag #DoItForTom and attach it to all my posts on social media because I know I’m here because of him. Tom gave me the gift of hope and chance at a new life.”
Gift of Hope applauds Suzie and all the courageous athletes participating in the 2018 Transplant Games of America and honors all the donors whose generous gifts of organs and tissue have given new hope to people in need.