Four-time liver recipient says his faith supports organ and tissue donation
“And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely”
Before his sixth birthday, Ibrahim Haleem had four liver transplant surgeries. Although three failed, the fourth has lasted 22 years and is going strong. “The donor was a young girl,” Ibrahim said. “It’s a mystery why this one worked when the others didn’t.”
Now married and an elementary school physical education teacher, Ibrahim, 28, is eternally grateful to his donor’s family for their gift of donation. Through Gift of Hope, he wrote to thank them for their decision to continue her legacy. A living testament to the lifesaving power of organ donation, Ibrahim is passionate about spreading the word.
“I’m very outspoken about organ donation,” said Ibrahim, who is of Palestinian descent. “Without it, I would have missed out on family celebrations, world travel, high school and college graduation, getting married, and the chance to educate children.”
An Act of Faith and Goodwill
Ibrahim was born with ductal plate malformation, a condition that caused his liver to fail two months after he was born. His mother donated part of her liver when he was a few months old, but after three years, it failed. He received a second liver transplant at the age of four and then a third, which failed almost immediately. Two months later, in October, 1997 he had his final liver transplant.
Ibrahim says he doesn’t remember a thing — being terribly sick, having multiple surgeries and spending months in the hospital. But his parents remember all of it. As they watched him suffer, they wondered if they were putting him through too much. Some of their friends questioned their decision to pursue transplantation, noting they believed people should die with the same body they’re born with, according to their faith.
But Ibrahim notes that, as is the case for most religious groups, Islam supports donation as an act of faith and goodwill toward mankind. When he discusses the importance of organ and tissue donation with fellow Muslims he quotes from the Quran, 5:32: “And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.”
“I try to dispel the myths and help people understand how important organ donation is,” he said.
Ibrahim is president of the non-profit Miracles Made Thru Research, and he and his family – including his parents, older sister and younger brother – have been active in supporting pediatric liver disease research. Two decades after his successful liver transplant, the Haleem family hosted Ibrahim’s 20th Transplanniversary, which raised about $70,000 for children’s hospitals.
Teaching About Healthy Living
After the last transplant surgery, Ibrahim was on 14 medications and is now down to three. He graduated high school and got his bachelor’s degree at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill., followed by his master’s degree from Northern Illinois University. He’s a PE teacher at a grade school and lives nearby with his wife, Mariam, a fifth-grade teacher.
He’s always loved sports and although he only played baseball one year as a preteen – his parents worried about the risk of contact sports – he routinely played recreational basketball in college. He has competed in the Transplant Games of America, an event similar to the Olympics for people who have had lifesaving transplant surgeries. His events include basketball, volleyball and beanbag toss and he has won a silver and two bronze medals. He even participated in the World Transplant Games in Spain in 2017.
“When people find out I had a liver transplant, they are surprised because I am healthy and active,” he said.
When thinking about a career, he considered medicine but decided he had spent enough time in hospitals. He thought about culinary school, and then sports broadcasting, and ultimately decided to teach. Although he considered math, he really loves PE, and feels he has a special connection to kids when it comes to teaching about a healthy lifestyle. He previously taught middle school kids and encouraged them to sign up as organ donors when they got their driver’s licenses, telling them they had the power to make a decision that could save lives.
At some point during the school year, his students typically learn that he was a liver transplant recipient.
“A lot of them don’t know about organ transplantation,” he said. “I’m giving them foundational knowledge. Here’s a liver transplant recipient, right in front of you. As someone who was sick at birth, I show them that health plays a big part of life every day.”
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