One of the most important aspects of organ donation is the support the donors, the recipients and their families receive from extended family and friends. Pictured are heart transplant recipient Katrina Riepenhoff (second row, third from right) and her parents, Joe and Becky (back row, fifth and sixth from right), with some of their support persons. Katrina has been relating the story of her transplant and encouraging others to become organ donors. (Putnam Sentinel/Becky Leader)
One of the most important aspects of organ donation is the support the donors, the recipients and their families receive from extended family and friends. Pictured are heart transplant recipient Katrina Riepenhoff (second row, third from right) and her parents, Joe and Becky (back row, fifth and sixth from right), with some of their support persons. Katrina has been relating the story of her transplant and encouraging others to become organ donors. (Putnam Sentinel/Becky Leader)

There were plenty of smiles and tears as Katrina shared the events that lead to her transplant. Katrina stressed that giving back is important to her.

She told the audience, "Every day, I am thankful that another family's teenager donated a heart. One thing I learned from this experience is that if anything ever happens to you, you should always give back, and let everyone know how much you appreciated him or her. Without a donor I would never have had this opportunity to be here and speaking in front of you today."

Gillian Holzhauser-Graber, the AAUW philanthropy program vice president, said, "AAUW has embraced this cause to encourage persons to sign up early for organ donation. Because of someone's gift, Katrina is able to be with us. She is such an inspiration. Katrina's strength attracts strength. The giving back comes naturally, and comes from home. Katrina's passion inspires others to action."

Katrina wasted no time in giving back. She was at the American Heart Association Kick-Off in Columbus in March, where she spoke at a breakfast at Heartwalk for Nationwide Children's Hospital. In May, she attended the Columbus Crew Heart Transplant Cup, (The Crew is a major supporter of organ, eye, and tissue donation awareness) She attended Toledo Refinery's Walk for Wishes in June, where she was given a trip to New York to see "The Lion King." She attended the National Tractor Pull in Bowling Green in August, where she shared her Wish experience. She formed a team for Heartwalk in Columbus in October, and helped raise research funding for two of her doctors.

Cathie Hulbert, whose daughter, Sandy Wurth of Ottawa, recently donated a kidney to her (Sandy's) brother, Mike Hulbert, has also been compelled to speak out about the importance of organ donation.

"I had never considered being an organ donor prior to this," Cathie commented. "I am going to make presentations to get the word out about organ donation."

In addition to giving back, both the Riepenhoff and the Hulbert/Wurth families attributed the success of their experiences to the support they received from their extended families, friends, churches, and communities.

Katrina's mother, Becky Riepenhoff, described, "The support of our family and friends was so important. It was all the little things that people do that helped keep us strong. We are so lucky to live in a small community. It was nice to know people care. As a parent, that was invaluable."

Katrina's best friend for many years, Maureen Hirzel, believed hope and happiness was important to Katrina.

"Her friends visiting showed support, and that we had not forgotten her," Maureen declared. "Our parents took turns taking us kids down after school. When Katrina was alone, it was hard for her and she had more time to think about what actually was happening. We were a pleasant distraction."

Cathie Hulbert commented, "We could never have made it through all of this without all of our Facebook, church, and other friends' love, help, support and prayers. It has been amazing and we will never be able to thank all of them."

story created on Monday 11/25/2013 at 12:01:59 pm by Anne Coburn-Griffis