Amy Whitesall ’10 celebrated Christmas recovering from a major surgery. Just days prior, one of her kidneys was removed. While she was prepared for the physical stress it would inflict on her body, Amy didn’t need to think twice about having the operation in order to be an organ donor. Her kidney was the ultimate Christmas gift, but what she received in return was even better – her mother’s life. Now, Amy is on a mission to spread awareness about organ donation.
As a high school student, Amy began seeking a college that would fit her needs. She was surprised to find the perfect fit at the first college she visited, and jumped at the chance to join the strong community and support system at The University of Olivet. Amy especially felt connected with the college’s mission to do good to others, a personal value she holds close to her heart.
“I just fell in love with The University of Olivet,” Amy explained. “It is an absolutely wonderful community to be a part of, and I always appreciated the emphasis on service and community outreach. As a student, I really developed the idea of giving back beyond family and friends, with a focus on serving the whole community. I had the opportunity to do that as a resident adviser and now continue through my church. The great professors and staff were always helpful and showed me the importance of supporting students – another lifelong value I learned at OC – I use that every day as a teacher myself now. One of those people was Sandi Nelson, academic accommodations coordinator. She played a huge role in helping me throughout my time at Olivet and is a person I still stay connected with today.”
Amy majored in special education with a minor in English, played lacrosse, served as a resident adviser and was a member of the church ministry group as a student. It was also while attending OC that Amy’s mother, Denise, was diagnosed with kidney disease and began a plan to manage her symptoms. Amy remembers learning about organ donation while researching the treatment of kidney disease. A seed was planted in her mind that came to fruition nearly 10 years later.
Amy set an ambitious goal to graduate in just three years, compelled to make a difference as soon as she could. In March of 2010, just two months before commencement, Amy’s father passed away, devastating her family. Still grieving, jumping back into classes after missing weeks of lessons seemed nearly impossible to Amy, but her support system at OC made sure she kept her goals within reach.
“After my dad passed away, going back to school just seemed too hard,” Amy admitted. “Now, I see the plan God had for me. My professors and classmates were very supportive, and I was able to graduate on time, finishing my degree in three years. I couldn’t have done it without everyone at OC, and I developed a brand new appreciation for the people in my life, especially my mom.”
Currently, Amy serves Michigan Connections Academy as a virtual special education teacher and finds great joy in teaching autistic children. Last May, Amy was on a business trip when she received distressing news that Denise had broken her arm. Rushing home, Amy was relieved to find her mom in stable condition and was ready to remain at her side throughout the healing process.
“While my mom was recovering from breaking her arm, she didn’t seem like herself to me anymore,” Amy said. “I realized that her kidneys may not have been able to affectively handle the pain medication she was on and took her back to the hospital right away. My suspicion was confirmed – her kidneys had shut down. In May, my mom started dialysis. Managing kidney disease feels like you’re always running a marathon. You’re always trying to figure out what the next step is. For us, I began the journey to find out if I was an organ match.”
After enduring weeks of testing, Amy received what felt like the greatest news on earth – she was a match, although she never doubted it. Amy never even researched the odds to see how likely it was for her to match Denise. She simply had the faith that she would be a match, certain being an organ donor was her calling. To share the good news with her mom, Amy even customized a Christmas ornament reading, “We’re a match!” with beach chairs, depicting Amy and Denise’s favorite place to spend time together.
The steps to get to the operating table weren’t easy. Amy and Denise worked with doctors, surgeons and insurance companies, endured several more tests, filled out loads of paper work, conducted research and much more to make sure the transplant would be successful. In November, they were officially cleared for surgery on Dec. 21. Amy and her mom tried not to get their hopes up, as many little variants could make the surgery impossible, but on Dec. 21, everything fell into place and both operations were completed successfully.
“It’s been amazing to see my mom looking great, and the kidney transplant has the potential to earn her up to 20 more years of life,” Amy explained. “Recovery has been challenging for me and it’s been difficult healing from the emotional pain. No one can prepare you for what this process is truly like, but I have no regrets. Sharing my story and spreading awareness about organ donation have been great healing tools. The reality is organ donors have the power to change someone’s life. That’s an incredible feeling in your heart. If I could do it all over again for a complete stranger, I would do that too. It’s the ultimate gift. I even joked with the surgeon, asking him to take a piece of my liver during the operation because I know there’s someone out there who needs it.”
While the road to recovery is long from over, Amy and Denise were blessed to spend the holidays together, ringing in the New Year with a brand new outlook on life. The duo is planning a trip to the beach together in 2018 to celebrate the transplant. Right now, visiting Florida for her first time is at the top of Amy’s list, and that goal is helping to speed her recovery along.
Learn more about OC by connecting with the Office of Admissions at 800.456.7189 or email@example.com.