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“I knew I was going to die”

Karen Reaves, Bilateral Lung Recipient, 2008

Karen’s husband of 28 years was involved in a severe motorcycle accident in 2003. Although he was unresponsive at the scene, University Hospital trauma team attempted to revive him. Blindsided by the incident, Karen now had to decide organ, eye and tissue donation. She had never discussed this with her husband but knew it would be something he would want to do. Due to contamination of his blood, no organs were donated but his eyes and lower leg bone changed three recipients’ lives. Three years later, Karen found herself learning more about the process from a receiving end.

In July of 2006, Karen was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Later in the year, three types of fungus attacked her lungs among other conditions that caused her to be hospitalized for 54 days. Her quality of life deteriorated more and more after discharge and by 2008 she was on five to seven liters of oxygen, 24 hours a day.

“It is hard to put into words. This was my life and I knew I was going to die. Doing chores such as grocery shopping had become a three day task. My boyfriend at the time would just hold me when I was being prodded and wouldn’t let me give up the will to live. My illness was not only affecting me but those around me as well. Without donor and donor families, we wouldn’t have a transplant world and I would not be alive today. I owe them so much, I can’t even explain. How do you say thank you to someone giving life? It has been such a blessing to take a breath. Every day is a gift that starts with my donor.”

Karen went through such a struggle; she never thought she would live long enough to marry the man that stood by her during her most difficult days. Karen received a double-lung transplant May 4, 2008 and married Gaylord Reaves on October 17, 2009.

Karen Reaves, Bilateral Lung Recipient, 2008 stands with her husband Gaylord on their wedding day
Karen and Gaylord's Wedding Photo