Friday, December 17, 2010

Heroes Among Us

This was a very difficult post to write. My words could never do justice to the full extent of my gratitude or the incredible strength and character exhibited by my donor family, but this is my attempt. Denisha - thank you for allowing me to share our story.

What is a hero?

I would define a hero as someone with the opportunity, the instinct and the will to help others. Maybe it’s the guy that tipped 100% because the waitress looked like she was having a rough day. Maybe it’s the off-duty police officer that jumped in front of a moving train to save a stranger who had fallen onto the tracks. Maybe it’s the mother that starved herself to feed her children.

While I’ve looked up to a variety of people throughout my life, I’ve never really had a hero, per se. Now I have two – one that lives here on earth, and one whose time here was cut short but whose eternal spirit continues to glow. Their names are Denisha and T’neil, mother and daughter. They are the reasons I’m alive, though they would never accept such credit, instead giving all glory to God.

I never had the opportunity to meet T’neil, but I have learned so much about her and know she was a wonderful and beautiful young lady, full of life and loved by so many. She was a 17-year-old rising senior in high school who loved shopping and talking on the phone. She had dreams of joining the Navy, going to college and starting her own business. She had a rare disease that remained undetected until her final days and then took her life quickly. Her strong heart now beats inside of me.

T'neil, who gave me the gift of life.
While I haven’t yet met Denisha in person, I have exchanged letters, texts and phone calls with her. It’s difficult to find words that describe this wonderful woman, for I have never met anyone like her. Selfless, generous, thoughtful, faithful, loving – none of these words is strong enough. In the wake of her daughter’s death, impossibly, Denisha was praying for my recovery and good health. She was worried about me. It is patently clear that Denisha misses her daughter dearly, yet the strength of her faith provides comfort and carries her forward. T’neil had not self-identified as an organ donor, so Denisha was tasked with this difficult decision in what must have been the most painful moments of her life. Yet, she doesn’t describe it as a choice at all. God told her this was T’neil’s opportunity to help others. And help others she did – T’neil was able to donate a multitude of organs and tissue – impacting the lives of more people than can be counted on two hands and saving the lives of several of us.

Denisha has other children, one of whom is T’neil’s twin sister. The pain being experienced by this teenager is simply unimaginable and nothing anyone should have to endure. I hope that she shares her mother’s faith and takes comfort in the lives that her sister improved and saved. I’m sure T’neil lives on in her heart just as much as she lives on in mine.

Denisha and her family associate butterflies with T’neil’s continued presence. In the final days of her life, butterflies kept appearing to her family. They also like to burn candles to allow T’neil’s eternal light to glow. Maybe you will light a candle today in T’neil’s honor and say a prayer for her family.

These are true heroes. They were given the unenviable opportunity to help others in a significant way. The instinct to help came automatically and without hesitation. And they acted on those instincts to deliver the ultimate gift to many fortunate people. Because of this heroism, I am alive today. As I told Denisha, because of this heroism, I can use the word “yet” in so many sentences. I haven’t started a family yet. I haven’t written a book yet. I haven’t skied in the Alps yet. Whether she accepts credit for it or not, Denisha gave me a future, and for that I am eternally grateful.

As I think of T’neil, Denisha and their family, Mariah Carey’s “Hero” comes to mind. Some of the lyrics are below.

To my heroes, thank you. I look forward to meeting you soon. In the meantime, lots of love from my heart.

Mariah Carey – "Hero"

There's a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don't have to be afraid
Of what you are
There's an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you'll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you


  1. Andrea,

    Your lovely tribute brought tears to my eyes!!

    What a beautiful donor and donor Mother. I will say a prayer and light a candle for T'neil, as well as Denisha and her family. You received a beautiful heart, for sure!!

    May God Bless you and your donor and donor family, ALWAYS!!


  2. What a huge blessing. Larger than imaginable.

  3. I have become so emotional over the past year as I have watched your struggle. I tend to cry easily, whether it's because I sense your frustration or whether it's because I hear a note of optimism in your voice. I wrote a note to your donor family while you were having your transplant surgery and then again when I left New Brunswick as you became able to live your life independently. It is only recently that I have learned the details about your donor and her family. What a beautiful tribute to both. I have been so impressed by the generousity of the gift as well as the faith of this family. They are always in my prayers, and I hope that one day I can meet them and express my gratitude in person. In the meantime, I will be lighting a candle.
    Much love to you and your donor family. Mom

  4. Andrea, I am so moved by your lovely tribute to your donor and her family and by the depth of your expression of gratitude to them for the ultimate gift. At this time of year, when we are especially mindful of life's blessings, I send you warmest wishes for your continued health and happiness. Jenny Golder

  5. I can only imagine how much warmth Denisha feels knowing her daughter lives on in someone like you. Thanks for strengthening my faith, lifting my spirit, and reminding me how much good is in this world. Love you lady.

  6. Your trbute is amazing, thoughtful, heartwrenching, emotional, beautiful . . . thank you for sharing such an intimate part of your life.

    Happy Holidays to you and your family Andrea!

  7. Two candles are lit on our windowsill now. One for T'neil and her family. One for you and yours. Your gratitude is undeniable... Thank you for sharing these extremely emotional and sensitive thoughts with us all. Merry Christmas, dear Andrea. xoxo

  8. Thanks to my hero, Denisha,my other hero, Andrea,will live on. I hope Denisha will share my joy for Andrea's love, vigor and determination. Love, peace and Merry Christmas to you both!

  9. This is a beautiful and touching tribute. What amazing heroes you have and how blessed they are that you recognize the ultimate sacrifice made and share your gratitude in such an uplifting manner. You are an inspiration and we wish you continued good health and a wonderful holiday season with your family. We will light a candle and continue to pray for this family as well as for you and yours.
    Bob & Melanie

  10. thank you for this beautiful tribute and proof that T'Neil's heart and the generous spirit of her family will live on. May you and T'Neil's family be blessed and comforted.

  11. My prayer is that Denisha and T'Neil's sister and the rest of her family can have some peace this holiday season. God bless them.

  12. What a beautiful post, Andrea. Thank you for sharing and here's to 2011!

  13. I've been trying for 2 weeks to find the right words to comment with... and am still floundering. T'Neil & her family are truly amazing, and I hope they find some comfort in all the good you'll continue to do in the world thanks to their generosity. I'm thankful everyday that you'll be around to bust Chris's chops, give an inappropriate speech at our wedding in June, and continue to create awareness about the need for more people like T'Neil in the world. Much love!

  14. I have never been so moved after reading your beautiful tribute to Denisha and T'Neil. It only confirms my decision to be a donor. I've always said yes I would be a donor but I don't think I ever realized the impact and the gift that it really is until experiencing your journey through your blog Andrea. I will continue to pray for you and now add Denisha and her family to my prayers. God bless you all and wishing you the best in 2011! love, Linda Barnes