Inspiring Students at the First Donate Life High School Rally
Posted April 18, 2018 in News Category
The audience was silent as Bill Coon hunched over to describe how he walked from a public transit train platform through the streets of Chicago to the radio station at which he was interning. Bill had captivated the audience of 300 high school students by telling them he was a kidney recipient and a two-time heart recipient. The students came to Central Visual Performing Arts High School from around the St. Louis area for Mid-America Transplant’s first Donate Life High School Rally.
Bill’s story started simply. It was May 2009. Saturday morning. He was in college, and he took the “redline” from the stop near his apartment to the stop nearest his internship. It was a 15-minute walk from the platform to the radio station door.
As he stepped off the train, he felt a pain in his abdomen. He assumed he ate something that didn’t settle well. He kept walking. A few blocks later, the pain intensified. He kept walking, hunched over, willing himself to the radio station.
As an intern, he knew the station’s policy: Tardy twice, and your internship is done. Bill didn’t want that mark on his resume. So he kept walking on that May Saturday, excruciating pain in his stomach.
Twenty years earlier, Bill was born with a congenital heart defect. The odds were stacked against him. Heart transplants, let alone infant heart transplants, were not a common procedure. Few had performed the surgery. Still, Bill’s parents signed the paperwork to add him to the list.
One month after he was born, Bill became the fourth heart transplant recipient in the Midwest and the eighth in the nation. As an infant, Bill wasn’t made aware of all of the signs that could indicate a problem with his new heart.
Bill was two blocks from the radio station when everything “started moving in slow motion,” he said. He reached for a planter box on the sidewalk to steady himself. He could see the radio station, yet it seemed so far away. His vision started spinning. He was struggling to breathe.
Bill explained to the students at the Donate Life High School Rally that he completed his work shift that day. About a month later, a new symptom – pain in his leg – prompted him to talk with his mother. She knew both episodes were signs of heart failure. The heart he received as an infant wasn’t working.
He spent 70 days in the hospital with many complications, including seizures, before a heart and kidney were found for him. Three hours later, he was in surgery.
He said he only received a transplant because of someone like the donor family member who spoke before him. Tara Zobrist shared about the life and legacy of her brother, Cody, who was a tissue donor. Tara told the crowd about Cody’s decision to help others and how it has shaped her life, passion and career. She works for Mid-America Transplant as an aftercare coordinator, serving donor families through their grief journey.
As Bill continued, he told the students his experience in 2009 led him to that moment on stage, telling his story in honor of his donor’s legacy: “I wanted to live the life that I wanted to live.”