Volunteer Spotlight: Jose Vargas, heart recipient

Our volunteers play a critical role in communicating Donate Life messages. From time to time, we will spotlight our wonderful volunteers and share their stories of second chances, hope and healing. We hope you are encouraged by these special people. We certainly are.


Volunteer Spotlight: Jose Vargas

Throughout my life I have faced many challenges. The first of many was coming to the United States at the age of ten without speaking a word of English. At the age of eighteen, I joined the U.S. Army where being a paratrooper taught me to always be ready for new challenges. Little did I know at 23 years of age no amount of training would ever prepare me for the biggest challenge of my life.

In September of 2002, I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure dilated cardiomyopathy, and the outlook was not looking good. I was started on a medication therapy which stabilized my condition for a few years. After being medically retired from the military, I moved back home to Maryland with hopes of being accepted into the transplant program at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. My condition kept deteriorating and in December of 2006, while in the hospital, I suffered four cardiac arrests. I woke up with a life-saving device called the left ventricular assist device, more commonly known as an LVAD.

My life as I knew it had been completely changed. I was now depending on a machine to stay alive. I wanted to quit many times, but my wife, Jodie, never let me give up. Four months after my LVAD implant, I was placed on the national transplant list. On the May 29, 2008 I received the greatest gift a person can get. I got a life-saving heart transplant and a second chance at life. Soon after my transplant, my wife found out she was pregnant with our son, Ilan. We now live in Illinois where we are both attending nursing school, a decision we made as a result of my transplant experience.

Since my transplant, I have been able to do things I never thought to be possible. I was part of team Maryland at the 2010 National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games, taking a silver medal in swimming. All this would not have been possible without the kindness and strength of a donor family that found the courage to make such an important decision in a time of crisis. They are the real heroes to whom I will always be grateful. Please be a hero, be an organ donor.

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About Lauren

Lauren Muskauski is the communications associate at The Living Legacy Foundation. She heads up many community outreach initiatives and projects, with a focus on middle school, high school and college outreach. She also manages The LLF’s and Donate Life Maryland’s presence on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. Lauren’s commitment to donation started early when she registered as an organ, eye and tissue donor at the MVA upon receiving her first drivers’ license, but was then reinforced a few years later when her father passed away while waiting for a liver transplant. Now, she continues to be inspired on a daily basis by the generosity of donors and their families, as well as the gratitude exhibited by every recipient she meets.
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One Response to Volunteer Spotlight: Jose Vargas, heart recipient

  1. Walter Vargas says:

    It is often said that we don’t appreciate things as much as when we do not longer have them. It is my honest belief that we do not appreciate things as much as when we realize we are about to lose them. At 17 years of age I almost lost my brother Jose, author of this article, and that was the scariest event of my life. Jose has always been a role model for me, always encouraging me to do my best and reminding me that hard work pays off. When he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure not only was it shocking but it was surreal. I never thought something like that could happen to someone so close to me. As Jose faced his challenge my admiration for him deepened. Throughout his whole ordeal his strength inspired me. As time passed I often asked myself “why something like would happen to my family?” I soon realized that the more important question was “how can I help my brother get through this?” In 2006 when he had four cardiac arrests I realized the answer to that question was simple: by believing in him and his ability to get through it all. My favorite quote from Jose has always been “when you think you have it rough and you are about to quit just remember that someone out there has it worse than you.” This could not be truer, for I am sure the loss of a family member I is worse than having a sick family member. That is why my heart and appreciation goes out to the donor family who allowed my brother to have a second chance at life while having to deal with the loss of their loved one. Their decision did not only affect my brother but a whole family who loves him and would have been devastated by his loss. I am and will always be thankful for their gift to my brother. They didn’t only give a chance at life to my brother but my nephew as well. They are true heroes. By being an organ donor you don’t just save one life, you save many. Please, give the best gift there is; be an organ donor.

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