Living Proof Organ Donation Saves Lives
By Lisa McAllister
Athena Shry is 20 years old. She is a junior at York College of PA, majoring in marketing and minoring in environmental sustainable policy. Athena is a member of the phi mu ΦΜ sorority and loves participating in the numerous philanthropic events the sorority supports. Her dream job: Anything to do with Costa Rica. Athena, to the outside world, is a typical 20 year old. However, Athena is celebrating her 20th anniversary as a heart recipient and that is truly exciting.
Athena was born with a congenital heart disease called pulmonary atresia. Pulmonary atresia is a disease in which the pulmonary valve does not develop; therefore, blood cannot pass from the heart to the lungs for oxygen.
At just one day old, Athena underwent two separate cardiac catheterization procedures. At two days old, she had open heart surgery and received a shunt to function in place of the valve. Unfortunately, during this surgery it was discovered there were several other problems with her heart. Ultimately it was determined Athena would need a heart transplant to survive and was placed on the transplant list.
Eight days later, Athena was healthy enough to go home from the hospital and wait for a miracle. Nearly seven weeks later, Athena’s parents received the call a donor was found and Athena received her new heart.
Now, looking back 20 years later, Athena and her family are forever grateful. “Not a day goes by where we don’t think about her donor and donor family,” said Cathy Shry, Athena’s mom.
Athena also reflects on the impact this has had on her life. “It’s how my life has always been so I don’t know any better and it feels like mine. But I’m grateful that I’ve been lucky enough to not really be sick.” Like many pediatric transplant recipients, Athena does not have any limitations on her physical activities. In 2008 and 2010, she competed in racquetball, bowling, volleyball and track and field at the Transplant Games of America, an Olympic-style athletic games developed to celebrate the power of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Although she didn’t play in 2012, she’s thinking about participating in 2014 when the games are played in Texas. “I’ve always wanted to go to Texas. This seems like the perfect opportunity. I’ll probably play volleyball again and maybe track and field.”
Her family has been supportive from day one and many of them traveled to support her participation at the Transplant Games. After her transplant, Athena’s parents wrote two letters to the donor family but never received a response. “At my high school graduation and prom, I thought about trying to reach out again,” Athena says, “but it takes a lot of courage and thought and it just never came to be. How do you thank someone for the life you have? What do you say?”
Right now, Athena is focusing on school and the transition she is making from pediatric care to adult care at The Johns Hopkins. She visits the doctor every three months and has tests done once a year. The transition means she will not have to see the doctor as often, something Athena is looking forward to. “I’m so blessed. Everyone at The Johns Hopkins is so wonderful. I’ve gotten the best care. And I’m lucky to be on little medication, so for now, I’m just hoping to stay on this plan for the rest of my life.”
For more information about organ donation and to sign up, please visit www.takeaminutesavealife.org
It only takes a minute to do something great. Athena will attest to that.