Bloomington, IndianaAs the chill of November sets in, many thoughts turn to holiday planning, Thanksgiving preparations and gratitude. For a COTA family in Goldsboro, North Carolina, their Thanksgiving table will be surrounded by loved ones who truly embrace the essence of gratitude.
Abigail Susan Keen was born on June 30, 1996, to adoring parents, Deon and Randy. She was the youngest Keen, following older sister, Daranda, and older brother, Matthew. The Keen Family enjoyed life to the fullest as their children grew over the years. Tragedy first struck the family in 2005 when Randy passed away after a short battle with liver cancer. Then in late 2009 during a school physical, it was discovered that Abby’s liver and spleen were enlarged. Thirteen-year-old Abby was admitted to the hospital for further testing. The family was told that Abby had cirrhosis of the liver, but the cause was unknown. In November 2009 Abby was admitted to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh where the cause of the cirrhosis was diagnosed as Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC). The only known treatment for PSC is a life-saving liver transplant. The news was devastating for this family, which had still not recovered from their husband’s/father’s death.
Now over two years post-transplant, Deon Keen shares these grateful thoughts about the role COTA has played in Abby’s transplant journey:
From the fall of 2009 my mind was a wreck. As a single parent I was faced with the question, ‘How would we manage?’ My financial obligation for Abby’s liver transplant would be more than $50,000. That total did not include my mortgage, household expenses, insurance, or anything else. I was in a frantic state of mind. I was faced with two giants: the first, my daughter needed a life-saving liver transplant, and the second, how would I financially provide for all our needs? My husband (Abby’s father) passed away in 2005 after a short battle with liver cancer. Our entire family was still coming to terms with his passing when we were suddenly faced with the possibility of losing Abby.
I contemplated selling my home and everything else I owned because I could not wrap my mind around everything that was happening. These decisions weighed heavily for many months after Abby’s initial PSC diagnosis. One day as I was talking to one of our nurses about the financial obligations I was facing she asked me if I had been in contact with the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA). My response to her was, ‘What is COTA?’ She explained the mission of COTA and gave me the organization’s contact information. For the first time since Abby’s diagnosis, I felt that some of the pressure was about to be lifted from my shoulders. I contacted COTA’s President and explained to him our situation and our desperate need. He immediately told me that he was certain COTA could help.
Our journey continued with COTA holding our hands. In a few short months, COTA in honor of Team Abby was formed. The team consisted of Abby’s older sister and older brother, their spouses, other family members, and close friends. With COTA’s help and guidance, fundraising planning began. Our entire community and nine area churches came together to host a BBQ benefit and auction for COTA in honor of Team Abby. COTA helped by providing advice and strategic planning. The majority of items needed for the benefit were donated by area businesses and individuals because of our partnership with COTA. Many, many people volunteered their time, talent and treasure to make the event a phenomenal success … both financially and emotionally.
My heartfelt desire was to be able to be with Abby every step of the transplant. To do so, I would not be able to work back in North Carolina and be at Abby’s bedside in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Partnering with COTA brought my family a sense of compassion, caring and hope that everything would be taken care of.
On March 29, 2012, Abby was given her second chance at life and COTA was there every step of the way. During this time I had the opportunity to meet COTA’s President in person. He was at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh visiting transplant professionals, but while he was there for COTA business, he found me. He introduced himself and asked how he could be of assistance. It was so wonderful to put a face with the name. He was the first person I had spoken with at COTA, and to meet him during Abby’s transplant was very comforting.
Now, during these days of Thanksgiving, there simply are not enough words to express my gratitude to COTA. Partnering with this organization and becoming a part of the COTA family has been a blessing to Abby and all of my family. COTA allowed me to be able to focus 100% of my attention on Abby and her needs. I was able to focus on her and not worry about the financial hurdles. When you find yourself in such a desperate journey and your ray of light comes shining through, it makes all the difference in how you begin to face, and embrace, the journey.
Thank you to COTA for giving us hope and seeing us through. COTA’s tagline is Giving Hope and Making Miracles. During our search for Abby’s new liver, a miracle definitely occurred. Our donor angel’s family had heard about Abby’s illness and in the midst of their own tragedy had the courage, love and compassion to remember Abby’s need. The family requested a direct donation of their child’s liver to Abby and it was a match … a perfect match. Undoubtedly a miracle.”
COTA continues to be a part of Abby’s lifelong journey. As the next chapter of her journey begins, the assurance that COTA will always be there for her is like a guardian angel. Thank you, COTA, from the bottom of the Keen family’s hearts!
Happy Thanksgiving, Keen Family, from your COTA Family.
For more information about the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, or to find a COTA family in your area, please email gro.a1511548971toc@m1511548971ik1511548971.