“I’m very glad there was donated bone tissue available for my two surgeries. Very quickly, I was able to get back to being the mom I wanted to be – the mom my three children needed.”
In speeches to community groups, Annie Cunningham describes in gripping detail the toll that arthritis of the spine and herniated discs took on her life, jeopardizing her ability to play an active role in the lives of her children and robbing her of simple joys. Excruciating headaches, burning muscle pain and weakened neck and back muscles made it hard for Annie to get out of bed on most days. Still, she persevered, vowing to take care of her three young children in spite of her debilitating condition.
In a similar way that organ donation saves lives, tissue donation gave Annie her life back. And although she’s the first to admit her story is different, it too is about the generosity, sacrifice and hope that comes from a donor’s amazing gift.
“I’ve had two spinal fusions in the past 10 years; the surgeries that restored my quality of life involved removing the herniated disc, transplanting donated bone tissue between my vertebrae and securing everything in place with a metal plate and tiny screws,” Annie explains. “My surgeries could have been performed without donated tissue using tissue from my hip, but there would have been more risks—more time under anesthesia, increased risk for infection and longer recovery time.”
Annie, a volunteer advocate for Indiana Donor Network, knows firsthand the life-enhancing gift of tissue donation. She’s also known two special people who needed lifesaving organ transplants to combat the juvenile diabetes they’d lived with for decades. Both of Annie’s loved ones spent years on the waiting list. One survived through the gift of a transplant, and the other never got the call and died waiting.
“Experiencing what happens when donation decisions make these life-saving gifts possible—and knowing what happens when for some the wait is too long—is what fuels my passion to promote organ and tissue donation,” Annie says. “I am very thankful to the two people who gave me their life-enhancing gift. Their tissue donation allowed me to recover and get back to the thrill of living.”
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