My eyes were opened to Organ Donation at the young age of 12 while watching Dr. Christiaan Barnard perform the very first human-to-human heart transplant on TV. Little did I know that my first encounter with an organ transplant through nothing more than an old television, would set the foundation for my life’s journey. Looking back, it was a small glimpse into my future. A future that would ultimately lead me to my higher purpose and my reason for being here.
Many years after watching the miracle of a transplant I met the love of my life Keith, we were ready to start a family and have children, and in 1990 I gave birth to our beautiful daughter Megan. She was much like me, she was a fighter and at only a few months old, Meg would begin the fight for her life when she was diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy. At just 7 months old, she had both a heart attack and a stroke. Keith and I were told that Megan would need a heart transplant in order to survive. Some memories have faded from that day and some have solidified themselves in my mind as if they took place only yesterday. What I do remember vividly is going from watching Dr. Barnard perform the very first heart transplant, then proudly registering as an organ donor when I got my driver’s license. To now, years later praying that my daughter would receive the heart in time, knowing that another family would have to lose their child in order to save ours.
Keith and I wrestled with these emotions for 11 months and on September 13, 1991, we received the call we had been so desperately waiting for. It was the transplant team letting us know that they had a heart for Megan. Looking back, I didn’t think it was possible to feel both joy and sorrow at the same time until that very moment. The sorrow I felt led me to ask a question I desperately needed to know… What generous family decided to give the gift of life to my daughter in what was probably the worst moment of their lives? The transplant team was only able to tell me that the donor was a little boy from Long Island. It became important for me to turn that sorrow into gratitude and at that moment I made it my mission to educate people about organ donation and to honor the donors who gave the gift of life.
I know it doesn’t sound like much but on October 22, 1991, at 19 months, we were able to see Megan take her very first steps, a pivotal moment for any parent. The following morning on October 23rd Megan went into cardiac arrest and passed away. In the first years after Megan’s transplant, I had done a lot of public speaking about the importance of Organ Donation, but as time went on and Keith and I continued to grow our business and I decided it was time for me to move past this and allow the next generation of those impacted by transplant to tell their stories. Not realizing at the time that my story was far from finished.
On 12/26/17 my world came crashing down when Keith, my beautiful husband of 30 years, was diagnosed with liver cancer and we were told that he needed a liver transplant to survive. I cannot put into words what it felt like for me to hear this for the second time in my life. Keith’s health began to deteriorate quickly, but he still had to go through the process of trying to get on the transplant list in our area. It was then that I realized the slow process we went through with Megan to get her listed was still the same, even though it had been 27 years. Another challenge we had was that we lived on the east coast where the waiting lists are very long and the organ donation rates are notoriously low compared to other parts of the country. I didn’t know who to go to for help or even if there were additional options available for Keith, and time was running out. I lost the love of my life 6 weeks and 2 days after his diagnosis and I have since made it my mission to help others who are going through what I had gone through.
As I began looking for ways to help, my dear friend told me about a company named Angel MedFlight and that a friend of her's joined their organization to help start a transplant division. I immediately reached out to their Vice President of Transplant Services, Trevor Cork and we discussed my personal story and what Angel MedFlight is doing to help prevent families from going through what I had to go through. This amazing organization decided patients should have the option to be listed at multiple transplant centers so they have a better chance of receiving the organ transplant they need and potentially decreasing the amount of time a patient will need to wait. They have a team available 24/7 who will work with the patient’s insurance company and eliminate the frustration or stress about how they will get to the hospital when they get that lifesaving call. When they do receive the call Angel MedFlight provides ground transportation to the airport and their clinical team will then fly the patient on a medically configured Learjet, which is essentially an ICU with wings. Their critical care clinicians will also make sure the patient is calm and comfortable while they begin the journey to a second chance at life!
As Trevor and I continued to speak and as I learned more about Angel MedFlight; I do believe that this organization may have made a difference in Keith’s survival. Now that I have discovered them I am excited to be able to share this valuable resource with other patients who are waiting so that they do not have to go through the pain my family went through. If you would like more information about Medical Flights for Transplant patients you may call Angel MedFlight 24/7 at 855-620-0926.
Since the death of her husband Keith, Maureen Jaret has now devoted the rest of her life to Organ Donation. Maureen, her daughter Kellie and dog Bailey live in NJ, her son Justin lives in Florida, and they have started a foundation called the Keith and Megan Jaret Foundation - The Heart of the Giving!