Every April, LifeLink of Florida celebrates Donate Life Month, a national observance created by Donate Life America to focus on the need and importance of organ, eye and tissue donation. Due to the lack of available organs more than 107,000 people across the country are waiting for a lifesaving transplant, with 5,000 of those individuals living in Florida. During the month, the public is encouraged to learn more about donation through virtual education programs offered by LifeLink as well as register to donate at Donate Life Florida, the state’s organ, eye and tissue donor registry. The month is also a chance to honor and recognize the generosity of donors who make saving lives through transplant possible.
Marissa Arvonio was one of the 39,000 grateful patients who received a lifesaving organ transplant in 2020, during the pandemic. Suffering from type 1 diabetes since the age of 4, Marissa struggled for years with complications that led to many 911 calls and emergency hospital stays. In 2017 Marissa developed Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP), an autoimmune disease that attacks nerves in the body, causing her to lose the ability to walk and forced her to leave a demanding career in fashion merchandising. “I had to stay in the hospital for a month. I couldn’t do much of anything. My mother came to live with me for a while because I didn’t even have the muscle strength to sit up by myself,” said Marissa.
A year later on her honeymoon, doctors called to let her know that she was in kidney failure and needed a transplant to survive. “I got home and went into Uremia before I was able to make an appointment and ended up in the hospital again. My body completely shut down, I almost lost my life,” says Marissa. She immediately began dialysis, a treatment that filters and purifies the blood through a machine, multiple times a week for hours on end.
After two years on the transplant waiting list and on her 35th birthday Marissa received a lifesaving kidney and pancreas transplant. “I woke up and walked the first day after my transplant with a walker. It’s hard when you’re sick for so long to know what a good day is. I had never felt like this before in my whole life. My CIDP is in remission and I bike 15 miles a day now,” says Marissa. “I went from being alive to actually living.” With a functioning kidney Marissa no longer needs dialysis and thanks to her pancreas she no longer suffers from type 1 diabetes.
Soon after transplant Marissa wrote a letter to her donor family and shared her gratitude. “I told them how blessed I was and how sorry I was for their loss. The one thing I want to know most is what my donor wanted to do in life and if it is something I can finish for them or carry out. I promised to pay it forward,” says Marissa. Now Marissa is excited about the future and is making plans to travel including a honeymoon redo as well as looking for a job that involves helping people and making a difference. Marissa credits her husband Scot, and family for their support and encouragement throughout her transplant journey.
For the thousands of Floridians listed for a lifesaving transplant, organ donation offers hope for a longer life. Anyone can be a potential donor, regardless of age or medical history; a single donor can save or improve the lives of up to 75 people. Individuals interested in celebrating this month are encouraged to follow LifeLink social media pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twi