Cyclists travel across East Texas advocating for organ donors

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TYLER, Texas (KETK) – When your organs fail, doctors rely on donors to help those in need of a transplant. But how many people are actually donating?

A Texas organization is putting the pedal to the metal to encourage more people to give.

114,000 people are waiting for a phone call that could change their life in hopes the organ donation they have been waiting for is ready.

10,000 of those people can be found right here in Texas.

To help, people from all over the state took to the bike lane to help a cause close their heart.

As the riders arrived at Tyler Christian Fellowship, they were greeted by applause and eager faces, waiting to see why they are riding for this cause.

11 riders were honored, each one carrying a name on their back representing someone whose life was changed by a donation.

“Because people donated, my daughter survived 16 months and she was only supposed to survive 3,” said Deborah Brown as she talked about her daughter Jessi.

From the outside, Jessi looked like a normal 6-year old girl who loved to color and use her creativity any chance she got.

“She had a very unique personality, there was something special about her that I really didn’t even get a chance to notice until she was gone,” says Brown.

It was a condition no one in the family saw coming.

“She had a fever, she was lethargic, she was tired, she wasn’t hungry, she wasn’t eating, nothing different than the flu, you would think that’s all it was,” Brown continues, “then found out that Jessi had leukemia.”

Picture was taken of Jessi days before she passed away.

Just days after she dressed as Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Jessi passed away, leaving her mother and brother realizing just how much donations matter.

“I didn’t really know much about donating before Jessi was sick. I would see the van I would hear about it, but I would just pass it and go on with my life. I was wrong. I was wrong,” says Brown.

Although Jessi didn’t see the age of 7, her family says it was through donations that she was able to live as long as she did. A personal story, many shared Sunday afternoon.

“Josh was born with a really serious heart problem, and they told us early that the only treatment was a transplant,” says Joe Canal, pastor of Tyler Christian Fellowship.

The Canal family has been riding with the Lone Star Circle of Life organization for nearly 10 years.

Josh lived with his heart condition before he was able to receive a transplant, adding 13 more years to his life. The family says the transplant allowed him to marry the love of his life, have children, and spend time with a family that loved and cared for him.

“I think if people could have seen Josh before his heart transplant and after, it would dispell some of the myths people have about organ donation,” says Becky Canal.

Texas ranks second in the nation for the number of people waiting for a transplant match. Causing this trip from Tyler to Corpus Christi special.

“That’s one of the reasons why we ride, is to honor the little girl who gave her heart for our son,” explains Mr. Canal.

The bike tour is a week-long ride of no more than twelve cyclists. The goal is to travel throughout the state to educate Texans about the need for life-saving donations.

The riders selected for the team, each have a unique reason to spread the word about the need for donors. Some have been donors themselves, some have received a donation, have a family member who has been a donor or have been supporters of donation for many years.

“We have opportunities just from these shirts, jerseys, to have people question us, share our story with. So, that’s one of the things we’re hoping,” explains Mrs. Canal.

2019 ROUTE:

Sunday, September 22: Kickoff in Tyler, Rides to Corsicana

Monday, September 23: Team rides from Corsicana to Waco

Tuesday, September 24: Team rides from Waco to College Station 

Wednesday, September 25: Team rides from College Station to Katy

Thursday, September 26: Team rides from Katy to Victoria 

Friday, September 27: Team rides from Victoria to Corpus Christi for the Finale event 

MEET THE RIDERS

TIM DIXON, Trinity: “This team has been a large part of my life. Being selected as this year’s team captain is an honor. Having been involved with organ and tissue donation as a funeral director has allowed me to see the healing that begins when the family makes that hard choice to have a loved one be the gift of life.”

ADAM MARCHAND, Pearland: “I am a regular blood donor and share my experiences as a Community Advocate at the Pearland Neighborhood Donor Center. I donate platelets and plasma as often as I can. As an advocate, I have coordinated booths at local youth sporting events and visit businesses in the area to advocate for our neighborhood center.”

CALEB CANAL, Tyler: “My brother’s life was forever changed by a heart transplant. I want to share with others how important it is to talk with your family about organ donation. Josh was able to get married, find a career he loved, see his nieces and nephews be born and many more things that would not have been possible without the generosity of another family thinking about someone else in their most desperate moment. We are forever grateful to them, and I won’t stop telling people to donate life.”

E.J. TAMEZ, Del Rio: “It was just three years ago that I learned my brother was going through the end-stage renal disease. During a visit to my brother, an “angelical” nurse approached me and asked if I had ever considered being a live kidney donor. That is when I realized I wanted to make a difference in any way that I could in my brother’s life. Through my research on the donation, I met a mentor who had also donated a kidney.  My goal is to become a coach, confidant, and mentor to patient’s live-donor prospects.”

GARY VAN KUIKEN, The Woodlands: “My passion around donation comes from two sources. The first comes from my wife’s long-time work in the field of organ and tissue recovery and transplanting. The second comes from a nephew who received a life-saving and life-transforming liver transplant. Combining this with my love of cycling makes the Lone Star Circle of Life Bike Tour a win-win for me!”

JEFF WALBURN, Justin: “I received a liver transplant 11 years go. Since then, I have been an advocate for several people pre and post transplant. I have been promoting organ and tissue donation since the moment I found out that I would need my own to live. Since my transplant, I have tried to live life to the fullest!

JOE CANAL, Tyler: Joe and Becky Canal have been part of the Lone Star Circle of Life Bike Tour for many years. They were first part of the tour to honor their son’s heart donor and spread awareness of the wonderful gift of donation.   Several years ago, Josh’s heart failed and he passed away waiting for his second heart transplant.  Josh was able to be a tissue donor and give the gift of life to other individuals.

BECKY CANAL, Tyler: “The Circle of Life has meant so much to our family during our son, Josh’s, life and since he has passed away. It really is like a place of refuge for us to be with other families who have experienced similar situations. It’s also a blessing to comfort those who have suffered and bring awareness to the great need of donation.  This team is like a second family to us and we are forever grateful to be involved in this awesome organization.”

MELANIE HARTMAN, Happy: “In 2003, I was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, faced kidney failure, and put on dialysis. The transplant journey began and after 14 months on dialysis, my prayers were answered by my brother, Randy, who donated his spare kidney to me. Since then, I have been able to be a healthy, active mother, sister, wife, and friend. I enjoy trail running and am always up for adventures that involve the outdoors. Organ donation has been a family affair, last year my youngest sister was inspired to donate her spare kidney to a stranger. It is such a privilege to ride on this tour to help promote organ, tissue, marrow, and blood donation as well as honor life-giving donors and their families and organizations that help families going through the donation process. I hope to help carry on loved-ones legacies and inspire those waiting on their second chance.”

SARAH PIPLIN-LOVE, Corpus Christi: “Before receiving my heart transplant, I was not able to do much. Now with a new heart, I get to do more than I ever imagined. The Lone Star Circle of Life Bike Tour is one way I show how much different life can be with a transplant. I do not do this life alone, but Dillon (my donor) and I do this together.”

SETH COOKE, Tyler: “As a rookie rider in 2017, I learned so much about donating life and sharing the story if my brother (a donor) that passed way 17 years ago in a motorcycle accident. During my first tour, I loved meeting the different donor and recipient families. Being able to connect with other families that have been through similar events, you learn to love, laugh, cry and heal. I want to once again help further life donation awareness.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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