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Chris Klug Foundation award recipients encourage organ donation

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One was a teen mom when her 5-week-old son died, and she agreed to donate his heart and liver so that two other children could live.

Another was given the gift of continued life as an adult when his brother-in-law offered to donate part of his liver through a unique procedure that allows people to be a living donor.

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And the third has a teenaged daughter who will eventually need a kidney transplant due to an Alport Syndrome diagnosis when she was 4 years old.

All have become champions of the organ donation cause, and are on a mission to raise awareness and encourage people to help save lives by signing up to be an organ donor.

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Katrina Fountain, Dave Galbenski and Maria Fernanda Filizola are the 2023 recipients of the Aspen-based Chris Klug Foundation’s (CKF) “Hero,” “Bounce Back, Give Back” and “Community Champion” awards, respectively.

They were in Snowmass Village on June 21 for CKF’s annual Wine and Dine gala event to share their stories and further spread the word.

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Founded in 2003 by Olympic snowboarding bronze medalist Chris Klug of Aspen — who at age 27 received a liver transplant, just 18 months before he competed and won his medal — CKF works to promote lifesaving organ, eye and tissue donation.

The stories

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Katrina Fountain’s son, Jaleel, would have been 23 this year. It wasn’t until 2021 that she could say his name again.

That release came when she reached out to the LiveOn organization in her home state of New York looking for a way to honor Jaleel’s legacy, and the lives his organs saved — a young boy and girl who received his heart and liver, respectively.

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Fountain is now a life coach specializing in grief, helping others who’ve lost loved ones but paid it forward through organ donation as a member of LiveOnNY’s Aftercare Department. Her father, who was reluctant at first to have his dying grandson’s organs donated, is also now a volunteer with the organization.

“He didn’t even realize that he needed this type of healing until recently when he started becoming a volunteer,” she said of that sometimes very long grieving process.

Fountain’s 18-year-old son has also now come to know his big brother through the family’s awareness efforts, she said. “He’s never met him, but he still feels so connected to him. We go to his gravesite and he just gets so emotional, and it’s just so amazing that he has that connection.”

Dave Golbenski of Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, was diagnosed in his 40s with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare autoimmune disease that required a liver transplant for him to survive.

He was placed on the waitlist on Feb. 14, 2019 (National Organ Donor Day), but with the dire statistic of 7,000 individuals dying each year while waiting for a transplant, his brother-in-law, Mark Dybis, stepped up to the plate. He donated his left liver lobe which, when transplanted into Dave, regenerated and became his new liver.

“It’s really amazing,” Golbenski said. “It regenerates to full size usually within about eight weeks.”

He uses a baseball analogy, “double play,” to describe the beauty of live organ donation. “You not only save the life of the recipient, you free up a space on the waitlist so that someone else can benefit from the deceased organ registry,” Golbenski said.

He and his wife, Lynn, took the baseball connection a step further, hosting Living Donor Awareness Nights at professional baseball games, including Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds games this year. They also founded the Living Liver Foundation and were successful in having April 11 designated as National Living Donor Day.

“It’s about honoring the living donors for their courage and compassion, and about educating the public on the power and possibilities of living organ donation,” he said.

Portland, Oregon resident Maria Fernanda Filizola’s ex-husband had to have two kidney transplants as a result of Alport Syndrome. Their daughter, Nevaeh, is now facing the same fate.

“I had just come from Mexico, and I didn’t know anything about transplants or donation or anything like that, so it was hard,” Filizola said. 

Information wasn’t available in Spanish, and no one was able to interpret for them.

She later became involved with Donate Life Northwest, where she began an outreach campaign within the Latino community. She now works as the organization’s official Latino outreach coordinator and the community engagement manager.

“She’s really good at what she does,” said Nevaeh, whose kidneys are starting to fail and who had to miss her junior year of high school to deal with her medical situation. “The moment I get my transplant, I’ll have my life back,” she said. “So I just think it’s really important to teach people how important this gift really is.”

Tags: #Chris Klug Foundation #Dave Galbenski #Katrina Fountain #Maria Fernanda Filizola #organ donation
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