Strangers No More

Written by Gina A. Dabney in the April 2013 Issue

Agnes & Colleen

Former strangers, Agnes Bullion and Colleen Sjostrom are now friends through the gift of organ donation. Colleen’s daughter, Holly, unexpectedly died at the age of 22 and because she had designated on her driver’s license to be an organ donor, others received a chance at a fuller life. Holly’s heart, lungs, kidneys and pancreas went to people needing organ transplants. Agnes, who is living with one of Holly’s kidneys, had a mix of emotions that whirled through her the day she received her organ.

“I was excited. I was anxious,” said Agnes. “But I also started to have grief that someone had lost a loved one.”

Holly

Holly was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Yukon with her family consisting of sisters, Erin and Ashlyn; step-brother, Brent; and father, John. Colleen, who is a nurse, described Holly as a happy child who was fixated with angels, was active and loved animals. The family lived in an area with plenty of room for people and pets which included chickens, a pot-bellied pig, rabbits and dogs. “Friends were always here,” said Colleen.

After high school, Holly worked as a dental hygienist. When her father died of cancer, she had a difficult time coping. Her life began to turn around with the birth of her son, Johnny.

Life continued for Holly until the day that Colleen got a frantic call that Holly was unexpectedly sent to OU Medical Center after a tragic gunshot incident. In the midst of their grief, Holly’s family honored her request to be an organ donor. “The heart was beating but the brain was dead,” said Colleen. “The best she can do is give back. So they called LifeShare.”

Agnes

In 2006 Agnes, who was born and raised in Oklahoma, started being zapped of energy. Most mornings resulted in sitting in her car feeling exhausted after just driving to work where she was a teacher for special needs children.

By March 2007, she began dialysis and was put on the kidney transplant list. A glimpse of events that occurred while waiting for a kidney: Agnes missed a family trip with her mother–it was her mother’s final family gathering; In 2009, Agnes had an infection that wiped out her hearing within five days–she now wears hearing aids; In 2010, Agnes was in Nebraska helping her daughter after surgery when her husband Otis called to tell her a kidney was available–she had to decline the kidney because she could not get back in time for the surgery. When the phone rang on May 23, 2011 and Agnes saw Integris Baptist on caller ID, she instinctively answered, “Hello, I’m on my way.”

After some time, Colleen wrote to each of the organ recipients. On January 13, 2013 Agnes and Colleen, along with their families, met for the first time. It was a tender meeting. “It was very emotional,” said Colleen. “We talked, we had prayer.”

Looking back, Colleen was not enthusiastic about Holly being an organ donor although she respected her choice. However, through this experience, Colleen has changed her driver’s license to reflect being an organ donor. “Hearing the stories,” said Colleen, “my mind started to change about being an organ donor. It is like a ripple effect.”

Colleen & Holly's SonCritical to the transplant process is LifeShare Transplant Donor Services of Oklahoma. LifeShare, a non-profit organization, is certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the organization committed to recovering organs for transplantation in Oklahoma and across the country. Brian Jackson, LifeShare Communications Specialist, reports that nationwide over 117,000 people are waiting for lifesaving transplants and in Oklahoma there are more than 870 citizens waiting. In 2012, there were 61 people in Oklahoma who died while waiting for a transplant; nationally 5,963 people died. “That’s why,” said Jackson, “it is so important for people to sign up on the registry.”

Full of energy early after her surgery, Agnes continues to spend time with Otis, her husband of 42 years, her two daughters and granddaughters, her foster son and her dog, Dr. Dre. She volunteers with Whizkids, works in retail and loves Thunder basketball. Agnes fondly patted her kidney when reflecting on Holly.

“It was tragic,” said Agnes. “It affects her family, it affects our family. But, I believe she is at peace.”

Call LifeShare at 488-3537 or visit www.lifeshareoklahoma.org.

1 Comment

Thomas Says:
April 21st, 2013 at 12:18 am
Holly was such an amazing person and so selfless...I cherise every memory I have of Holly and know that shes looking down upon us and happy that she was able to help people in need even after she left this world....She will always be in our hearts of all the people that loved her and cared about her...
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