AlloSource President and CEO, Tom Cycyota, received the 2015 LAS Alumni Humanitarian Award from his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for his work in tissue donation and transplantation.
The Award honors a graduate of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences who, through outstanding leadership or service, significantly improves or enhances the lives of others. Cycyota graduated from the University of Illinois College of Liberal Arts & Sciences with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. He has been leading AlloSource since 2000 in its commitment to developing and distributing life-saving and life-enhancing allografts.
We are proud of his leadership and commitment to helping others and look forward to AlloSource’s continued success.
In 2013, AlloSource began a 10-year partnership with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, pledging an annual financial contribution to fund their scholarship program. For more than 35 years, the Phoenix Society has worked with survivors, families, healthcare professionals and the fire industry to support recovery from burns, improve the quality of burn care and prevent burn injuries. Here is the story of a 2015 Education Grant Recipient.
As Betty was recovering from a burn injury, her nurses quickly became her support system. She remembers one nurse who was extraordinarily compassionate and caring, and later found out that she was also a burn survivor.
“I realized then in my hospital bed that my calling was in advocating for other burn victims as my nurse had done for me,” she said.
Inspired by her own experience, Betty decided to work towards a nursing degree. She obtained her Emergency Medical Technician license and is a Certified Nursing Assistant. She also returned to the hospital where she was treated to volunteer and serve as a mentor to those navigating their own burn recovery.
“Overcoming many life challenges allows me to empathize with the emotional and physical hurdles faced by survivors and to identify crucial areas of need as a healthcare provider in burn rehabilitation,” she explained.
The six weeks Betty spent in the burn unit gave her perspective into great patient care. She learned that pain management doesn’t just mean physical pain, but encompasses emotional and psychological pain too.
In the 16 years since her burn injury, Betty’s appreciation for the medical care she received has grown. She looks forward to a career providing great care to those who need it. With just one year of her degree left, her goal is within reach.
“I decided that I would not let my tragedies define me; rather, I would make a positive impact on others and let that define me.”
As Freeda herself says, she has “had an interesting life.” Now she’s able to write a whole new chapter because of a unique type of tissue donation – a sternum allograft.
One of Freeda’s former jobs was working as an ordained minister in a hospital. She counseled people going through unimaginable circumstances and worked with families who were considering organ, eye and tissue donation for their loved one.
“I worked with many families who were faced with horrible situations,” she said. “It is so hard to lose someone, but the decision to donate can and does matter to so many people. They need to know it’s going to be a blessing for someone who might be without hope.”
Freeda could never have imagined that one day she would be the recipient of a stranger’s generosity.
After undergoing open-heart surgery, the bones and fixation wiring in her chest were fragile. About a year after her surgery, she fell and broke some of the wiring in her chest. She took another serious fall and pulverized the remaining bones and wiring.
“I became wheelchair-bound for five years because there was nothing to protect my heart,” she said. “My back was healing, but it started to twist because the front of my body wasn’t stable. I went to see so many doctors and they told me there was nothing that could be done.”
Freeda went to see Dr. Archibald Miller, who presented a solution. He wanted to perform a sternum transplant using an allograft to help provide stability on the front side of her body, as well as protect her internal organs. Because of her previous experience with donation, Freeda was immediately grateful to her donor and donor’s family.
After waiting for nearly six months for the allograft, Freeda underwent surgery.
“I went from having a pain level every day of eight, with pain medication, to basically a zero when I came out of surgery,” Freeda said. “Now I’m working on rebuilding my strength.”
No longer wheelchair-bound, Freeda is able to enjoy a life with few restrictions.
“I feel so blessed because I’m truly starting my life over again. I feel doubly blessed because I’ve seen both sides of donation. I hope my story can help educate people about the potential of donated tissue.”
AlloSource, one of the nation’s largest providers of cartilage, cellular, bone, skin and soft-tissue allografts for use in surgical procedures and wound care to advance patient healing, donated tissue allografts to Mercy Ships, a nonprofit organization using hospital ships to deliver free, world-class healthcare services to those without access in the developing world, to help save and improve lives through medical procedures.
Doctors onboard the world’s largest private hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, owned and operated by Mercy Ships, performed maxillofacial surgeries using bone allografts donated by AlloSource to change the lives of patients with tumors and other facial conditions. Mercy Ships will continue to use grafts from AlloSource during its current service in Madagascar.
“Through the incredible work of Mercy Ships, the gift of human tissue donation is able to help change lives across the world,” said Thomas Cycyota, AlloSource president and CEO. “We are proud to support this organization’s efforts to provide free surgeries to patients and honor donors by continuing their legacy of generosity.”
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“It felt like receiving a pass from an invisible stranger.”
Check out this video from Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer discussing how the gift of tissue donation changed his life!