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Transplant Recipient’s Legacy Lives on Through Family

Because of one 18-year-old man’s decision to be an organ donor, Nick Jolly had nine more years with his wife Kathy, their family and friends. Kathy Jolly recalls her late-husband’s transplant journey and their connection with his donor’s family.

Nick and Kathy Jolly were married on September 9, 1978, and together raised two beautiful children, Andrew and Diane. Just four years into their marriage, Nick sustained a work injury that damaged his lungs – making it incredibly difficult for him to work, play with his children and maintain their home. He was one of those people who would do anything for anyone and loved spending time with family and friends.

Kathy shared, “We cherished our time sitting at home, being together, playing video games, going out for dinner and watching movies. Family was about all we had at that time, as he couldn’t participate in everyday living activities.”

Unfortunately, in June of 1994, Nick found himself in the hospital for weeks, suffering from pneumonia. Nick was in and out of the hospital a lot the next couple of years.

“Nick’s journey was very difficult at times, but he always had a smile on his face.” – Kathy 

Nick’s condition worsened to the point where the pulmonologist referred him to the University of Minnesota for evaluation to be placed on the double lung transplant waiting list. Upon review, Nick was added to the waiting list in January 1995. “Yes, yes! There’s hope for us,” Kathy recalled after hearing this news. Being added to the waiting list offered their family hope – for more time and life without dependency on an oxygen breathing machine. Even a short walk to the car would leave Nick out of breath.

Nick and Kathy knew they could not navigate this journey alone – their family and friends were waiting with open arms to help. As Nick waited for the transplant center to call, Kathy noted that most transplant centers offer support groups – as a comforting space for people to connect and gain insights from others who have had similar journeys. This happened to be where she first heard about LifeSource. Guest speakers would provide insights on the donation process, and transplant recipients would share how they’ve made a connection with their donor’s family through LifeSource.

Special Delivery on Wings: A Gift of More Time

On July 10, 1996, just as things seemed worse than ever, Nick received a phone call from the Lung Transplant Coordinator at the University. The next day Nick received the greatest gift of all – the gift of life.

“When you get that call, you’re excited, but then you’re sad – crying – because someone is losing somebody dear to them. How can you be excited for this gift when another person – who we later learned he was an 18-year-old – had passed away?” – Kathy 

Nick’s double lung transplant was thanks to a generous 18-year-old man named Brian. Kathy shared, “we were so incredibly grateful for Brian and his family for giving Nick back to us.”

Back when Nick was originally listed, he made a deal with Kathy: if his lungs came by plane – or any type of wings – that he would take Kathy to Hawaii. The morning after Nick’s successful transplant procedure, Kathy checked in with his transplant coordinator, who confirmed that the lungs did not come by airplane wings – they came by angel wings. Kathy joked, “Beth, thank you for saying ‘wings.” When Nick was waking up, he started doing a hula dance. Kathy ultimately never made it to Hawaii with him, but she did many other amazing things with him.

Right away, Kathy noticed positive updates to Nick’s condition: he could breathe. When Nick was discharged from the hospital, he could get out of the wheelchair and walk to the car – unassisted. For the first time in a long time, he wasn’t short of breath. Kathy didn’t have to assist him with his seatbelt – as he was typically too out of breath to do that himself.

Nick Jolly sitting in chair smiling

Kathy shared that people typically expect big things to happen, but they praised every little moment. He could do yard work, go for walks… he could dance! And, he didn’t have to carry oxygen anymore.

“We are so thankful to have had those nine more years – so blessed.” – Kathy  

Post-transplant, Nick’s 9-year journey was not as easy as his family had hoped for. He had some difficult times: He had collapsed lungs several times. He developed a bad fungus just a year out of transplant – and almost didn’t make it. Even with many lows, Nick embraced his life to the fullest along with milestones big and small.

Nick was discharged from the hospital just in time to attend his son’s high school graduation. No matter his health condition, he wanted to see his son walk across the stage to get his diploma. Nick was also able to see his daughter graduate two years later and create memories that will last a lifetime. Nick also got five years to develop a special bond with his goddaughter, who still recalls her time with him to this day.

He may have had health struggles post-transplant, but he lived life to the fullest. He smiled. He lived life. He appreciated the time that he had.

On May 24, 2005, Nick ended his journey on earth and started his new journey in heaven; Kathy was confident that the first one to greet him was his donor, Brian. Nick is now in heaven doing all of the things he could not do on earth – dancing, working, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow and watching over his family.

A New Connection: Nick’s Family Shares Thanks to Donor Family

Initially after Nick’s transplant, Kathy connected with LifeSource and wanted to honor the family’s generosity. The Jolly family sent a financial donation to LifeSource in memory of Nick’s donor, who they later learned was named Brian. She coordinated through LifeSource to send Brian’s family flowers and a nice card on their family’s behalf.

Kathy and Nick wanted to thank Brian’s family and ultimately sent a written letter through some correspondence between the University of Minnesota and LifeSource to connect with Brian’s family. Unfortunately, the direct connection was lost with Nick’s generous donor family as they had moved and changed contact information. Kathy shared a special message for Brian and his family: 

“I can’t say it enough. Thank you. First of all, to Brian for marking donor on his driver’s license. To Brian’s family: Thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts for giving us the nine years that I know we would not have had with Nick. His gift is so much appreciated, and we reached milestones – to see his kids graduate high school, spent meaningful time with friends. No words could ever thank them enough.” 

Kathy wanted so badly for the connection to happen – and, it came when she really needed it, after Nick had passed way. Many years later, Brian’s mother Cindy was going through some books and an envelope with the LifeSource logo tucked away as a bookmark. As she read through it, she discovered it was a letter from Nick and his family. Shortly after, she reached out to her LifeSource Donor Family Aftercare Advocate to reconnect from her new home in Washington. They have corresponded since with letters and Facebook messages – with an open invitation to meet in person when the time is right.