The Cape Coral, Fla., resident traveled from Florida to Cleveland, visiting family and friends along the way, including Clevelanders Jim and Sarah Jones. Like Keatley one year ago, Jim needs a liver transplant after a blood test revealed he had hepatitis C, an infectious disease affecting the liver.
Keatley will travel more than 2,500 miles from Florida to Georgia to Tennessee and North Carolina raising awareness along the way about the need for more organ donors as he celebrates his second chance at life.
“I got cirrhosis of the liver from a hard-drinking lifestyle,” Keatley admits. “My prognosis was two years to live without a liver transplant and 18 months out I was gone. I quit drinking on the day of my diagnosis but I was still in denial. Then I was angry that this had happened and finally I reached a point of acceptance.
“Now I’m working with these organizations to promote awareness to the public about the importance of organ donation and to celebrate my first anniversary of being healthy. I went into a coma a year ago on April 23. I was in a coma for four days. I wasn’t even on a transplant list. Jim has been on a transplant list for five years. But since I was so sick and was dying I got a transplant three days later. It was a gift from God that I received a lifesaving organ.
“Now I want to give back this precious gift of life by supporting organ donations and doing this 2,500 mile run from Cape Coral through Valdosta, Ga. — where my daughter is stationed in the U.S. Air Force — then up here (in Cleveland) to visit with Jim and Sarah, then back down to my family in Statesville, N.C. Then I’ll reverse the route on the way back home. I’m flying the donate life flag all the way and getting a lot of positive response going down the road. It makes you feel good when you know people are seeing the flag and responding to it.”
Keatley is involved in the LifeLink Foundation in Florida, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the recovery of life-saving and life-enhancing organs and tissue for transplantation therapy. He also works with Donate Life America, a nonprofit alliance of national organizations and state teams across the United States committed to increasing organ, eye and tissue donation.
According to Keatley, who says he is feeling fine thanks to an organ donor, hepatitis C is a terrible disease and if there were more organ donors more lives could be saved. That is why the positive response of people on the road has touched the heart of this easy rider.
“The response have been amazing,” he said. “I see the lights blink when they go by me, especially trucks! I get thumbs up out the window. The first thumbs up — tears came in my eyes. It made me feel good. I think everyone should sign up to be a donor. At least give it a chance. If you have an untimely death your organs may help save a life. Things change so fast in matters of health. You never know — one day your family may need one.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 people will die each day waiting for an organ. More than 118,000 men, women and children are awaiting organ transplants in the United States. One organ donor can save up to eight lives and another 50 lives may be improved through tissue donation.
“I cannot be more blessed than I am right now,” Keatley said. “What I’m doing — coming up through the mountains and seeing God’s green earth is great! I wasn’t going to live but for a couple of days when I got the call. I had already given up. Now I see things differently. I see through different eyes, a different heart and a different soul. I’m a totally different person. I’m so thankful! You understand that life is so important,” when undergoing such an experience, he said.
Keatley, who is also a member of a transplant recipient organization in Florida, said he is in touch with his “donor family” and is excited to share with them and the transplant recipient organization the response he’s gotten on his 2,500-mile trek.
“I am in contact with my donor family through letters,” he explained. “My donor’s name was Michael. He was a young man. His mother’s name is Beth. A few weeks before my ‘liver-versary’ — that’s what we call the anniversary of our new liver — I wrote back to the family again and let them know that I was doing well, thanking them again for their son being a donor and saying I’m sorry about their loss.”
Organ and tissue donation is the process of recovering organs and tissues from a deceased person and transplanting them into others in order to save or enhance the lives of those in need.
Keatley, who has been married for 12 years and credits the support of his caregiving wife, Patricia, with his improved health and ability to travel, said his life is a true blessing, and he never would have lived to see his three grandchildren without a selfless organ donor sharing the gift of life.
In Tennessee there are currently 115 people in the U.S. in need of a heart transplant, 169 people waiting for a liver transplant and 2,249 people waiting on a kidney transplant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Department of Safety driver’s license and ID card application and renewal forms include the statement: “Yes, I want to be an organ and tissue donor.” Checking YES on the form automatically enrolls the applicant in the Donate Life Tennessee Registry, and a small red heart symbol will be preprinted on the applicant’s driver license or ID card at the top right of the picture.
By signing up with the Donate Life Tennessee Registry, through the Department of Safety or online, your desire to donate is stored in a secure, confidential database. Should you be medically suitable to donate, your wishes will be respected and your family will be relieved of the burden of making a decision on your behalf.
Tax-deductible monetary donations can be mailed to: Donate Life Tennessee, 1600 Hayes Street, Nashville TN 37203.For further information visit, www.donatelifetn.org. or visit www.unos.org to contact the United Network for Organ Sharing.