Media Contact: Ruth Cummins at 601-984-1104 or email@example.com.
Liz Ethridge lives on a small farm in Magee, raising goats, chickens, miniature horses, donkeys and vegetables to her heart's content.
“I love my life,” the 36-year-old says.
She wouldn't have said that 11 years ago, when her congenital cardiomyopathy threatened her life and that of her sister, Kadie Garner. Ethridge's heart transplant on Sept. 12, 2004 changed everything.
Every day, she's thankful for her donor, 19-year-old Gulf Coast resident Lindsey Miller, who died in a car accident that also claimed the lives of two others. She's grateful to University of Mississippi Medical Center cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Giorgio Aru, who performed the transplant.
And Ethridge is thankful for the Medical Center, the state's only transplant facility that made it possible for not just Ethridge, but Garner to receive life-sustaining organs a year apart.
Ethridge was among several hundred people attending the University Transplant Guild's “Day at the Derby” fundraiser benefiting transplant and ventricular assist device patients. Held Saturday at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum, the event featured a live showing of the Kentucky Derby, a silent auction, a candy bar and sumptuous buffet, a Derby hat and tie competition, and dancing to music provided by the band Faze 4.
Watching the Kentucky Derby live on a big-screen television was a highlight of the University Transplant Guild's "Day at the Derby" fundraiser.
The crowd included about a dozen transplant recipients, live kidney donors and family members of those who gave the gift of life. Heart, liver, kidney and pancreas transplants are performed at UMMC.
Day at the Derby is the Transplant Guild's sole fundraiser, said Theresa Anderson, the Guild president. “The purpose is to continue supporting transplant patients in various physical and monetary ways,” said Anderson, who is married to UMMC transplant surgeon Dr. Christopher Anderson, chairman of the Department of Surgery and chief of transplant surgery.
“We strive to spread awareness about organ donation and transplantation, especially in the state of Mississippi,” she said. “By engaging members of the hospital and community in a fun, worthwhile event, we are able to further educate and spread the word on the importance of organ donation.”
Winners in the University Transplant Guild's "Day at the Derby" fundraiser hat competition are, from left, Valerie Brunt, second place; Liz Ethridge, first place; and Theresa Anderson, third place.
The University Transplant Guild is a nonprofit organization established in 2009 that is under the umbrella of the University of Mississippi Foundation. It was born out of a conversation between a transplant case manager and a social worker who recognized the financial hardships of transplant patients.
Ethridge said her sister also coped with congenital cardiomyopathy. Garner died five years after her transplant. “She had a lot of complications, but she was a fighter,” Ethridge said. “When she passed away, she was at the spa getting a facial.”
Lindsey Miller's father is a physician at Magee General Hospital. “I see him a lot,” Ethridge said.
Her husband works offshore, Ethridge said, and she tends to their farm that includes 16 goats, two miniature horses, one donkey, 300-400 chickens and breeder chickens, guineas, ducks, geese, peacocks and rabbits. “We also have yard chickens. That's where we get our eating eggs,” Ethridge said.
Crafting a vision of splendor from the feathers of her birds, Ethridge captured the hat competition at Day at the Derby. It took two days and a lot of hot glue to make her creation, Ethridge said.
She and Kadie were the speakers at the Guild's very first Day at the Derby in 2010, she said. Ethridge has only missed one of the fundraisers - last year, when her mom took her to Italy.
“When I saw Dr. Aru on Saturday, I pulled out my phone and told him I wanted to show him the life I have now,” Ethridge said. “He said, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I have a farm.'
“He started tearing up. He asked me if I was happy, and I told him I love my life,” Ethridge said.
“It's the joy of my life to see the result of my surgeries,” Aru said.
The Medical Center this year has performed, as of May 9, 78 organ transplants. That breaks down to 54 kidneys, four pancreases, 15 livers and five hearts, with two additional kidney transplants expected later in the day May 9.
The 54 kidney transplants include 12 performed since May 5
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