Chris Praetzel is walking across America to raise awareness for organ donation. Kaylee VanWagoner is a kidney donor receipient.
Christopher Praetzel is walking from Los Angeles to Atlantic City, N.J. His goal is to raise awareness for people to become organ donors. His younger brother Brian was the recipient of a kidney when he was 3 years old. From this personal experience Chris has set out across America to talk about his experiences with his brother and to encourage people to become donors.
Currently there are an estimated 42 percent of the American population registered to be donors. This is a good number, but Chris wants that number to grow. A little more than 100,000 people are on the organ donor waiting list.
Chris left home on May 27, he graduated from college on May 18 and decided there would be no better time to start walking than before his college loans kick in. He began his journey at the Santa Montica Pier in California. He is from Mullica Hill, N.J.
He keeps in contact with his family by cell phone as he walks along. Chris' brother Brian is now 19 years old and his kidney has done really well. Brian is on medication and will be for the rest of his life, but things are good for him.
Chris encourages people who would like to become donors to go to donatelife.net where there is a link to each state's donor registry.
As Chris walked through Emery County, kidney recipient Kaylee Edgehouse Van Wagoner and Kim Edgehouse spoke to Chris about his journey. She told him she has been 11 months with her new kidney, her first kidney transplant rejected after only two weeks.
Chris said this year in school he did a documentary about his brother. Currently at Castleview Hospital there are 38 people on dialysis. Chris said there isn't a problem with religious reasons holding you back from becoming a donor because all major religions support it. Chris' brother has been lucky and only had minor problems since the time of his transplant.
Chris expects to be on the road for almost five months before he reaches his destination. He will contact local departments of transportation for information on the best routes across their state. He likes to mainly travel by the back roads and the recent fire changed his route while in Emery County. He will camp along the way and sometimes stay in churches or with kind strangers.
While in Emery County he spent the night with Gerry and Jerry Stotler. He stays in motels along the way and Dixie Madsen from Intermountain Donor Services sometimes helps out with motels along the way. "I have been really blown away by the kindness of strangers. I had to get a ride through Zion's Tunnel because you couldn't walk through there. I think people don't really think about organ donation. I am just trying to help. You can register to become a donor when you get your drivers license or online. Some people think you might be disfigured if you donate your organs, but that's not the case. One person can help 30-40 people.
"When I went through Death Valley it was really hot and I traveled at night. I am heading for Denver after I leave here. In college I majored in sports psychology and I would really like to be a motivational speaker, too. I just graduated and I am serving an internship for the Center of Sports Psychology when I return. They help with the professional teams in Philadelphia. I have thought of this trip almost daily for two years and it's been in the planning stages for six months. My brother is honored that I would do this for him. You can keep track of my journey on brotherlyloverun.com. My brother is humbled that I would take this time to go on this journey. My family has always been active with advocacy for organ donation. It's been a nice walk so far. I was bit by a dog along the way.
"It's so beautiful. The deserts and the forests. I am looking forward to walking through the Rockies. I liked seeing Las Vegas. I've had donations to fund this trip, sold T-shirts and used my graduation money," said Chris.
Brian tells of his donor story and what Chris' journey means to him, "Without a doubt, the most significant experience of my life was receiving a kidney transplant on Feb. 18, 1996 at St. Christopher's Hospital in Philadelphia. At the time, I was only 3 years old. Prior to the transplant, I was not given much hope to live. But, through support, prayer, and luck, I managed to pull through.
"This experience has been affected every single day for as long as I can remember and given me a second chance at life. Looking back, I realize how incredibly fortunate I have been through this whole ordeal. I have an amazing and supportive family that has always kept me and my health on track. My parents have always been there to take me to checkups, get blood work, or pick up medication.
"My consanguineous siblings Julie and Chris have always been there to offer advice and help guide me in my life as well as our brother from another mother; Jaime. I could not have asked for a better family or a more supportive household. In addition, living within a short drive to Philadelphia has also been a major reason why I maintained my health. For a few years after the transplant, we continued to commute to St. Christopher's, but switched to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia when our doctors transferred, so we followed.
"Lucky for us, CHOP is near the very top of the list in Pediatric care in the nation. The department of nephrology at CHOP has an amazing team of doctors that have helped keep me healthy and I am forever grateful for knowing them. There are other ways in which the experience positively affects my life today.
"As a result of the transplant, I take medication twice a day for life and do not consume any alcohol or smoke. I recall a number of people I have talked to said to me that it must be a drag to have to worry about and take medication every day of your life; but my answer to that comment is no, not really. While at times, taking my medicines, getting prescriptions, and refilling them can be a hassle, it's all worth it because they must be working as I am still here today. Also, taking medication is easy to get used to when incorporated into a daily routine. Whenever somebody finds out that I cannot consume alcohol or smoke, they usually react by letting me know how much that sucks; but the fact of the matter is that I view it as a good thing. Since I do not partake in these activities, I am able to stay focused on my goals and priorities, which include receiving a degree in Communications and then testing the waters as a rock drummer (my ultimate goal would be to make a comfortable living as a musician). By not wasting a second on alcohol or drugs, I am much more likely to achieve my goals and dreams. My life always has and always will consist of taking medication and abstaining from alcohol and drugs but I am grateful that my circumstances have resulted in my head staying on straight.
"Life is a precious, complex, and beautiful thing that always finds a way of working itself out for the best. When Chris and Jaime first told me that they were going to cross the country in support of Organ Donation, I sarcastically thought, of course you guys are, thinking this was a little too unrealistic. But then some time passed, and their pursuit of this goal became very real. After witnessing the amount of effort and detail they have put into this and continue to put in, I have been humbled and honored knowing such a journey and its purpose was inspired by my story. I am deeply touched and truly hope that the Brotherly Love Run will accomplish its goal by spreading Organ Donation Awareness and inspiring people all over the world to become registered donors," said Brian.