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Published:  November 1, 2012

Double Lung Transplant Brings Together Two Families

Of all the many memories during his 72 years, James Hershman will always remember the lifesaving gift he received from a stranger two years ago.

In 2005, the grandfather of nine and a sufferer of chronic bronchitis, was told that he would need a double lung transplant. James and his wife, Cheryl, began looking at transplant centers close to them.

Due to his age, they learned that James would not be approved as a patient or placed on any transplant lists. After receiving this grave news, the couple found that only eight transplant centers in the United States perform transplants on a person over the age of 65, and of the eight, five are located in Texas. With this information, the Hershmans decided to drive their motor home from Nevada to Texas. After visiting various centers in Texas, James decided that Houston area offered him the greatest chance of receiving the operation that would save his life.

Once in Houston, James’ condition worsened and he was admitted to St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital for inpatient care. Six weeks later, he received the news that a donor was found.

On August 10, 2010, one day before his 70th birthday, James received two new lungs at St. Luke’s Cooley Transplant Center®.

James’ lifesaving gift came from 18-year-old Anthony Varela, who was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. Anthony’s parents made the heart-wrenching decision to donate his organs.

“We had never discussed organ donation. But, when the people from the organ procurement office explained to us what would happen to his organs if they weren’t donated verses the difference a donation could make, there was no question in my mind that Anthony would have wanted it this way,” said Anthony’s mother, Renee Varela. “I know my son would have wanted to save lives because that was the type of person he was.” 

James and Cheryl wanted to express their deepest gratitude and prayers for the Varela family, and through LifeGift in Houston they were able to do so. A year after James’ surgery, he and his wife met Renee Varela to remember the person who connected them. Every year, when the Hershmans travel to Texas for James’ transplant follow-up visits, they always try to visit the Varelas.

Thanks to a lifesaving gift, a bond was created between the two families who now consider one another family.


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