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Local family receives gift of life

The Waddell family owes everything to a young man they will never meet.
His name was Chris. He lived in Durham, N.C., and he was killed in a car accident at the age of 25. He was also an organ donor.
Richie Waddell was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 12. He knew that someday he could face serious organ failure as a result of his disease, but he and his wife, Vanessa, were caught off guard when, at the age of 27, he learned his kidneys were failing and he needed a transplant.
“It hit us pretty quickly,” Richie said. “One month I was feeling pretty decent, and then it was time for a transplant. It makes you worry, especially when they tell you that dialysis doesn’t work for everyone.”
Richie and Vanessa had been trying to start a family for years and had already suffered through a miscarriage. Now they could only focus on keeping Richie alive long enough for a transplant.
“We had a hard time praying while he was on the transplant list,” Vanessa said, “because we knew that in order for him to get better, somebody had to die.”
After almost two years of waiting and hoping and praying, the couple finally received word that a suitable donor had been found.
“We were overjoyed and relieved, but also sad because we knew that somebody had passed away,” Vanessa said. “We felt emotions from both sides.”
On Dec. 19, 2006, Richie received a healthy kidney and pancreas from the young man named Chris. The surgery not only saved his life, but changed it forever.
“With the new pancreas, he’s not a diabetic anymore,” said Vanessa. “He hasn’t had a drop of insulin since the surgery.”
Then on March 16, 2011, Vanessa and Richie joyfully welcomed a baby boy into the world. They named him Kristopher Cade, after the young man whose gift of life made it all possible.
“We had been wanting a child for many, many years,” said Richie. “We had picked out names for a boy and for a girl, but after my transplant, this was the only name that felt right to us. If it hadn’t been for what Chris gave us, my little one wouldn’t even be here today.”
After exchanging numerous cards, letters and emails with the parents of Richie’s organ donor, the Waddells knew it was time to meet them and thank them in person for their compassion and generosity.
In October 2011, the Waddells took their 7-month-old son to Durham to meet the family whose loss had given them new life.
“We were just so grateful to them. We kept thanking them and thanking them,” said Vanessa. “And they invited us into their family with open arms. They were overwhelmed and overjoyed with the name that we had chosen for our son, so much so that they decided to share some of their family traditions with us. They bought our son the same first book and stuffed animal that they had bought for their sons, and they also gave our son a baby blanket that had belonged to Chris.”

Before the Waddell family’s experience as organ recipients, Vanessa said she didn’t know much about organ donation.

“All I knew was you can sign your license, and they would take what they needed,” she said. “I had no idea how much could be used from a donor, or how many lives could be saved.”

An organ donor can not only save a life by giving a heart, lung, kidney, pancreas, liver or intestines, he or she can also give sight to the blind by donating corneas, help burn patients have a second chance at a normal life by giving a section of skin, or help heal patients with catastrophic injury by giving bone or ligaments. One tissue donor can change the lives of more than 50 people.

For more information about organ donation, visit To register as an organ donor, mark “YES” every time you renew or make changes to your driver’s license. You can also register online at

Many misconceptions still persist about organ donation. Here are some facts from Donate Life America:

Fact: Anyone can be a potential donor regardless of age, race, or medical history.
Fact: All major religions in the United States support organ, eye and tissue donation and see it as the final act of love and generosity toward others.
Fact: If you are sick or injured and admitted to the hospital, the number one priority is to save your life. Organ, eye and tissue donation can only be considered after you are deceased.
Fact: When you are on the waiting list for an organ, what really counts is the severity of your illness, time spent waiting, blood type, and other important medical information, not your financial status or celebrity status.
Fact: An open casket funeral is possible for organ, eye and tissue donors. Through the entire donation process the body is treated with care, respect and dignity.
Fact: There is no cost to the donor or their family for organ or tissue donation.