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Second chance at life leads Oklahoma organ recipient to Rose Parade

From Claremore, OK, double lung transplant recipient Valerie Vandervort Boyer (left) and her close friend and Transplant Olympic teammate Terri Thurman, from Carnegie, OK, relax on the beach in Florida. Terri is now waiting for a liver transplant. Photo by Rick Boyer.


By Darla Shelden

Contributing Writer


LifeShare Transplant Donor Services of Oklahoma is sending Valerie Vandervort Boyer, from Claremore, OK, to Pasadena, CA. She will be among the 32 organ transplant recipients riding on the Donate Life 2013 Rose Parade float on New Year’s Day.


I’m so excited,” said Valerie. “I’m still not 100 percent sure how out of all the Oklahoma recipients I was specifically chosen. I’m still in shock.”


Valerie was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) at six weeks of age. In 1999 she was listed for transplant. After waiting almost two years, in time for her 30th birthday she received her gift of life, a double lung transplant, from 15-year-old Colbey Oglesby.


At 29 years old, just before her transplant Valerie had 16 percent lung function left. With the help of her respiratory trainer, she got her body in the best shape possible by lifting weights, walking the treadmill, doing breathing exercises, and taking breathing treatments four times a day, all while she was on oxygen 24/7.


“I didn’t know if I was going to make it to transplant and I didn’t want to waste the rest of my life just sitting at home,” said Valerie. “I did push myself and made myself be strong while I was waiting.”


After a tragic car accident Colbey Oglesby, from Lockwood, MI, died in October 2001.


Colbey’s mother, Stacey Olgesby, said, “I would have never in a million years had Colbey donate her organs, but three months prior to her accident, she had gotten her driver’s permit and said, ‘Mom, if anything ever happens to me, I want to do this.’  When I was asked, I didn’t hesitate.”


Valerie and Stacey have become ‘like family’ through this experience.


“At first we corresponded by writing letters,” said Stacey. “Everything about Valerie was so similar to Colbey.”


Valerie said, “Colbey’s room was painted lavender, the same color as mine when I was a teenager. We both had boxer dogs and we both wanted to be photographers.”


The year before the accident Colbey dressed as a clown for the CF Walk in a nearby town. “In 2002, we finally met when Valerie participated in the CF Walk in memory of Colbey, who had just been there the year before,” said Stacey.


Now, Stacey and Valerie get together every Christmas.


“We recently met in Joplin and opened our Christmas presents. When Colbey, my mom or I would say ‘I love you,’ Colbey would always answer, ‘I love you more.’ This year, Valerie gave me a plaque that I’ve hung over Colbey’s portrait that says, “I love you more.”


Since her transplant, Valerie has participated in the U.S. Transplant Games five times and won six medals.


“The energy I now have has allowed me to change much of my life,” said Valerie. “Feeling good and not being tired all the time allows me to put these ‘gift of life lungs’ to good use. Life post-transplant has a new meaning. I take each day as it comes, and I take time to stop and smell the roses along the way.”


Valerie has been able to see both of her sisters graduate, was maid of honor in her sister’s wedding, and has watched her husband Rick advance in his umpiring career.


”In 2010, my husband and I watched Valerie and the lady that got Colbey’s heart, Judy Kaufman, compete in the Transplant Olympics,” said Stacey. “The first time I met Judy I took a stethoscope and she let me hear her heart. It was amazing.”


Because of Colbey, Stacey and many of her friends are now registered as organ donors.


Valerie is a mentor to CF patients who will be in need of a transplant and she attends health fairs and speaks on organ donation.


“I’m going to be watching the Rose parade and looking for that picture that Valerie will be holding,” said Stacey.


On the tenth anniversary of her transplant, Valerie had Colbey’s name tattooed on her bicep to honor her.


“Making the public more aware of the need for organ donation is very important to me and others who have received or need a transplant,” said Valerie. “I’m so grateful to have gotten Colbey’s lungs. I thank God for all my blessings, and my donor, and her family. I know I am truly blessed.”


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