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Transplant recipient Amber Downs advocates organ donation

April is National Donate Life Month and the Georgia-based non-profit organization LifeLink Foundation, along with many other organ- and tissue-donation focused groups, are asking for people to consider giving the gift of life.

Thirty-three-year-old Amber Downs, a Columbus native, received a double transplant four years ago that changed her life. After her surgery, Downs completed her Registered Nursing degree and makes her living giving back to the community and helping those who face a situation similar to hers.

She currently volunteers through LifeLink, speaking to community groups about the importance of being an organ and tissue donor and helping out at an annual summer camp for children who need or have had transplants.

Amber was diagnosed with diabetes at age 10 and began to experience kidney problems nine years ago after giving birth.

But having healthy organs wasn't the only benefit to Amber's transplant -- she also felt a renewed sense giving back.

"I got my transplant in January of 2008 and I was just very motivated after that, just what a huge miracle and difference that made," she said. "That summer I went to a camp where there are children who are waiting on transplants and then there's also children who had transplants and of course the counselors, most of them, have had transplants.

"It was really, really neat. And kids they don't think, 'Oh I can't believe I can't do this,' it doesn't even catch their step. They are so grateful to just have what they have. It just moved me."

Amber plans to go back to the camp this summer to help out in the clinic with dialysis.

"I think once you get a gift like this though, you feel obligated. You do. Because it's just, like, gratitude I guess, I just feel like I should give back," she said.

Amber is especially drawn to helping children because being around children helped her cope when she first started dialysis.

She was feeling sorry for herself as she was wheeled in for her first treatment, when she looked around and saw the kids with cancer, who had lost their hair and were on dialysis.

"Just how profound that was, I think there was a reason that it happened like that," Amber said.

While she had already been pursuing an RN degree before, she was able to finish school and now works with kidney and heart patients. Having personal experience with dialysis and surgery makes her a better nurse, she said.

"I think that when I come in, they're already irritated with me, like 'You're a young person, you don't know what you're talking about. I don't want to hear you tell me I gotta take my medicines,'" she said. "And I tell them, 'Look, I've been there. I've got the scars to prove it. I have my badge of courage.' And they do all of a sudden become a completely different person."

More information

Interested in becoming a donor or just have some questions? Contact Kaysha Cranon, public affairs coordinator for LifeLink Foundation at Kaysha.Cranon@lifelinkfound.org or 770-225-5465.

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