An Edgewood Chemical Biological Center civilian, who routinely ensures her status as a potential organ donor appears on her government ID and driver’s license said she didn’t give much thought to the gesture until her husband was suddenly stricken ill and determined to be in need of a life-saving donation.
Deb Rapp, the ECBC executive assistant to the office of the director, and her husband Chuck Rapp, a Lockheed systems engineer, were on a cruise ship headed to the Caribbean in March 2014 when Chuck became ill.
His condition was alarming enough to transport the couple to a medical facility on shore where it was determined Chuck was in serious condition and their relaxing trip would be cut short.
“They would not allow us back on the ship,” Rapp said, adding that after one night in a hospital and the next night in a hotel, they flew home the third day, still unsure of exactly what was wrong.
After Chuck’s doctor examined him the next day, he sent him to the emergency room where he was immediately admitted. He had severe swelling in his legs and abdomen from which doctors drained more than eight liters of fluid. They also found blood clots and Chuck was placed on blood thinners.
Chuck was diagnosed with Hepatic Encephalopathy, a condition in which the liver stops removing toxins from the blood.
“It was liver failure,” Rapp said.
Chuck was transferred to the University of Maryland Medical Center -Transpland Wing. What followed was a physical workup to determine his overall health.
“They said he would have to have a transplant but first he needed to get healthy enough for the surgery,” Rapp said.
Between March and June 2014 Chuck was hospitalized at least 15 times.
“It seemed I was constantly calling an ambulance,” Rapp said, adding that even if no ambulance was needed, it was a chore just getting Chuck to agree to go to the hospital.
“He didn’t like going. Every time it was an event,” she said.
Naturally the couple first sought donors within the family. Rapp said the process was an education in itself. Both had previous marriages but Chuck had no biological offspring from either one and most of his family members were either too old to donae or had the wrong blood type.
It was during this time the Rapps were referred to Donate Life America, a nonprofit alliance of national organizations that seeks to educate the public and advocate for organ, eye and tissue donations. As well, they learned about the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland, the nonprofit organ procurement organization for Maryland that facilitates donation and transplantation in area hospitals, provide donor family support, and educate hospitals and the general public about the life saving power of donation.
“I found that only a small percentage of people are eligible to donate a liver because each organ has a shelf life,” she said. “You almost have to already be in the hospital or on life support.”
She expressed gratitude to fellow employees who donated their hours so she could be with Chuck.
“I can’t thank everyone enough,” she said. “I don’t know what I would have done without their help.”
It turned out that Chuck’s brother-in-law was a perfect match. He was preparing to donate a portion of his liver to Chuck when the hospital called to say they might have a donor on life support. The match was made and the surgery was successfully performed. Rapp said that three months later they participated in their first 5K Family Fun Run, an annual Donate Life America fundraiser where they met Marty Maren, the co-founder of TRIO, Transplant Recipients International Organization.
“He talked to us about what he had been through,” she said. “It was wonderful talking to someone who’s been there.”
The experience changed Rapp. She now devotes much of her time promoting awareness. Her efforts double each April during National Donate Life Month. She has even set up information tables during on-post events and she encourages listeners to inquire about adding organ donation wishes to their driver’s licenses and CAC cards.
“This month is emotional for me,” she said. “I want people to be aware that they need to talk to their families and make their wishes known.”
Rapp often wears Donate Life earrings, necklaces, pins, bracelets and watches to work.
“That’s how the conversation gets started,” she said.
“I’m just so grateful how everything worked out,” Rapp concluded. “He’s doing wonderful. I have my Chuck back.”
For more information, visit https://www.donatelife.net/.