Tampa – (April 19, 2021) – LifeLink of Florida thanks and celebrates Bill and Debbie Ismer, LifeLink ORGANizer Volunteers who are both transplant recipients, for 20 years of dedicated service to public education about organ, eye and tissue donation. Bill met Debbie in 1999 while Bill was in the hospital and in need of a heart transplant, and Debbie was a nurse on the transplant unit. By the time he left the hospital he had a new heart, and had lost it…to Debbie, as they fell in love. On the one-year anniversary of Bill’s heart transplant, they got married. Almost a decade later Debbie, who had a hereditary condition impacting kidney function, was in kidney failure. She needed a kidney transplant and received one thanks to a living donation from a fellow Tampa General nurse and friend. Over the years Bill and Debbie have shared their stories and supported donation education; deeply connected to the cause they hope to encourage others to save lives by registering to donate at www.DonateLifeFlorida.org.
1. What was life like before your transplant?
I retired from a 34-year career in law enforcement in 1995. I then started a glass import business that was very successful. My hobbies include playing the guitar, bicycle riding and golf.
2. What led to the need for your heart transplant?
I was living in my condo on the beach in Jupiter, FL, when a one-time heart attack destroyed a large portion of my heart. At the time I believed I was in excellent physical condition.
3. How did this impact your life?
I was unable to walk far, only 20 feet without holding onto the wall. I was left with an ejection fraction of 9%. I had to give up my business. Also, the doctors implanted a defibrillating device that shocked my heart out of death arrhythmias regularly.
4. When did you receive your transplant?
In January of 1999, my son drove me from Jupiter to Tampa General Hospital (TGH) where I was admitted and remained until October 28, 1999, when I received my gift of life.
5. How has transplant positively impacted your life?
After being blessed with the transplant, I was able to do everything I could before. In addition, I received a special gift of being able to play the piano. I used that gift over the next 15 years playing a portable piano as a volunteer in the critical care areas in TGH. Last count was 5,000 hours doing this.
6. Have you ever reached out to or heard from your donor family?
We have written many times to thank my donor family for upholding the wishes of their loved one for being an organ donor, which gave me life. I will always believe from the time of the transplant, God had a plan for me with my transplant, including playing the portable keyboard for the patients, families and staff at TGH.
If ever able, I would tell my donor family that I’ve been living for two people and he’s the best part of me.
7. How did you meet your wife? What hobbies do you enjoy doing together?
I met my wife at TGH, she was my favorite nurse. When I received the gift of life, she agreed to marry me. As of April 21, 2021, we’ve been married 21 years.
We have enjoyed serving in two different churches and I play in the praise band, traveling in our RV with the grandkids, exploring national parks, state parks, making friends, talking to everyone about being an organ donor as a LifeLink ORGANizer, attending the USS Johnston Navy reunions, working hard on our home and property in Plant City, as well as volunteering at TGH.
8. Why did you join the LifeLink ORGANizer volunteer program? Over the last 20 years of volunteering for LifeLink do you have any memorable highlights?
I joined the LifeLink organization to give back and do public speaking to share the blessings and gifts I have received as a heart transplant recipient.
Some of the highlights being an ORGANizer volunteer include going to many different events representing LifeLink by speaking to groups and individuals about being an organ donor and the miracle of transplantation.
9. April is National Donate Life Month, why has volunteering to share the message of organ, eye and tissue donation remained important to you over these many years?
The need for organ donors is ongoing and we are blessed to be able to share our story to provide hope and inspiration. The need is great. We also are humbled by and passionate about all organ donor families. We are thankful we can give back in any way.
10. Is there anything else about your story/thoughts on volunteering that you would like to add?
Over the years, Debbie and I have done many interviews with TV and print media promoting organ donation. But the most extraordinary experience I ever had related to organ donation, was being selected to ride in the 2008 Rose Bowl Parade on the Donate Life Float in Pasadena, CA. It was incredible and reached people far and wide with the message of organ and tissue donation. We were very honored to be there.
1. What was life like before your transplant?
I started as a nurse in 1975 at Tampa General Hospital (TGH) in the medical surgical unit. I was very young and new, and often say that ‘I grew up at TGH’, and that is the truth! I loved being a nurse from the very start and TGH was my favorite place as a nursing student. Along with loving my career, I always loved people. The job was my hobby! I landed on the Renal Transplant Unit around 1978. It was just starting up, (LifeLink founding father) Dr. Dana Shires had a twinkle in his eye, and that twinkle would become LifeLink. I also enjoyed photography and making photo albums, and doing some traveling with my young daughter, Angel.
2. What led to the need for your kidney transplant?
I found out at the age of 20 I had a hereditary kidney disease called Polycystic Kidney Disease, or PKD, shortly after I started working at TGH. My diagnosis came about after my urinalysis for employment. I was told in my fourth or fifth decade of life, I probably would have kidney failure and would have to go on dialysis. Fast forward to age 56, I had a living donor kidney transplant and was blessed to not go on dialysis.
3. Who was your living donor and how did that come about?
Pam Mizerany is a TGH R.N. of many years, still today. We worked together years ago. ‘Our transplant’ as I refer to it, came on November 17, 2010.
4. How did this impact your life?
The biggest impact on my life when I was told I would need a donor for a kidney transplant, was my willingness to accept that a perfectly healthy human would be willing to have surgery and donate one of her kidneys to me. This was hard for me. I’m much more of a giver than a receiver. Pam, my donor, and I prayed together as often as we could at the chapel inside TGH. Pam made my decision easy, she insisted on being my donor. It was so incredible that I never started dialysis. It’s very humbling for me to recall how it all occurred.
5. How has transplant positively impacted your life?
Transplant has impacted my life in so many ways. I was only off work for two months recovering from transplant, I was never on dialysis, I remained healthy, I was able to volunteer and offer hope from a patient’s perspective, my blood pressure was, for once, well controlled, my bloodwork was good and I could live my life in a healthy way. One example of a longtime goal that was reached thanks to my transplant was being able to travel to Barcelona, Spain. I wanted to see a woman there that I had not seen in 25 years. She spent a year in my home with my daughter Angel during her senior year in high school in 1994. She was a foreign exchange student who had dreams of becoming a doctor and wanted to learn English proficiently. She did both! Bill, Angel and I traveled to Barcelona in October 2019 and met Marta and her family! We also went on the 20th anniversary of my husband’s heart transplant, so it was extra special. This trip was made possible for Bill and I because of our generous and selfless organ donors.
6. How did you meet your husband? What hobbies do you enjoy doing together?
I met my husband while he was a patient at TGH in room A526 for most of 1999. This was the floor I was working on. For hobbies, we have owned several RVs and enjoy seeing national, state and local parks throughout US in addition to traveling with family and friends. We love serving at church, we love volunteering for LifeLink, TGH and N.O.T.E., and we enjoy our home and property that keeps us busy!
7. Why did you join the LifeLink ORGANizer volunteer program? Over the last 20 years of volunteering for LifeLink do you have any memorable highlights
I feel like I have always loved being a part of LifeLink, even back in my early years at TGH. The founding fathers were amazing, the patients were interesting, the miracles I witnessed were encouraging, the changes I witnessed along my journey were incredible! It was a no brainer to be an official ORGANizer volunteer! It was interesting, humbling and very educational. It was like watching miracles before my eyes, giving so much hope to some that had none. There were so many highlights! Speaking in the classrooms was fun. Seeing the children and watching their reactions was priceless. Delivering calendars was always so special. Many of the staff at other hospitals may not have actually spent time with a living, breathing transplant patient! Speaking at regional conferences was exciting to see how many medical professionals take the donation process to heart. The Florida Orchestra events were also at the top of the list! That’s actually where I was when Bill saw Pam there with her family for a Mother’s Day event at the Safety Harbor Spa in 2008. He told Pam my kidneys were failing. She responded right there at that LifeLink event, ‘I’ll give her one of mine’! Being with transplant patients under donation registration tents outside, in the TGH rehab center, in various places around Tampa, all have special meanings for me. Most recently, the annual volunteer awards dinner in December has been a time to reconnect with older recipients and meet new ones, along with living donors. Volunteering for LifeLink in any capacity, for me, has been my heart’s desire and even more so after my transplant in 2010.
8. April is National Donate Life Month, why has volunteering and sharing the message of organ, eye and tissue donation remained important to you over these many years? Because organ donors save lives. Not only my husband’s and mine, my brother’s and countless others. Unfortunately, the need for donors, deceased and living, increases daily.
9. Is there anything else about your story/thoughts on volunteering that you would like to add?
My entire adult life I have cherished my time volunteering with LifeLink. I’m honored to help in any way.