Eliyah Tucker’s story is one of “Light in the Darkness.” Spend a few minutes with the video that tells a beautiful story of healing – and the many gifts organ donation provides.

Born with 20/20 vision, Eliyah was on-the-job in Bakersfield as a refrigeration technician when his face was splashed with a chemical that led to degenerative vision in both eyes. Eliyah eventually lost his sight and began living life with a cane and guide dog.

A year after his accident, he registered on the cornea transplant list – and when a donor was found, he had his surgery. The day after, when the bandage was removed, he had blessed sight. He saw his son for the first time, his wife again, and the beauty of the world around him.

Olivia Gonzales’ story started the day she was born as she suffered brith trauma. Luckily her most all of her organs recovered 100% expect for the kidneys. Due complications at birth, there was lack of blood flow to the kidneys and they stopped working. Shortly after being born, Olivia went on dialysis. On October 19, 2017, just before her second birthday, Olivia received a perfectly matched deceased donor transplant.

Colton Braggs’ story began before birth as his parents were already aware of some of the complications he faced with his kidneys and heart. At about 8 months, Colton was placed on the donor waiting list. Then on September 30th, 2017, just before his second birthday, Colton received his transplant all because someone choose to give the gift of life.

Emma was welcomed into the Saldgado family in August 2014. The celebration and elation ended during her routine post birth check up. The pediatrician discovered a heart murmur, which marked the beginning of a traumatic and emotional journey for Emma and her family.

From initial hospitalization at 10 months old, to waiting for over two months on the heart transplant list, Emma’s family received the life-changing phone call they had been hoping and praying for. While Emma’s family was ready to embrace this gift of hope for her future, another family was hoping and praying as they made the decision to give this gift of life on behalf of the loved one they had just lost.

Emma’s surgery was a success and after spending three months at the UCLA Ronald McDonald House with her mother, the family was reunited in Bakersfield. Since the transplant, Emma’s entire extended family has registered to be an organ, eye and tissue donor. Emma is now three years old with post transplant battles to overcome, but her family is thankful for each day she is alive thanks to the gift of life someone gave to her!

In March of 2017, Ken Small was awarded the JJ’s Legacy Financial Grant. Ken graciously gave back his grant award to JJ’s Legacy, so we can continue our mission of increasing the number of registered organ, eye and tissue donors in Kern County.

Ken had battled heart disease for over 30 years and was awaiting a transplant at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. On August 30, 2013, he learned he was receiving a new heart! The heart came from Katie Tonks of Pocatello, Idaho who tragically passed away. Katie was a registered donor and was able to donate her heart, lung, kidneys, liver and pancreas giving the gift of life. Ken was a perfect match with Katie’s heart. The transplant was a success and today, Ken is leading a healthy and active life.

Rochelle Vaughan was diagnosed with kidney disease in 1996 then in November of 2015 the doctors confirmed she would need to be placed on dialysis and on the kidney transplant list. The average life of a dialysis patient is about 5 years, and the wait for a kidney is anywhere from 10 to 12 years with her blood type. Rochelle knew it wasn’t a long-term solution and had been actively searching for a living kidney donor herself. In March of 2016, she was awarded the JJ’s Legacy Grant as someone who’s awaiting a life saving transplant. Since then she found her Teammate in Life, as her husband qualified to be a living donor for her. The couple had a successful transplant surgery on June 24, 2016.

At the time, Tanner Passen was only 11 months old, he wasn’t able to walk yet, but somehow he managed to get his leg up on the fireplace and fell into the fire and coal hands first. His brother, Wyatt (5 at the time) pulled Tanner out of the flames. He was immediately rushed to San Joaquin Community Hospital’s Burn Center for treatment. Through his process, Tanner has received countless surgeries, skin graphs and donor tissue. Today, he lives an active life without limits thanks to tissue donors.

Tanner’s mother never considered Tanner to be a donor recipient until two years after his injury when she attended the annual JJ’s Legacy Gala with her fiancé, who was JJ’s very best friend. There she learned about tissue donation and pieced together that Tanner received tissue around the time when JJ’s passed. This intimate connection makes this grant recipient even more special.

Jelani started dialysis at the age of 22 for kidney failure. Spending 4 hours a day 3 times a week in treatment. Along with his time dedicated to his treatment, he could only eat a limited diet and had to closely monitor any liquids he was drinking. Even with treatment he was fatigued and spent a lot of his time sleeping.

His life changed from being an outgoing and active individual to not having much of a life at all. After 5 and a half years a transplant became available for him. Within 24 hours the transplant kidney was working for him and he was told he wouldn’t have to worry about dialysis anymore.

He returned to be active and outgoing, meeting his wife after this new lease on life. Unfortunately, the transplanted kidney began to fail shortly afterwards and he had to once again endure the hardship of dialysis. At this stage, he began sessions of nocturnal dialysis for 8 hours 3 to 4 times per week. Jelani missed several important moments in his life during dialysis and this still wasn’t enough. One night, he was hospitalized after having a seizure and was put on life support.

His cousin Lonni heard the urgent news and immediately wanted to help. After learning that Jelani needed a kidney, Lonni was tested and confirmed as a match. The surgery to donate Lonni’s kidney to Jelani was performed very quickly and was a total success.

Jelani is now able to spend his time being a father and Lonni is continuing to have a normal healthy life as a living donor.

Renaye Fink has always been a very active person, enjoying daily workouts. Described as a fun person that has always shared lots of laughter with her friends. a few years ago, she began experiencing difficulty breathing. After visiting with her doctor, she learned that her lungs had developed Alpha 1 Antitrypsin. As described to her, it was as if her lungs were an old balloon and were enlarged with scar tissue and were barely able to work. She could no longer enjoy an active lifestyle. Her only option was a double lung transplant and she was put on a waiting list. With the help and support of her family and neighbors she continued to wait for her opportunity. Her double lung transplant was performed at UCLA and was successful. She has regained her energy and her zest for life has returned in full. She is now an ambassador for organ, eye and tissue donations and continues to campaign for the importance of signing up to become a donor.

In 2014, Lauren Bittle (then a 5th grader) created a presentation on the rights and responsibilities of organ donation as a part of a classroom project. Going back in time, she shares an in depth history of organ donation, highlighting significant moments along the way. She discusses the meaning of giving the gift of life and the act of selfless in the midst of grief. She reminds us that the things we do for ourselves are gone, but the things we do for others remain as our legacy. In 2015, she was awarded the Educational Scholarship so that she can continue inspiring others to register as an organ, eye or tissue donor.

Nathan was born the 5th child to Julian and Angela Trevino. Just 24 hours after birth a heart murmur was detected in Nathan. He was rushed directly to the Children’s Hospital and the Trevino’s were given the opportunity to give Nathan a chance at survival. Nathan underwent a lengthy 12 hour surgery and received donated tissue to repair his heart. After the surgery he still had to recover in a ventilator. He has continued to recover and has inspired his family to advocate the importance of organ, eye and tissue donation.

K.C. Mitchell was in active military service and the vehicle he was in hit a pressure plate activated explosive device. He was transferred to Walter Reed Medical and was bed ridden for months. After months of recovery, the decision was made to amputate his leg.
He has had over 30 surgeries in only two and a half years and received donor tissue to restore strength and mobility to his hand and his knee.

He is now leading a fulfilling life as a father thanks to the donor tissue he received.

Caleb Morgan began having trouble breathing while sleeping. After several tests, he was diagnosed with Restrictive Cardiomyopathy. The doctors had a very grim outlook on his survival.

The Morgan family decided to fight this and they transferred Caleb to Stanford University where he was listed as a candidate for a heart transplant. After 75 days of waiting, they received the news that a heart became available. After an 8 hour surgery and 3 days in a medically induced coma, he awoke and began a quick recovery. Within 5 days of the surgery, he began running and climbing again. He was released after 11 days in the hospital and he is now living a full and healthy normal life like any other boy his age.

The 19-year-old spent four years on dialysis, suffered from weakness and was often sick before receiving a kidney from an organ donor. It completely changed her quality of life. "Dialysis was like living in a nightmare," Soto said. The kidney Soto received came from Bakersfield resident Jeffrey Johns, who died from a head injury in March 2009 at the age of 27.

Curtis Hartman was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis. He describes his difficulty with breathing as “climbing mount Everest” just to walk to the mail box. He had to quit his job and stay at home. His only hope was a double lung transplant.

After enduring an 18-hour surgery and several days recovering in ICU, he was granted a new lease on life. He is now able to enjoy time being an active father to his children.