Hanover student and teacher who beat long odds raise awareness for organ donation

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HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Back in May, 8News introduced you to a Hanover County student and her teacher who helped one another beat long odds. Now, they’re helping to raise awareness for a cause they say is “very difficult,” but even more rewarding.

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Heather James had a double lung transplant and a liver transplant in December 2014.

In 2013, Hanover High School junior Heather James, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, was fighting for life, in need of a double lung and liver transplant. Her spanish teacher, Catherine Smith, who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome could relate; she had had underwent 10 surgeries in eight years.

“We both struggle with chronic health conditions, so we just sorta clicked,” Smith told 8News back in May.

In December of 2014, James had a double lung and liver transplant and kept in touch with Smith throughout the process. A few months later, the two started training for a 5K together before accomplishing the feat – again, together – at the Unos 5K in May.

“It was just an amazing moment, definitely a moment I’ll never forget,” James recalled.

76ea10f414304c29a630597e7c6c4049Last week, 8News caught up with James and Smith as they joined hundreds at a fundraiser for the Richmond-based UNOS, which stands for ‘the United Network for Organ Sharing.’

“The journey of organ transplant is very difficult, but it’s so rewarding and organ donation is the most selfless thing you can do for someone, and we just really need to raise as much awareness as we can,” James told 8News at the event.

11b0211ec88b46e5b4c15860be09973dSmith added, “I’ve had a couple of health issues the last couple of months and Heather was checking on me every day and we would have video chats to keep me sane while everything was going kind of crazy.”

UNOS is still helping Heather, who’s expecting a kidney transplant from her mom soon.

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