Heartbroken mom honors son, advocates for organ donation

Jessica “Jes” Oldham described her relationship with her younger brother, Tripp, as “very, very close.” She said, “We were always each other’s No. 1 ... Having CF(cystic fibrosis) together brought us closer than most people.”

It’s something a parent never wants to hear, certainly not after the birth of a child.

After Alana Richey gave birth to each of her two children in her early 20s, she was told that she would outlive them. Both had cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs and digestive system.

And while the life expectancy of those with cystic fibrosis has risen from about 18 years to 37.5 years since that time, Richey already has experienced the pain of losing her youngest.

Tripp Oldham died on May 20, 2013, at the age of 21, while waiting for a double-lung transplant. Weeks earlier surgeons were preparing him for transplant surgery when other transplant surgeons found a spot on the donor’s kidney that turned out to be cancerous.

“Tripp pushed to the last moment,” Richey says of her son’s fighting spirit.

Richey, who lives in North Charleston, was not the only one heartbroken by his death. His sister, Jessica “Jes” Oldham, describes her relationship with her younger brother as “very, very close.”

“We were always each other’s No. 1,” says Oldham, now 25, who is finishing a degree in graphic design from Savannah College of Art and Design. “Having CF together brought us closer than most people.”

Oldham, who had just been released from the hospital after a flare-up when she was interviewed for this story, now has 55-65 percent of her lung capacity and says Tripp’s death was a reminder “that it (could) happen to me eventually.”

She adds that Tripp’s story is important because the public needs to be reminded that people still die while waiting for organs.

In Tripp’s honor, both Richey and Oldham have been doing their part in promoting organ donations and raising awareness of cystic fibrosis.

They will play prominent roles in this Saturday’s 10th LifePoint Race For Life, a fundraiser at James Island County Park that includes a 10K, 5K, half-mile fun run, Kids Zone and a Vendor Village.

LifePoint is the federal-designated “Organ Procurement Organization” responsible for organ recovery services in South Carolina, with the exception of Aiken and Edgefield counties. LifePoint actively provides organ, tissue and eye donor services to 62 hospitals throughout the state.

According to LifePoint, the need for organ donors has never been greater.

As of last week, 123,158 people are on the national waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant. Of those, 856 are in South Carolina.

Registering to be an organ donor is simple and easy to do. Provide your legal consent on the South Carolina Organ and Tissue Donor Registry either online at https://www.donatelifesc.org/register/ or at SCDMVonline.com or at any South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles when obtaining, renewing or changing your driver’s license and identification information.

Mark Johnson, media relations coordinator for LifePoint, says he hopes to build on the success of last year’s event that drew 660 registrants and raised $15,000 to support awareness about organ, eye and tissue donation and to send Team SC to the 2014 Donate Life Transplant Games of America, a multi-sport festival.

“The purpose (of the games) is to show the world that transplantation is a treatment that does indeed work,” says Johnson, adding that transplant recipients and living donors compete against each other to win gold, silver or bronze medals.

At Saturday’s races, Johnson hopes to draw 1,000 registrants and raise $20,000. The event also will mark the first public appearance of our LifePoint/Donate Life SC mascot, “Chance The Donor Dog.”

Last year, Richey and Oldham had about 35 friends and family come out to the race as part of “Team Lungs for Life.” Richey’s husband and Oldham’s stepfather, Michael Richey, who is training for an ultra triathlon in Hawaii, will run both the 10K and the 5K. Oldham plans to walk in the event.

That vigor for life is consistent with Richey’s approach with her children.

“You have to live for the moment,” says Richey, who took her children on trips to Europe, the Caribbean and to the mountains for snowboarding, despite having medical bills. “Tripp was wide open. I let him run, do and live.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.