‘They’re our heroes’: Local couple thanks organ donors for saving both their lives

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - In sickness and in health.

That’s the promise Michael and Viola Hale made nearly 48 years ago, and they’ve stuck to it through thick and thin.

“It’s been a long haul, and it’s definitely been worth it,” Viola said.

Both husband and wife have undergone surgery to get a lifesaving organ donation.

The couple’s journey started in 2008 when Michael was told he needed a new liver.

“I was on the transplant list for almost four years. Unfortunately, I had all the side effects,” he said. “I was not that bad until the last year. The last year was really, really bad.”

After nearly four long years of waiting, the Hales got a call in Sept. 2012 that doctors had a liver for Michael.

“Very surprised that we had gotten the call but thank goodness they did because he was really in very poor shape,” Viola said.

Throughout the transplant process, Viola was always by Michael’s side.

“Every time he was in the hospital, I was right there with him,” she said. “They have a little bed or sofa, and that’s where I would stay and where I would sleep every night until he was discharged. It was a little bit harder for me, but there’s no other place that I would have been.”

Five years later, a similar scene played out, but this time, the roles were reversed. Viola was added to the transplant list in March 2017 because she needed a new heart. So it was Michael’s turn to care for her.

“The shoe was on the other foot now, so he was taking me to my appointments,” Viola said.

She was on the transplant list for about two and a half years. During that time frame, Viola was starting to doubt her chances of getting a match.

“I pretty much had written it off. I knew I was on the list but didn’t think that I’d ever get the call,” she said.

But that all changed in October 2019. Viola said she and Michael were out to dinner when her phone rang.

“I got the call, and they said, ‘Mrs. Hale, this is so-and-so from University. Are you standing or sitting?’ and I said, ‘Well, I’ll sit,’” Viola said laughing. “She said, ‘We have a heart for you.’ And I said, ‘Oh my gosh.’”

The couple headed to the hospital again, but this time Viola was going under the knife. Her recovery took a little longer, but once again, the couple stuck together.

“It’s been a little bit of a struggle, but for the most part, it is what it is,” Viola said. “I’m very grateful to the donor and the donor family for having signed up.”

The Hales count themselves lucky for both being able to get a lifesaving donation. According to Donor Alliance, more than 100,000 people across the country are waiting for an organ -- that’s a statistic we here at KKTV 11 News are very familiar with.

We lost our friend and coworker, reporter Dustin Cuzick, on July 11, 2019. He’d been on the transplant list for years -- waiting for a new kidney and pancreas. Sadly, he passed away before he got his miracle. But every day, people make the choice to give the gift of life.

Donor Alliance said nearly 12,000 people became organ donors upon their death in 2019 -- providing more than 30,000 organ transplants.

“It not only saves one life, it can save multiple lives and help multiple people,” Viola said.

Neither of the Hales know who their lifesaving donations came from, but they’re eternally thankful for their gift of life.

“They’re our heroes,” Michael said. “They saved both of our lives.”

Every year, National Donor Day falls on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. The Hales are encouraging everyone to spread a little love this year and sign up to be an organ donor.

“You can’t take it with you,” Michael said. “You might as well recycle yourself and help other people. You can help a lot of people through donating.”

According to Donor Alliance, one donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and help more than 75 people through donating tissue.

People can be living donors or sign up to have their organs donated upon their death. You can click here to find out more information about becoming a donor.

“You never know if you’re going to be in that situation,” Viola said. “It’s a gift of life for whoever is the recipient.”