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“Hope Changes Lives” – Nine Years with the Gift of Life

We last interviewed our client Ambassador Bill Soloway way back in 2016, just one year after his transplant. As Bill approaches his 9-year heart transplant anniversary this June, we figured it was about time to check back in!

In this post, Bill tells us what he’s been up to (spoiler alert: he’s a busy man), what honoring his heart donor means to him, why he became an Ambassador for Help Hope Live, and his biggest pieces of advice for other transplant patients who are thinking about fundraising.

A photo of heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway and his heart donor's father next to Bill's highwheel bicycle. Bill has light skin and gray hair with glasses and wears a Donate Life t-shirt and shorts. His donor's father has light skin, white hair, glasses, and shorts. His high wheel bicycle is decked out in Donate Life blue and green.

“Hope Changes Lives” – Nine Years with the Gift of Life

Wow, time flies when you’re having fun! Where do I begin…

First and foremost, I want to say that a lot of what I do is to honor my heart donor, James.

Two images show Bill Soloway's heart donor with his wife and child and Bill today with his partner Kathy. His donor has light skin and blue eyes and holds a baby in his arms. Bill has light skin, gray hair, and glasses. Kathy has light skin, shoulder length blonde-gray hair, and black-rimmed glasses.

As a Help Hope Live Ambassador, I give other ambassadors this piece of advice:

“Grow where you are planted.”

I’ve been growing in the transplant community over the past nine years since my heart transplant, becoming a Gift of Life Donor Program Ambassador, UNOS Ambassador, President of TRIO Philadelphia, Advisory Board member at Gift of Life Howie’s House, and Executive Director for the Masonic Blood+Organ Donor Program.

I’ve also been advocating for and mentoring transplant patients, both pre- and post-transplant.

In the stands of a football event, Bill Soloway holds a large flag that reads Donate Life: Donation Saves Lives. The heart transplant recipient has light skin, glasses, and a ball cap.

As a patient advocate, I spend time all over Pennsylvania—not just in the Philadelphia area but all the way to Pittsburgh as well.

In everything I do, I talk up Help Hope Live, and I leave behind a folder of information whenever I can at transplant centers.

I have been blessed to be in the small percentage of transplant recipients who have gotten to meet their donor’s family. I’ve met James’ parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.

Heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway is on a Pittsburgh Steelers football field with his heart donor's father. Bill has light skin and wears jeans and a number 53 Steelers jersey. His donor's father has light skin, a white mustache, glasses, and a number 22 Steelers jersey.

I am a big part of their lives, as they are mine.

There are several upcoming events I’m excited to participate in that tie in closely to the causes I care about and support.

First is the Faces of America cycling event in Gettysburg. The 108-mile, two-day ride is accessible for adaptive cyclers and gives back to our military men and women–my donor was a US Marine. I’ve become the ride Safety Marshal for military members who ride adaptive hand pedal bicycles.

Heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway is at a Faces of America cycling event. He wears bright yellow-green cycling gear with a matching helmet and sunglasses. Behind him in the selfie is a statue of soldiers raising an American flag.

The second big event is the Donor Dash, an annual celebration of the power of organ donation and the selflessness of donors. I’ll be joined by my donor’s father, Jim.

heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway and partner Kathy take a selfie at the Donor Dash. Bill has light skin, short gray hair, glasses, and a Donate Life t-shirt. Kathy has light skin, shoulder-length blonde-gray hair, and black-rimmed glasses.

Jim will also be joining me in Birmingham, Alabama for the 2024 Transplant Games. The event brings together thousands of transplant patients, donors, donor families, and transplant community members to celebrate the gift of life and the impact of organ donation. Jim will be on Team Philadelphia as a Donor Family Member.

Annually, I also race my high wheel bicycle in the only race of its kind in Frederick, Maryland, to promote organ donation—and to show that organ donation works.

I still can’t believe I am able to do all of this thanks to my donor. Every day, I think about it in one way or another.

Heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway leads the way during a street race for high wheel bicycles. He has light skin, and Donate Life themed cycling gear in white, blue, and green.

Staying Close to My Community

Along this road, my family, friends, neighbors, and transplant family are always involved in what I do.

Whether it’s cooking a meal for transplant families at the Gift of Life Howie’s House, supporting me on bike rides, or joining me at the Donor Dash, the community around me has gotten involved in this cause with me.

I’ve opened a lot of eyes to the importance of being an organ donor.

Heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway joins Help Hope Live team members Shannon and Kelly L Green at the Gift of Life Howie's House Home Cook Heroes kitchen. Bill has light skin, short gray hair, a Gift of Life polo, and glasses. Shannon has light skin and brown hair. Kelly L Green has light skin and black hair. They are in a kitchen with a chalkboard sign that reads Help Hope Live.

Today, I feel even closer to the transplant community than I was in the early days after transplant.

Every time I visit a transplant hospital, I take the time to talk with other transplant patients. Even during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, I visited with patients virtually.

Mentorship remains a big part of my life—in fact, it’s now part of my career as Executive Director of the Masonic Blood+Organ Donor Program. I get calls all the time from people who are either referred to me or read about me.

Many times, transplant patients won’t believe I had a heart transplant myself—they’ll say, “Show me your scar!”

I love what I do, and it’s all a part of honoring my donor and giving back.

Heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway is on the Eagles football field with a number 62 Eagles jersey. Bill has light skin, short gray hair, and glasses, and he is placing his right hand over his heart to showcase his Donate Life and Help Hope Live rubber bracelets.

What I’ve Learned About Life and Transplantation

Over this time, I have certainly learned that every transplant journey is different.

I’ve personally seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Solid organ transplantation is not for the faint of heart: it takes faith and a great support network. I often describe a transplant as trading one set of problems for another set of problems.

All that being said, every day I wake up and feel blessed to face another day.

Heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway takes a selfie with Eagles football player Jason Kelce at an outdoor event for Eagles Autism Challenge. Bill has light skin, glasses, and bright yellow-green cycling gear and a helmet with an Eagles Autism Challenge gold bib overtop. Jason Kelce has light skin, his signature full brown beard, and an Eagles ball cap with a shirt that reads Eagles Autism Challenge.

How I Found and Chose Help Hope Live

In April 2015, I started fundraising with Help Hope Live after a social worker at my transplant center recommended it.

I was very reluctant: I was not one to ask for money.

I was the one who was always raising money, riding my bicycle over long distances to fundraise for charities that helped patients with MS, cancer, diabetes, and other conditions.

I spent some time doing research, and once I saw that there would be expenses not covered by insurance, I realized fundraising was something I should do.

I also had a lot of friends who wanted to help me. When they asked what they could do to help, I would mention Help Hope Live, and they felt good that they could contribute in that way.

I did look at several options for transplant fundraising, including GoFundMe. It was clear to me that Help Hope Live was the right choice.

Choosing a 501(c)(3) for fundraising was very important to me because I didn’t want fundraising to jeopardize my benefits.

I had also read so many horror stories about people working with fundraising platforms they felt they couldn’t trust—or platforms where donors felt like little to none of the funds they donated went to their intended purpose.

Help Hope Live offers big benefits to transplant patients like me, including personal fundraising support, helping to pay bills directly, and all the benefits of working with a nonprofit for fundraising instead of other options.

Heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway takes a selfie with his heart donor's father in the stands of a Pittsburgh sports event. Bill has light skin, glasses, and a ball cap. His donor's father has light skin, a white mustache and goatee, glasses, and a ballcap.

Organ transplantation is something that stays with you for the rest of your life.

Over the years, things change—insurance coverage, health conditions, medicines—and you always need a plan B and a plan C. You never know when something won’t be covered or will change with your needs and care.

That’s why I am still a Help Hope Live fundraising client today.

I also help new Help Hope Live clients I mentor to fundraise, and I continue to fundraise for other causes I care about, too.

My Advice to Transplant Patients Considering Fundraising

Don’t be afraid to start fundraising.

If you’re anything like me, you find it hard to ask for help—especially financial help.

People genuinely want to help other people. It makes them feel good about themselves. That’s how most of us are wired.

Many people don’t know how to help when someone experiences a medical crisis or a transplant need. Opening their wallets is the easier part compared to figuring out how and where to contribute. That’s where you come in with a Help Hope Live fundraising campaign.

I tell the patients I work with that it’s never too early to start fundraising.

The time when people in your community are witnessing some of your struggle before a transplant is also the time when they are the most likely to be able to directly see and understand why you need help.

Before a transplant takes place, people who donate and get involved in your fundraising efforts will have the deepest connection to the idea that they are making a difference in your life.

Heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway takes a photo on a suburban street with his donor's father. Bill has light skin, a blue headband, a Donate Life blue and green cycling shirt, and a medal on an orange ribbon. His donor's father has a matching medal and has light skin, glasses, short white hair, a white mustache, and a white goatee and he holds a walking stick in his right hand.

After transplant, when you may be more active and doing things you couldn’t do pre-transplant, it’s harder for people who haven’t been through this journey to understand why you’re fundraising and what you still need.

Early on, you can establish those relationships within your community, sharing why you’re fundraising and what your long-term needs will look like. That way, supporters won’t need to wonder why you still need to fundraise post-transplant as your campaign continues.

Heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway with his donor's father at a formal event in a casino-like setting. Bill has light skin, short gray hair, and glasses and he wears an eye-popping Steelers themed spots jacket in vivid black and yellow. His donor's father wears a 22 football jersey and a ball cap and has light skin, a white mustache, glasses, and a walking stick in his left hand.

What Hope Means to Me Today

As you can probably see by now, becoming an Ambassador for Help Hope Live was a natural fit for me.

I’m a “bridge builder,” as one recent article put it.

Everything I do, including being an ambassador, is about giving back and honoring my donor.

It’s all about hope.

Hope changes everything. Hope is a walking dream. Hope changes lives!

Heart transplant recipient Bill Soloway smiles in a selfie with his donor's father in a lobby setting. Bill has light skin, short gray hair, and a 62 Eagles jersey with a Donate Life patch. His donor's father has light skin, a white mustache, a ball cap, black glasses, and a number 22 Steelers jersey.

Find Bill’s Help Hope Live campaign at Know someone who may need help with transplant fundraising? Refer them to our nonprofit.

Written by Emily Progin