At fundraiser, UNC worker recounts how organ donation saved his life

Andy Nelson with his family. Photo provided to WNCN
Andy Nelson with his family. Photo provided to WNCN

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Hundreds of people gathered on UNC’s campus Sunday night to raise awareness for organ donation at the annual Jason Ray Foundation fundraiser.

A UNC employee shared his own story of how organ donation saved his life.

A crowd of people attentively listened as Andy Nelson recounts his incredible journey. Two years ago the father of four came down with a cough that he couldn’t shake.

After several visits to the doctor he was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.

“He said, ‘Andy, it’s a serious disease, it’s terminal, it’s progressive, and there’s no known cure,’” said Nelson.

Nelson’s health quickly declined over the next year and a half.

“Emotionally you can imagine, my wife and my daughters are struggling with, ‘how much longer does my dad have?’ And I didn’t know,” said Nelson.

“To see the man that I love in my life just completely broken down by this disease, it was very, very hard,” said Mary Grace Nelson, one of Andy Nelson’s daughters.

On June 24 of this year he was put on the organ donation list. On July 3 Nelson underwent a lung transplant.

“The first memorable breath was truly amazing. I mean, the things that you forget, or what I had forgotten, what was it like to take a slow deep breath,” said Nelson.

“He’s able to put them to bed every night. He hasn’t been able to do that for the last, at least the last year and a half,” said Tonya Nelson, Andy Nelson’s wife.

Nelson says it is organ donors like Jason Ray that made life possible for him. Ray, a student at Chapel Hill, was able to save four lives through organ donation when he was struck by a car in 2007.

“He said, ‘If I can save somebody, especially someone that’s got children, if my organ could save them, Mom don’t even hesitate,’” said Emmitt Ray, Jason Ray’s father.

“My entire story can be summed up in Jason’s own words and that one sentence, right? I am some child’s daddy that was dying. And some Jason out there did save me,” said Nelson.

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