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'It's our second chance at life': Local couple looks to help others after their own organ transplant journeys

The couple founded the Transplant House of West Michigan
The Transplant House of West Michigan located on Fuller and Leonard
Posted at 7:54 AM, Dec 08, 2022

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan — A local couple is using their organ transplant journeys to help others through the Transplant House of West Michigan.

According to Donate Life America, every nine minutes a person is added to the national transplant waiting list. The need for these donations is critical, but there are many associated costs that families may not consider with a transplant. Tracy Gary and Holly Werlein-Gary experienced those struggles first-hand and decided to do something about it. The husband and wife duo both received life-saving organs.

"I have very little recollection of anything that happened until I woke up a week and a half later with a liver transplant, a whole new life," Werlein-Gary said.

Holly Werlein-Gary and her family after receiving her liver transplant
Holly Werlein-Gary and her family after receiving her liver transplant

In 2006, she was admitted to the hospital with flu-like symptoms that turned serious, fast. Many tests laster, doctors found that her liver was failing and she needed a new one as quickly as possible.

"I went downhill very quickly," she said.

Werlein-Gary was on the transplant waiting list for just a few hours. Her now-husband Tracy Gary, needed a heart after years of health issues, but couldn't get one right away.

"They did testing and said I wasn't quite sick enough," he said.

After multiple heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, a stroke and multiple left ventricular assist devices (LVADs), Gary was finally eligible for a heart.

Tracy Gary in the ICU
Tracy Gary in the ICU

"The Transplant Clinic of Grand Rapids called me back up and said you're back on the transplant list, you're at the top of top of the list in the state of Michigan for your blood type and your body size," Gary said. "I was on top of lists for 279 days, just waiting for the call."

That call came in 2018. Years later, the couple reflects on their tough journeys back to health.

"Definitely very blessed to be alive and well," Werlein-Gary said.

Now they're taking their love story and turning it into a story of hope and support.

Tracy Gary and Holly Werlein-Gary
Tracy Gary and Holly Werlein-Gary

The duo started the Transplant House of West Michigan in 2019, so families giving or receiving organ transplants don't have to break the bank in the lengthy transplant process on hotels or rentals.

"It's a cost that people don't think about through the transplant until it happens," Gary said.

The home is located on Fuller and Leonard in Grand Rapids, right next to a shopping center, steps from a pharmacy and a mile to the nearest hospital.

The Transplant House of West Michigan located on Fuller and Leonard
The Transplant House of West Michigan located on Fuller and Leonard

"You have to be a certain distance from the hospital, because if you get the call for your transplant, you want to make sure that you can get there," Werlein-Gary said.

With the help of the community, they've already raised over $200,000 dollars and put a downpayment on the home, but still need a contractor and to make renovations. They hope they can reach their goal of $350,000 to open up the community center where families wouldn't pay more than $60 dollars a night to stay.

"We're super excited. We're hoping that the community can help us," Werlein-Gary said.