363 days and counting

Reaching out on the road to recovery: COTA for Luke O’Shea


Every year, nearly 2,000 U.S. children are put on the waiting list for an organ transplant. Though heart and liver transplants may seem like something that only occasionally happens in an over dramatic scene of Grey’s Anatomy, they are actually far more commonplace and have emotional attachments that a TV screen cannot capture. For one MN teacher, this scary scene became reality.

Social Studies teacher Tara O’Shea recalls when her son Luke needed a liver transplant one year ago. Although Luke was a very healthy boy up until his third birthday, O’Shea vividly remembers the scary day of March 2, 2017.

“He suddenly became ill. I dropped him off at preschool, and I picked him up, a three-hour time span,” O’Shea said. “By then his eyes had turned yellow.”

Within the next 12 days, Luke’s condition worsened to liver failure, moving him to the top of the donation list for a liver transplant. On March 14, doctors found and transplanted a liver for him.

“He’s a fighter, and because he was so strong, he made it through,” O’Shea said.

After her son’s diagnosis, O’Shea and her family underwent massive changes. For her personally, managing work as well as taking care of Luke was a challenge.

“It’s definitely a balancing act. Nothing can prepare you for seeing your child as sick as Luke was,” O’Shea said. “Sometimes it’s amusing, because if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.”

Certain factors have made the experience easier. For one, the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) provided financial assistance. Beyond this organization, however, O’Shea also discovered a supportive community within her own workplace.

“Mr. Manley and I are childhood friends. I approached him with a need to fundraise” O’Shea said. “The [Student Council] executive board heard the idea and they said they were honored. That made me feel really good.”

On Feb. 22, teachers and staff held a luncheon to fundraise for COTA for Luke. All those who attended donated $5, with all proceeds going directly to COTA. Ultimately, this raised $564.50.

Another fundraiser was coordinated by Student Council. Running from March 5-9, a raffle was organized where students donate to COTA to win cookies and Raising Cane’s certificates.

“It was truly the most heartwarming thing. Luke came, and to be able to see the little boy that all of this work was for made it all so worth it,” Student Council co-president Maggie Hogan said. “He is a four year old boy who has been through more than I could even imagine and faces all of it with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.”

These events did more than just raise money; they raised awareness. While O’Shea was extremely grateful for the donations, she states that awareness is just as significant. This is especially considering that, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the average wait time for a liver transplant is 12-36 months.   

“Making students aware is one of the reasons we partnered up with COTA because Luke wouldn’t be here without a transplant. Some students may not fully grasp what that means,” O’Shea said. “A parent had to make the decision when their child died to donate their organs. There are a number of children on a waiting list, and we want an awareness of transplant needs.”

Though her son’s transplant took place a year ago, O’Shea knows that Luke’s fight is ongoing.

“It’s still hard. You and I get a 101 degree fever, and we curl up in bed. Luke gets a 101 degree fever and he has to go to the hospital,” O’Shea said. “But to watch him slowly get his life back? It’s difficult. It’s amazing.”

For anyone, an experience like this would undoubtedly be a difficult one. However, when helping hands reach out, the weight of the world can become much easier to carry.

“I just want to thank the students of MN for taking this on. I’ve been teaching here since 2008,” O’Shea said. “This is home to me. You guys are my family.”