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Five-organ transplant recipient meets donor’s family on The Today Show

Patient Story

Before transplant she described herself as a “walking time bomb.” Now Haley (Hodgen) Okuley is a walking, breathing example of the gift of life.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

As she celebrated her two-month wedding anniversary, Haley (Hodgen) Okuley fought back tears in front of a television audience. They were tears of joy.

On August 17, 2015 she didn’t know if she’d live another day – let alone get married. It was the day she received a multi-organ transplant - stomach, pancreas, liver, small and large bowel – in the care of IU Health Dr. Richard Mangus. On a Thursday morning segment of NBC’s The Today Show, Okuley met the mother and daughter – Rebecca Rowan and Lexi Newsome – of her 25-year-old donor, Alicia Bruner.

For years, Okuley kept a framed photo of Bruner on her desk at Williams Randall Advertising. She worked as a web designer for the Indianapolis company seven years - up until she her marriage in November 2019 to Chris Okuley.

Through tears, she told the mother and daughter of her organ donor, “There’s been a lot or redemption from her tragedy.” Her husband and parents Bill and Sandy Hodgen, of Northern Indiana, joined Okuley on stage.

Sandy Hodgen told Rebecca Rowan she was sorry for her tragedy and was grateful the family chose to become organ donors.

Watch the full segment from The Today Show here.

Okuley grew up near Angola, Ind., and is the eldest of three girls. She has twin sisters. The family spent warm summers on Long Lake, where Okuley enjoyed water skiing. She played volleyball throughout high school and was always healthy and active. She was training for the Indianapolis Mini Marathon when she became ill. She was baffled when she started losing weight, experienced severe abdominal pain and learned her spleen was enlarged. Over time she began to lose her fingernails and toenails –a result of a lack of nutrients absorbed into her body.

During a procedure with IU Health gastroenterologist Dr. John DeWitt a blood clot was discovered in her liver, a very serious condition. In a matter of days the blood clot spread to her small intestine causing her to go into emergency surgery to remove her small intestine. She spent three weeks in the hospital. She tried to maintain her quality of life but her body began to give out. Her eventual diagnosis was a rare genetic mutation, myeloproliferative disease, characterized by blood clots.

“I had no quality of life. I was a ticking time bomb. No one wanted to operate on me because I was so young they were afraid the procedure would leave me worse off. But Dr. Mangus had a different view. He knew the transplant would save my life,” said Okuley. Since her transplant Okuley has paid tribute to Bruner by participating in Indiana Donor Network events, speaking publicly about organ donation, and visiting other organ transplant patients recovering at IU Health University Hospital.

Until Thursday, she had written letters to Bruner’s family but had never had the chance to meet them.

“I can’t even begin to express my gratitude,” said Okuley. “I didn’t think I’d live let alone get married.”

Read More:
Transplant patient: “Dr. Mangus saved my life.” Haley Hodgen was an avid volleyball player in high school and was training for the Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini Marathon when she became seriously ill. She ended up at IU Health where she received not one – but multiple organ transplants.

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