Usually when people talk about “a hardened heart,” they mean it metaphorically. But for Odunola “Ola” Ojewumi, the expression was her diagnosis.
At only twelve years old, doctors told Ola she had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that occurs when the muscles of the heart become thickened and have trouble pumping blood to the rest of the body. Rushed to a nearby hospital in a helicopter, Ola underwent transplant surgery. After just two weeks, she was discharged. She said she “broke a record” getting out so fast.
Initially it seemed Ola had everything to be grateful for- though she was weak, the transplant had given her a new lease on life. She gradually got stronger eventually going off to college at University of Maryland. It was a feat many had seen as impossible a few years before.
But then, Ola’s luck changed for the worst. During a checkup, doctors found complications with her transplant. She was diagnosed with a rare form of transplant cancer.
“I got really emotional after that diagnosis and I started talking to a lot of people about what I really wanted to do with my life.”
From a hospital bed, Ola reached out Prince George’s County councilman Tom Dernoga, partnering with him to found the Sacred Heart Children’s Transplant Foundation. The organization is dedicated to increasing awareness for transplants and donor registration. Raising money for everything from teddy bears to books, Ola put all her energy into the work of her foundation. This year, her summer camp for children and patients from inner-city communities was recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama.
Currently, Ola is using a grant from MTVU to provide scholarships for transplant recipients and working with the United Nations Population Fund with children in Guatemala. She says:
“I still take about 15 pills a day, and one injection a week, and there’s a bunch of projects I want to do. It’s hard managing it, but having some type of organization gives me the drive to be able to juggle both.”
When it seemed the world had taken everything from her, Ola chose to count the blessings she had left and share them with others. She is not only an example of an extraordinary woman but proof that even when we feel we have nothing, we can always find something within ourselves worth giving to the world.
Today, even when you feel like you’re running on empty- still choose to give. The little you have can be someone’s blessing and a reminder that what you have is worth sharing.