Bill Widen of Upland, CA

"I’ll be thinking of my donor every time I cross the finish line."
I’ve had breathing problems most of my life. As a child, my asthma was so bad that at age six the doctors in Iowa told my parents that it would be best for me if we lived in a drier climate. Our move to Vallejo, California was a very good one for our family, and with fewer breathing attacks, I was able to play Little League for the first time.

As I grew up in the Bay Area, I grew to like cars and motors. I even pulled my first motor at the age of ten. From then on my father let me work on the family cars (with his supervision, of course). Basically, if it had wheels and a motor you would find me right in the middle of it. Upon graduating high school, I took a job driving a truck and did a little racing in the Bay Area and Nevada.

I grew to love driving trucks and bought my own truck and trailer. I drove trucks for over 28 years and some 2.5 million miles with no accidents. The last few years became more difficult for me. Being around the job sites, dust, equipment fumes and lumber mills made my breathing even more difficult. By the time I was 45 years old, I was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It became more difficult every year for me to continue driving my trucks, and in January 2001, I had to retire on disability. This was a very difficult decision for me to make at the time, both financially and emotionally. I had just paid off the last two truck and pull trailers.
In October 2001, I was evaluated for a possible lung transplant. After the evaluation, the doctors felt I was a good candidate for transplant. From then on it was my responsibility to get ready for the transplant, both mentally and physically.

When I was listed on October 27, 2001, I was told the wait would probably be up to 2 years or more. At 10:45am the morning of April 4, 2003 – just 18 months after I was listed – my transplant coordinator called with the news of a very healthy right lung. I must say that waiting for a transplant has to be the hardest thing for someone to go through – always waiting for the telephone to ring and jumping every time it does. But when you know you’re running out of time, you pray they will find you a match soon.

Thanks to a loving, caring donor and the donor family, I was given a life-saving lung transplant that evening. Although I was pretty nervous about the whole thing, once I got to the hospital the staff and nurses made me feel like family. I came through the transplant successfully, and even though I had a few problems in the days ahead, I was able to come home in 11 days. I was in and out of the hospital over the next few months. However, just like my doctors told me, “these things are fixable.”

I am now working on a project called Donate Life Signatures Across America, which kicked off August 2005. The project showcases a Donate Life blue-and-green funny car that I raced and showed across the country at IHRA and NHRA tracks and community fund-raisers. Race fans and supporters of organ and tissue donation have the opportunity to sign the Donate Life Funny Car with these “Signatures Across America” funding public education efforts that inspire people to commit to be organ and tissue donors.

Now in 2011 and 2012 we will be driving the newly donated 1969 Nova SS that was driven by world foot break champion Johnny McPeake from Memphis, TN. Johnny passed away in 2005 and Organ & Tissue donation was very important to him and he saved and enhanced many lives that day by becoming an organ and tissue donor. I just had my 9th lung transplant anniversary the 4th of April and I am very proud and honored to be the driver of the Donate Life SAA project 1969 race Nova.

The Donate Life Signatures Across America project is my personal way to give back & say “Thank You” for the gift of life that I received, and to honor my donor and donor family and to honor Johnny McPeake and donors everywhere for the gift of life they give to others.

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