CRANBERRY — Jacob Ball has been on a mission to help people like his younger brother Luke since 2010 when Luke received a heart transplant.
Jacob said his brother, who was 6 years old at the time of his transplant, was his biggest inspiration for involvement with the field of donations.
“He has always had it harder,” Jacob said.
Jacob, a 2018 North Catholic High School graduate, said he first became involved with the world of transplants because of Luke's heart condition and need for a new one, but he stayed interested once he saw how much transplants affected such a wide range of people.
“There is a cycle of medication and transplants,” Jacob said. “Medications make you more likely to need a kidney transplant later, but some are inevitable.”
Jacob described the cycle as a “downward spiral” of helping and harming recipients, but for now, Luke, 14, is healthier than many.
“Now, he plays more sports than anyone in my family does,” Jacob said. “The heart doesn't always grow with you when you receive a transplant, so he may receive another transplant when he gets older, but he's doing amazing. He's on a lot fewer medications. Things are going about as well as they possibly could right now, but with medication the way it is, the best case is to find alternatives to medications.”
While his brother is doing much better adjusting to his new organ, Jacob said many are not so fortunate, which is why he wants to become a biomedical engineer to help innovate new technologies for recoveries for donors and recipients.
But Jacob's journey to find his niche in the biomedical engineering field will not be a cheap one.
Jacob started college at the University of Delaware this semester to start working toward the future in which he sees himself contributing to advancements in the field of transplantation.
This is a goal with which the Center for Organ Recovery & Education and Izzie's Gifts of Hope Foundation are both assisting.
Jacob won a scholarship from the foundation and CORE which recognizes individuals who have been directly affected by organ, tissue or cornea donation and honors each person's contributions to organ donation awareness and community involvement.
“We kind of knew about this scholarship already because of how involved we are with Izzie's Dash and CORE in general,” Jacob said. “The scholarship is really important to me — that one in particular meant a lot to me because one of the reasons I'm going into bioengineering in general is because I want to improve the lives of organ recipients.”
Michelle Christenson, the founder of Izzie's Gifts of Hope Foundation, said the scholarship is awarded to “donors, recipients, living donors and immediately family members — people who are affected by some sort of transplant or donation.”
The award's namesake, Pittsburgh native Isabelle Christenson, was a two-time transplant recipient who died in 2010 when she was only 10 years old.
“I'm extremely grateful,” Jacob said. “It means so much to me that they're willing to support my journey through college and invest in the future that I hope to bring.”