Health & Wellness

OKLAHOMA CITY – More than 90% of children who use lap-and-shoulder seat belts under the age of 10 should still be in a booster seat, according to data collected by AAA and the National Safety Council.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is working to ensure Oklahoma parents and children travel safely by hosting a booster seat check event from 9 – 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department’s NE Campus, 2600 NE 63rd St.

Nationally-certified technicians will be on-site to teach children and caregivers how to properly use a booster seat or to determine if a child is ready to ride without a booster seat.

A limited number of booster seats will be available to qualifying families.

The child, parent or legal guardian of the child, and vehicle must be present to receive a seat.

Parents or legal guardians must also bring proof of government assistance (e.g. WIC/SNAP/SoonerCare) to qualify for a seat.

Saturday’s seat check event is one of many being held in partnership with OSDH Injury Prevention Service, Safe Kids Oklahoma and Safe Kids Tulsa during National Child Passenger Safety Week Sept. 18 – 24. County health departments across the state will host events throughout the week.

Families who reside in counties outside of Oklahoma county or who are unable to attend September’s booster seat check events can call OSDH for information about other opportunities and seat check events at 405-426-8440 or visit the website at

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) protects and improves public health through its system of local health services and strategies focused on preventing disease. OSDH provides technical support and guidance to 68 county health departments in Oklahoma, as well as guidance and consultation to the two independent city-county health departments in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Learn more at

OKLAHOMA CITY – Participating optometric physicians across the state of Oklahoma will be giving complimentary eye exams to those in need as part of the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physician’s (OAOP) third annual Giving Sight Day. Most participating locations will hold complimentary vision clinics on Saturday, October 1, but some locations will participate in the days immediately preceding or following that date. Some clinics require appointments, while others are first come, first serve. A list of participating clinics along with dates and other relevant details can be found below (and a frequently updated list of participating clinics and details can be found here: Each clinic has different protocols and requirements and patients should carefully consult the list below or weblink. “Every Oklahoman deserves the gift of healthy vision and clear sight, regardless of their financial circumstances,” said OAOP President Dr. Chris Swanson. “Participating in Giving Sight Day is a privilege and something I look forward to. It’s a great way for our staff and for me to give back to a community that we love.” In previous years, Giving Sight Day has yielded over $50,000 in complimentary exams and complimentary frames and lenses distributed to patients. It is the OAOP’s largest charitable event.

Clinics Participating in 2022 Giving Sight Day include:**(check here for a regularly updated list) BartlesvilleDr. Jamie Bennett @ Bennett Vision Address:  401 E Silas St, Bartlesville, OK 74003Phone: 918-336-4068Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 9:00am-2:00pmAppointment required - Call 918-336-4068 during business hours and let the office know you are scheduling for Giving Sight Day.  BartlesvilleDr. Jo'el Sturm @ Oklahoma Medical Eye GroupAddress:  3400 SE Frank Phillips Blvd, #202, Bartlesville, OK 74006Phone: 918-335-1515Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 9:00am-2:00pmAppointment required - Call 918-335-1515 during business hours and let the office know you are scheduling for Giving Sight Day. BethanyDr. Mark Privott @ Eye Care Associates of BethanyAddress:  7415 NW 23rd St, Bethany, OK 73008Phone: 405-495-5170Friday, September 30, 2022 from 8:00am-11amAppointment required - Call 405-495-5170 during business hours and let the office know they are scheduling for the Giving Sight Day. BristowDr. Zeddie Cantrell @ Dr. Cantrell's Vision SourceAddress:  121 W 7th Ave, Bristow, OK 74010Phone: 918-367-2020Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 9:00am-2:00pmAppointment required - Call 918-367-2020 ahead to schedule. Broken ArrowDr. Brittany Wolthuizen @ RoseRock EyecareAddress:  433 W. Stone Wood Dr, Broken Arrow, OK 74012Phone: 918-615-2696Date & Time PendingAppointment required - Call 918-615-2696 ahead to schedule.  CatoosaDr. Phillip Ford @ EyeCare of Catoosa HillsAddress:  2036 S Miller Lane, Ste E, Catoosa, OK  74015Phone: 918-266-3937Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 8:15am-11:30amAppointment required - Call 918-266-3937 ahead to schedule. EdmondDr. Bibin Cherian @ BeSpoke VisionAddress: 200 West Covell Rd, Edmond, OK 73003Phone: 405-341-2062Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 9:00am-2:00pmAppointment required - Call 405-341-2062 ahead to schedule. ElginDr. Bryce Geiger and Dr. Maddie Rhodes @ Geiger Eye CareAddress: 7758 US-277, Elgin, OK 73538Phone: 580-454-1756Wednesday, September 28, 2022 from 8:00am-1:00pmAppointment required - Call 580-454-1756 ahead to schedule. EnidDr. Heath Stotts @ Enid Vision Source/Stotts EyecareAddress:  502 West Owen K GarriottPhone: 580-233-3599Monday, October 3, 2022 from 8:00am-1:00pmNo appointment - First come, first serve. GlenpoolDr. Kyle Tate @ Insight Eyecare GlenpoolAddress: 12140 South Waco Ave, Glenpool, OK 74033Phone: 918-296-3937Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 9:00am-12:30pmNo appointment - First come, first serve. JenksDr. Peyton Porter @ Insight Eyecare JenksAddress: 301 W Main St, Jenks, OK 74037Phone: 918-296-3937Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 9:00am-12:30pmNo appointment - First come, first serve. JenksDrs. Haley Baldridge, Jason Ellen, Alex Kinsinger, and Hannah Sanders @ Oklahoma Medical Eye GroupAddress: 244 South Gateway Place, Jenks, OK 74137Phone: 918-747-2020Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 9:00am-2:00pmAppointment required - Call 918-747-2020 during business hours and let the office know you are scheduling for Giving Sight Day. LawtonDr. Chris Swanson @ Complete Eye CareAddress: 4250 NW Cache Rd, Lawton, OK 73505Phone: 580-355-2020Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 8:00am-1:00pmNo appointment is required, it is first come, first serve within those hours.  LawtonDr. Kevin Stieb and Dr. Monique Leong @ Eye Care on GoreAddress: 1415 W Gore Blvd, Lawton, OK 73505Phone: 580-355-3036Friday, September 30, 2022, from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PMAppointment Required. Call 580-355-3036 to schedule. Midwest CityDrs. J. Brock Cherry, Corey Christensen, Chase Hunter, Sawyer Lee, Jonathan Poe, and John Smay @ Midwest City Vision SourceAddress: 2008 S Post Road, Midwest City, OK 73130Phone: 405-732-2277Friday, September 30, 2022 from 7:30am-12:00pmAppointment required - Call 405-732-2277 and tell the scheduler you are calling for Giving Sight Day.  Oklahoma CityDr. Irene Lam @ Bonavision Eye CenterAddress: 2815 N Classen Blvd, Oklahoma City, OK 73106Phone: 405-528-8200Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 9:00am-2:00pmNo appointment - First come, first serve. Oklahoma CityDr. Colby Ricks @ Vision Source OKC South Address: 10101 S Pennsylvania Ave, Ste A, Oklahoma City, OK 73159Phone: 405-691-3319Friday, September 30, 2022 from 9:00am-1:00pmCome to the office before September 23 to request a Free Eye Health Exam voucher. SallisawDr. Amanda Hatcher @ Total Eye Care, LLCAddress: 1105 E Cherokee Ave, Sallisaw, OK 74955-7611Phone: 918-775-4524Monday, September 26, 2022 from 9:00am-12:00pmVoucher required - Call 918-775-4524 during business hours and let the office know you are scheduling for Giving Sight Day. ShawneeDrs. Trevor Conklin, Kyle Karnish, Travis Kliewer, and Brianna Weber @ Shawnee Vision SourceAddress: 100 E 45th St, Shawnee, OK 74804Phone: 405-275-7676Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 8:00am-12:00pmAppointment required - Call 405-275-7676 and ask to be put on the Giving Sight Day waiting list. The staff will call back to schedule your appointment. TahlequahDr. Wyatt Williams and Dr. Jessica Livermont @ Keys Eye CareAddress: 17900 S Muskogee Ave, Tahlequah, OK  74464Phone: 918-207-0700Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 9:00am-2:00pmThe office will be open for walk-in appointments as available. TulsaDr. Brett Beasley @ Twenty Twenty EyeCareAddress:  7408 S Yale Ave, Tulsa, OK 74136Phone: 918-794-6700Saturday, October 1, 2022 from 9:00am-2:00pmThe office will be open for walk-in appointments as available. TuttleDr. Crystal Mosteller @ Tuttle Family EyecareAddress: 206 E Main Street, Tuttle, OK 73089Phone: 405-381-2244September 26-30, 2022, during business hoursAppointment required - Call ahead to make an appointment and sign up for a voucher.

OKLAHOMA CITY – September is World Sexual Health Month, and the Sexual Health and Harm Reduction Service (SHHR) at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is implementing a program that provides free self-tests to identify human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to Oklahomans. 

HIV attacks the body’s immune system and if left untreated can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

The test kits use a cheek swab to detect HIV and can provide results in about 15 minutes. Resources and information aimed at preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections are also included in the kit.

Kits can be ordered online at, by calling SHHR at (405) 426-8400, or by sending an email to

“This test is part of our continuing effort to combat the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in Oklahoma,” said Terrainia Harris, director of the Sexual Health and Harm Reduction Service. “The more quickly we can get people tested and get people who test positive connected to the care they need, the quicker we can get control of this epidemic.”

The OraQuick In-Home rapid tests are made available through the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, launched in 2019 to reduce HIV infections in the United States by 90 percent by the year 2030. The initiative identified Oklahoma as one of seven states with the highest rural burden of HIV and provides resources and strategies critical to combatting the spread of the virus. 

The CDC recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime, and at least once a year if a person partakes in activities that might increase their risk.

People who test regularly are aware of their HIV status and can access HIV treatment and care more quickly and remain healthy for many years and possible their entire life. 

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) protects and improves public health through its system of local health services and strategies focused on preventing disease. OSDH provides technical support and guidance to 68 county health departments in Oklahoma, as well as guidance and consultation to the two independent city-county health departments in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Learn more at

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is moving to Phase 3 in the JYNNEOS vaccine rollout beginning Monday, Sept. 19th.

Those newly eligible include:

Persons with an HIV diagnosis
Any man who has sex with men and has had a syphilis diagnosis within the last 12 months
Persons in a high-risk occupation, such as, sex professionals or persons who exchange sex for drugs, money, housing, or safety
Partners of individuals meeting criteria for PEP++
Women who are currently having sexual contact with a person who identifies as gay, a bisexual man, or a man who has sex with men
Healthcare workers providing direct patient care to persons who may be infected with monkeypox
Urgent care providers who provide direct patient care
Emergency room providers who provide direct patient care
Laboratory workers working with monkeypox specimens
Healthcare workers diagnosing and/or treating patients with STIs

“We feel confident we have enough JYNNEOS vaccine in the state to offer the opportunity for vaccination to more Oklahomans,” said Jolianne Stone, the State’s Epidemiologist. “We encourage those who are eligible to contact their trusted healthcare provider if they have any questions.”

Since the FDA approved an alternative dosing approach to increase the amount of available doses in each vial, one to now four to five doses, the state’s supply has greatly increased.

If an individual believes they meet the vaccine criteria they can contact their local county health department, call 211 option 8 or talk with their trusted healthcare provider.

For more information on monkeypox or to view the full list of criteria, visit Monkeypox (

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) protects and improves public health through its system of local health services and strategies focused on preventing disease. OSDH provides technical support and guidance to 68 county health departments in Oklahoma, as well as guidance and consultation to the two independent city-county health departments in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Learn more at

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Legislative Diabetes Caucus is partnering with the Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI) and Diabetes Solutions of Oklahoma to host a statewide blood drive to raise awareness for diabetes. Caucus co-chairs Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Eddy Dempsey, R-Valliant, said the “Mission Express: Turn Blue for Diabetes” statewide blood drive is taking place through Friday, Sept. 16 and will provide an opportunity to address two of the state’s critical health needs.

“We wanted to partner with the Oklahoma Blood Institute to help raise awareness of this common blood disease that affects nearly one in eight Oklahomans while also helping increase our state’s blood supply,” Hicks said. “Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, nontraumatic lower-limb amputations and blindness but in most cases it’s preventable or at least treatable, so it’s important that we help educate Oklahomans every way possible. We’re grateful to the OBI for partnering with us to help spread the word.”

The Mission Express blood drive is the first of several special events leading up to World Diabetes Day on Monday, Nov. 14.

Dempsey, a Type 2 diabetic, was appointed as the caucus’ new co-chair last month.

“I’m pleased to be serving as caucus co-chair with Senator Hicks. Having dealt with diabetes most of my life, I know how important a healthy lifestyle and having access to proper health care are to managing the condition,” Dempsey said. “Unfortunately, many Oklahomans don’t understand the disease or how to improve their quality of life and prevent unnecessary health complications and even death. Events like this blood drive are crucial to getting the word out and helping reach more citizens. We hope all Oklahomans will join us as we turn blue for diabetes.”

Participants can go to any OBI location and let staff know they want to donate for Diabetes Solutions of Oklahoma. To find the nearest OBI facility to you, visit

OKLAHOMA CITY – September is Infant Mortality Awareness Month. Since the launch of a statewide program in 2007, Oklahoma’s infant mortality rate (IMR) has decreased by nearly 20 percent according to statistics from the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

The IMR was 8.2 per 1,000 live births in 2005-2007, but dropped to 6.6 in 2019-2021.

“This means over 75 more babies a year in Oklahoma get to spend their first birthday with their families!” said Joyce Marshall, director of Maternal and Child Health Service at OSDH. “Oklahoma continues to take positive steps to decrease infant deaths through the work of many dedicated partners, individuals and families.”

This accomplishment is the result of multiple programs including Preparing for a Lifetime: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility, a statewide infant mortality reduction program initiated over a decade ago. The initiative includes numerous strategies designed to improve birth outcomes and reduce disparities for Oklahoma’s mothers and babies. Key messages include:

  • Being healthy before, during and between pregnancies to improve the chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
  • Encouraging women of reproductive age to take a multivitamin daily containing 400 mcg of folic acid to help prevent birth defects – the #1 cause of infant death in Oklahoma.
  • Achieving a full-term pregnancy and breastfeeding to offer a baby the best start in life - prematurity is a leading cause of infant death in Oklahoma, and breastfeeding initiation significantly reduces odds of infant deaths.
  • Recognizing the signs and getting help for maternal mood disorders, which includes postpartum depression (PPD).
  • Placing baby alone on their back to sleep in a safe crib and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke to decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Knowing how to prevent leading causes of injury, such as correctly installing infant car seats, to keep baby safe and secure.
  • Learning what to do if the baby will not stop crying to help prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome.

“As we continue to improve in critical areas such as breastfeeding, smoking, infant safe sleep practices and prenatal care, we are encouraged by the reduction in infant mortality,” Marshall said. “We acknowledge that there is still work to be done, but we are pleased that more Oklahoma babies are surviving through their first year of life.”

To learn more about Preparing for a Lifetime: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility, please visit

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) protects and improves public health through its system of local health services and strategies focused on preventing disease. OSDH provides technical support and guidance to 68 county health departments in Oklahoma, as well as guidance and consultation to the two independent city-county health departments in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Learn more at

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) wants to remind Oklahomans of steps they can take to protect themselves from West Nile Virus (WNV).

Recently, OSDH’s Mosquito Surveillance Program has detected positive WNV pools in Muskogee County and LeFlore County. Multiple weeks of detection, in two different counties, is an indicator that WNV activity is present in the state. OSDH was also notified recently of a WNV infection detected through blood donor screening in a resident of East Central Oklahoma.

In June, OSDH reported the first human case, and death of 2022, caused by the virus in a Central Oklahoma resident. The patient was hospitalized before passing away.

WNV spreads through the bite of an infected mosquito. In Oklahoma, WNV is primarily spread by the Culex mosquito, which feeds on infected birds and then spreads the virus when biting humans, horses, and some other mammals.

This type of mosquito increases in abundance during mid to late summer when temperatures are high, and the weather pattern is dry.

“We wanted to share this information to make Oklahomans aware that WNV is in the state,” said Jolianne Stone, the State Epidemiologist. “With current temperatures in Oklahoma, we know people are participating in outdoor activities which leads to increased opportunities for encountering infected mosquitoes.”

OSDH officials are reminding the public to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites.

Tips to avoid mosquito bites and prevent WNV:

  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin and clothing when going outdoors, particularly between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are more likely to bite. Insect repellent with permethrin should be used on clothing only.
  • Repair or install window and door screens to keep mosquitoes out of the home.
  • Prevent items such as buckets, cans, pool covers, flowerpots, children’s toys and tires from holding water to prevent providing mosquitoes a place to breed.
  • Empty pet’s outdoor water bowl and refill daily.
  • Scrub and refill bird baths every three days.
  • Clean leaves and debris from rain gutters regularly to ensure they are not clogged.

While the vast majority of individuals with WNV will likely never experience symptoms following an infection, those with symptoms, are often mild and may include sudden fever, headache, dizziness or muscle weakness.

Recovery typically occurs within one to three weeks.

People older than 50 years, diabetics, or those experiencing uncontrolled hypertension are at a greater risk of developing severe neurologic disease from WNV infection. When the disease affects the nervous system, it can cause confusion or disorientation, loss of consciousness, paralysis, neck stiffness or coma.

Long lasting complications of WNV disease can include difficulty concentrating, migraines, headaches, extreme muscle weakness and tremors, and paralysis of a limb. There is no vaccine or treatment drug for this illness. The best defense is taking steps to avoid mosquito bites.

For more information including historical reported cases, visit the OSDH website at OSDH West Nile Virus and view the OSDH WNV Fact Sheet.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) protects and improves public health through its system of local health services and strategies focused on preventing disease. OSDH provides technical support and guidance to 68 county health departments in Oklahoma, as well as guidance and consultation to the two independent city-county health departments in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Learn more at

September 1, 2022 -- September is a noteworthy month for the Payne Family of Michigan. September 4th is PKD (Polycystic Kidney Disease) Awareness Day and the entire month of September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. While these awareness-raising days may not seem to be related, they are completely intertwined for this family who was dealt the blow of both kidney disease and liver cancer with their firstborn daughter.

Emily and Zack Payne were ecstatic when they found out they were pregnant with their first child. But what the young couple anticipated would be a normal pregnancy and delivery turned out to be anything but. At the 20-week mark in the pregnancy, they were in disbelief when they were told the child Emily was carrying would be born in kidney failure. Adding to their disbelief was being told numerous times the baby Emily was carrying would likely not survive.

Their daughter, Rilynn, was born in January 2017 and diagnosed with Recessive Polycystic Kidney Disease (ARPKD) upon her arrival. Due to the ARPKD diagnosis, the newborn had both of her kidneys removed when she was just a week old. Once Rilynn beat the odds and arrived, their next emotional struggle was not being able to hold their precious fighter until she was six days old. Emily and Zack were immediately thrust into parenting a medically-complicated newborn who required 18 hours of dialysis a day, weekly labs, feeding therapy, physical therapy and numerous medical appointments. In addition, at birth Rilynn was placed on two ventilators because her lungs were so compromised; Rilynn remained in the NICU for 95 days.

“Rilynn’s diagnosis brought so many emotions and fear … one being the financial aspect of raising a child who would need constant care, numerous hospital stays, countless medications and eventually a life-saving transplant,” Emily said. “Zack and I never planned on being a one-income household and I still remember the months of despair and agony as we tried to figure out how to make this work. My maternity leave was over before Rilynn was released from the NICU … in a hospital that was two hours away from our home. We had to make a difficult decision that ‘my job’ would be caring for Rilynn.”

During the long inpatient stay with Rilynn, Emily constantly worried about the cost of the highly specialized care their little infant was receiving. She also wondered about the cost of the kidney transplant that was undoubtedly in Rilynn’s future. A transplant social worker at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor suggested they consider reaching out to the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) to learn more about how they might be able to help ease some of the young family’s stress. Emily called COTA in October 2017 to learn more about fundraising for transplant-related expenses. Just two days later their agreement arrived at COTA’s Indiana headquarters, and the Payne family officially became part of the COTA Family.

The Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) uniquely understands that parents who care for a child or young adult before, during and after a life-saving transplant have enough to deal with, so COTA’s model shifts the responsibility for fundraising to a team of trained volunteers. COTA is a 501(c)3 charity so all contributions to COTA are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law, and COTA funds are available for a lifetime.

Later in October 2017, a COTA fundraising specialist travelled to Michigan and trained the family’s volunteers so fundraising for transplant-related expenses could get underway. The COTA staff member shared information about COTA’s fundraising process, fundraising templates, guidance and support, and the no-cost website they would be provided. COTA for Rilynn P was launched and the website was immediately available for online donations for transplant-related expenses.

Utilizing the COTA-provided website to update their friends and families, Emily wrote several detailed blogs about Rilynn’s ‘ups and downs.’ On November 17, 2017, Emily titled her COT

A Blog “From Worrier to Warrior” and here are a few highlights:

Tonight, as I was scrolling through Facebook I stumbled upon a new mom’s post, and I clicked to see what it was all about. Her writing was captivating, and I kept scrolling to hear her openly confess to the anxiety nobody told her about when having a child. I felt tears in my eyes and I had to stop reading. I longed for those issues to be what kept me up at night. I wished my baby could have been breast fed instead of being tube fed. I felt sorry for myself as I scooped Rilynn up to take her vitals before I had to hook her up for dialysis. She had been asleep, but like every other night I had to tip toe her onto the scale and get her weight. She is less than three pounds away from the minimum requirement to get a kidney transplant. We headed into our room and tried multiple times to get her blood pressure. She is such a trooper. This girl is so patient as that cuff squeezes her so tightly that it often times pops right off her arm. 91/53. I smile knowing that is a perfect blood pressure and dialysis is set up to match. I literally have to decide how much fluid to take off my child. I have to be her kidneys. I have to do it right. Based on Rilynn's blood pressure and how she looks (puffy, sunken in, etc.) we have to choose which dialysis strength to use. As I put on my mask and gloves to connect her, I hear what sounds like a big blow out. We both smile and I laugh thinking at least I have this mask on. We laugh and smile more than most families do. Rilynn does not even know she has no kidneys. I am lucky enough to have the strength to not be anxious and to be proud.

After many nights of at-home dialysis with Mom and Dad at the helm, Rilynn eventually met the requirements to qualify for a kidney transplant. Emily and Zack were overjoyed that a living donor had been found who was a perfect match and was willing to give their daughter a second chance at life. Rilynn’s kidney transplant date was set for September 12, 2018, and the relief they felt once the transplant plans were in place was palpable.

“With the amazing help and guidance from COTA, our volunteer team organized successful fundraisers for transplant-related expenses, and it felt like another huge burden was lifted from our shoulders,” Emily said. “Our volunteers were able to reach the $60,000 goal set by COTA in a short amount of time. And in that moment of celebration and appreciation, we had absolutely no idea how incredibly important COTA was going to be to our family when Rilynn’s transplant journey took several unanticipated turns.”

A major unanticipated turn happened on August 10, 2018, when everything turned upside down for the Payne family. Emily remembers standing at the kitchen sink with tears rolling down her face, holding the telephone in a state of disbelief as Rilynn’s doctor said they had found cancer. Their baby … their precious Rilynn … had stage 4 hepatoblastoma, or liver cancer. Rilynn’s kidney transplant had to be cancelled and instead they found themselves back inpatient starting chemotherapy on their 15-month-old baby. After a few rounds of chemotherapy, it was determined the treatment was not effective in Rilynn’s case. The family’s only remaining option was a liver transplant.

Emily remembered, “We waited and waited and waited. The waiting was the hardest part -- watching your child deteriorate, lose her hair, lose weight and have no energy while you sit there hopelessly watching and waiting. But nine months and 17 rounds of toxic chemo later, Rilynn received the greatest gift ever in June 2019 … a new liver from a little boy named, Jackson.” Rilynn was declared cancer free that December. While the news was the perfect Christmas gift for this family, it did come with a downside. Because of the major surgery that was required to give Rilynn a new liver, she was no longer able to do dialysis at home (peritoneal) as Emily and Zack had hooked her up to every night since her newborn hospital stay. Instead, Rilynn had to be placed on hemodialysis that required the family to drive two hours one way for her to receive the four-hour treatment at the transplant center. They would need to make this trip four times a week until she was able to be listed for a desperately needed kidney transplant.

In the midst of the many two-hours trips from their home in Gobles to the transplant center in Ann Arbor, Emily and Zack were surprised to learn Rilynn had a little sister on the way whose due date was April 2020. It was becoming increasingly urgent that Rilynn receive her new kidney prior to the new baby being born so the family of four could hopefully be under the same roof … in the same town … and not have to worry about hemodialysis trips any longer.

To that end, Emily and Zack were told Rilynn could be reevaluated for her kidney transplant in January 2020. But their matched donor was no longer available to give Rilynn her kidney. Another gift? A second living donor who had read about the family’s journey in local media coverage stepped forward to be tested. She was miraculously a match. But in January when the transplant could start moving forward, Rilynn developed a serious case of whooping cough, which postponed her kidney transplant again … this time until March 2020. And just when plans for Rilynn’s living donor kidney transplant were falling into place, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Michigan hard; Rilynn’s kidney transplant was postponed once again.

After another potential childhood cancer scare was put to rest following a bone marrow biopsy that came back negative, Rilynn was finally able to be scheduled for her living donor kidney transplant on October 27, 2020. Emily says she and Zack will be forever grateful to their real life donor angel, Tabitha – a stranger who was a perfect match for Rilynn.

The Community Coordinator of the COTA for Rilynn P fundraising effort was Rilynn’s grandmother, Heidi. After Rilynn received her new kidney, Grandma Heidi Keister said, “This should be our last major surgery. Rilynn is really looking forward to eating all the things she could not before and being able to drink water and getting in the bathtub and going swimming. These are things she has never done before. This transplant is totally going to change her life and make her feel so much better.” As the head of the COTA for Rilynn P fundraising effort, Grandma Heidi made and sold her homemade candles via Rilynn Rose Candle & Co. to raise funds for transplant-related expenses. Her efforts, as well as the many other fundraisers the COTA team organized, have been extremely appreciated by the Payne family.

Emily and Zack remember feeling overwhelmed when COTA’s online transplant expense calculator suggested a goal of $60,000. But when their amazing team of volunteers quickly surpassed that goal and raised more than $71,000, they were overwhelmed and filled with gratitude. Emily explained that due to the extended dialysis and the unanticipated liver transplant necessitated by Rilynn’s cancer diagnosis, their family’s journey was unique in many ways. She speaks highly of how COTA’s team of professionals worked to help streamline the family’s reimbursement process because of several complications with Rilynn’s medical diagnoses and treatments. COTA funds can also be used for living donor expenses, which is something else for which the Payne family is extremely grateful.

Rilynn is doing great, Emily said. She just celebrated her third liver transplant anniversary in June and will celebrate her second kidney transplant anniversary in October. The really big news is that Rilynn just started Kindergarten.

“Throughout all of these months of turmoil and unexpected diagnoses, absolutely nothing mattered more than keeping our daughter alive and being together as a family,” Emily said. “We gained the most important thing in the world -- our daughter’s life, but at the same time we nearly lost everything else. Trying to juggle the nonstop medical bills, endless time off work, four-hour commute to and from dialysis, prescriptions and hospital stays nearly destroyed us financially. The successful COTA for Rilynn P fundraising effort saved us. None of us plan to have a child who has to travel a long and expensive transplant journey. COTA continues to allow us to breathe a sigh of relief knowing ongoing transplant-related expenses will be taken care of now … and for a lifetime.”

Editor’s Note: Rilynn’s Grandma Heidi is a true COTA Miracle Maker. She is now making and selling her beautiful candles via Rilynn Rose Candle & Co. as COTA fundraisers in honor of other COTA transplant kids, teens and young adults. Grandma Heidi is thrilled to be giving back in this way in recognition of Rilynn now being able to read books, swing on her swing set, play with her little sister Hallie and her bunnies, and finally take baths and go on long walks.

In 2012, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation that September would be, then and always, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is not just for those children who are fighting this horrible disease but also for those who have lost that fight … and their families. This month raises awareness not just of the epidemic that is childhood cancer, but also of the effects is has on the family that is fighting it right along with the child they love and cherish. PKD Awareness Day on September 4th each year is a day dedicated to educating and inspiring friends, families and communities to learn more about Polycystic Kidney Disease. ARPKD is a rare genetic disorder affecting approximately 1 in 25,000 children, like Rilynn Payne.

For more information about the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA), or to find a COTA family in your area, please email


Sunday, 28 August 2022 08:20

International Overdose Awareness Day

International Overdose Awareness Day is August 31st, observed annually to recognize the prevalence of overdose deaths. The LeFlore County Coalition for Healthy Living encourages this day to be one of remembrance, education, and hope. This day is used to educate the public about drug overdose, remember the lives of people lost to drug overdoses, reduce stigma surrounding drug-related deaths, and promote actionable prevention efforts.

Drug addictions do not discriminate, and overdoses can affect people from all backgrounds, in every part of the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s most recent Annual Drug Report, nearly half a million people around the world died as a result of drug use in 2019. Data from the Oklahoma State Department, Injury Prevention Services, reveals that between the years of 2016 - 2020 there were more than 3,300 Oklahomans who died of an unintentional drug overdose, and 38 of these deaths occurred in LeFlore County.

Longtime coalition member, Robbie Mullens, who is the director of the Southeast Oklahoma Community Based Prevention Services, says, “Overdose and overdose deaths are preventable with preparedness, education, and community care.”

International Overdose Awareness Day is a “Time to Remember, Time to Act.

  • Educate yourself about drug overdose
  • Share helpful overdose information on social media
  • Know and recognize the signs and symptoms of an overdose
  • Carry Naloxone
  • Help find treatment or care for someone who is struggling with substance use disorder

The LeFlore County Coalition for Healthy Living is working to develop and sustain a progressive safe, healthy, and fun community and all community members are encouraged and welcome to become more involved. The coalition meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 11:30 am at Carl Albert State College, Costner- Balentine Student Center, 2nd Floor. To stay informed on coalition initiatives and activities, like and follow the LeFlore County Coalition for Healthy Living Facebook page @LCCOHL

For more information on International Overdose Awareness Day, visit, or contact Southeast Oklahoma Community Based Prevention Services, a partnership of Valliant Public Schools, funded by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

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