Carissa Renee Haston, age 45, of New Cumberland, PA passed away peacefully on Wednesday, March 22, 2023, surrounded by her Mom and Dad, two sisters, Faith and Celeste, and Faith’s husband, Ben. She was born on October 28, 1977, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Wayne and Sharon (McCoy) Haston. She was preceded in death by her grandparents, Boyd and Mary Ruth Haston and Ralph and Katherine McCoy.
In addition to her parents, she is survived by her sisters, Faith Barrett (Ben) of Manheim, PA, and Celeste Martzall (John) of Mableton, GA; nieces and nephews, Kyrie, Davis, Katrina, Truett, Nolan, Ezri, and Ember; many aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who loved her dearly.
Carissa grew up in the Chattanooga area and graduated from Grace Academy in 1996. In spite of a severe illness, she graduated in four years from Messiah University, earning a Bachelor of Science degree with a Fine Arts major.
She was a very energetic child and felt more comfortable in jeans or cargo pants than in prissy dresses. As a kid, she caught toad frogs and climbed trees, and she never outgrew her love for tree climbing. Her Papa Haston teased her and called her “Pet Monkey.” She loved to eat and was usually the last person to leave the dinner table. But her high metabolism burned off the calories, so she was always slender.
Prior to her junior year of high school, she began to experience a loss of appetite which was highly unusual for her. Digestive problems then began to affect her. Eventually, her Mom found a physician who was able to diagnose her problem. It was determined that her stomach was paralyzed, a condition known as gastroparesis. The root cause was never determined, but her condition continued to worsen. In 1996, she was patient number eight in an experimental stomach pacemaker study with the hopes of stimulating her stomach to function more appropriately, however, it failed to produce desired results. Not long after that, she experienced a couple of “out-of-body experiences” in which she may have temporarily died. In between those two experiences, she passed out while opening the garage door and quit breathing for several minutes. Her breathing did not begin again until after the paramedics arrived, but remarkably the experience left no permanent damage.
For many years, Carissa survived through feedings administered either intravenously or directly into the small intestine by a jejunostomy tube (J-tube) and a feeding pump. But when that became an inadequate solution, only one option remained. Carissa learned that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center had developed a fairly new stomach transplant surgery and so she pursued it. After waiting with her Mom for more than a year in Pittsburgh, 200 miles from home, a nine-year-old boy’s organs became available and in the depths of their grief, his family gave her the Gift of Life. On March 13, 2006, she underwent a five-organ transplant--stomach, pancreas, liver, small bowel, and duodenum. Despite many ups and downs, trips to emergency departments, and lengthy hospital stays, she lived seventeen years with those transplanted organs. But Carissa enjoyed many good days and months during those seventeen years and experienced many miracles along the way! Nine days after celebrating her Seventeenth Transplant Anniversary, God called her home.
Carissa was an amazing young woman. Due to the scarcity of information on gastroparesis at the time, she began her own research. She began sharing information on a personal website, which became known as her “Monkey Girl” site, where she wrote about gastroparesis, her story, and where she began advocating for patient access to a medication that had given her relief at times, as that medication was not available in the United States. Out of that site came a Yahoo! Support Group she began on September 12, 2000, for patients with gastroparesis, as so many had begun to find her story and were reaching out to connect. Later, her work moved to newer forms of social media and various websites. She became well-known as a reliable source of medical information on the subject. Medical personnel began to contact her with questions. She was invited to medical conferences as a speaker to share her experiences and knowledge of gastroparesis and related diseases. On August 23, 2001, Carissa founded a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, G-PACT (Gastroparesis Patients Association for Cures and Treatments), and led that organization as long as she was physically able.
She was a very gifted writer and wrote extensively about her health conditions and experiences, as well as her faith. Anyone who followed her on social media knows about her prolific writings on Facebook and other sites. Some of her articles were even published in medical magazines over the years.
In 2002 she was the honored recipient of Messiah University’s Young Alumnus of the Year Award for her work as an advocate for research and awareness of gastrointestinal (GI tract) diseases.
Once Carissa’s transplant journey began, she became a strong advocate for organ donations. The Gift of Life she received allowed her to live an additional 17 years, which ultimately was more than a third of her life. She consistently encouraged everyone around her to give the Gift of Life to preserve the life of someone’s dying loved one. In her memory, please consider becoming an organ donor.
Carissa trusted Jesus Christ as her personal Savior as a young child. Her faith was strengthened as she progressed through the 29 years of her illness. She was bold and clear about her blessed hope of spending eternity in heaven and focused on that Biblical subject in her final earthly years. She desired that her friends understand these Biblical truths in which her faith and eternal hope were rooted:
Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
John 1:12 But to all who believed him [Jesus Christ] and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.
Visitation will be from 11:00 a.m. until a Celebration of Carissa’s Life which will begin at 12:00 noon (Eastern Time), Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at Parthemore Funeral Home in New Cumberland, PA. Please honor her request to dress casually in bright clothing for her Celebration of Life memorial service. That’s what she wanted.
Graveside services, including some memorial time, will be held beginning at 2:00 p.m. (Central Time) on April 1 in the Old Union Cemetery, near Sparta, TN.
Carissa served for several years as a library assistant at the New Cumberland Public Library. She loved books, some years reading more than 100 books during the year. And she loved encouraging others to read. The hours she spent at the New Cumberland Public Library brought her tremendous joy and her desire to return to working there always inspired her to recover during times she was hospitalized. She was passionate about her work in the library, her coworkers, and her many patron friends.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are requested to be directed to the New Cumberland Public Library, 1 Benjamin Plaza, New Cumberland, PA 17070 where books will be purchased and added to the library’s collection in her memory.