“It means a lot to get this scholarship. It, again, shows me and reminds me of my relationship with the Coast Guard, and my appreciation for the service from a personal and a professional level.”
Coast Guard Foundation 2015 Enlisted Reserve Scholar Heather Cote was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2013 forcing her to withdraw from school; today she has made a full recovery and is back studying with the goal to help those diagnosed with the disease.
The Coast Guard Foundation provided more than $400,000 in scholarships in 2015, and thanks to the generosity of the United Services Automobile Association (USAA), we sponsored eight $1,000 higher education scholarships for enlisted Coast Guard reservists and their family members.
One of these awardees is Heather Cote from Windham, Maine, whose husband Matt is a Coast Guard Reservist in Sector Northern New England. Matt has been a member of the Coast Guard Reserve for 10 years, after serving in the United States Marines Corp for 5 years. He joined the Coast Guard Reserve because of the deep love he holds for his country and community.
But in June 2013, the Cote family’s world was turned upside down with the news that Heather was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. This discovery caught Heather, aged 27 at the time, her family, and even her doctors by surprise.
Heather had enrolled in her second semester at the University of Southern Maine just weeks before and was studying to become an elementary school teacher. This diagnosis forced her to immediately withdraw from classes, and begin a grueling treatment process that included dialysis three days a week, four hours at a time, coupled with a complex drug regimen.
Coast Guard Sector Northern New England was there for the Cote family throughout her treatment. Matt’s department sent flowers to the hospital, and the base held several fundraisers raising a total of $5,000 to help with the cost of being out of work, and the life-long drugs Heather will be on.
Heather Cote, Matthew and son Matthew Jr at promotion in July 2014.
After months of emotional and physical difficulty on Heather and her family, there was only one outcome for her to achieve a normal life again: a kidney transplant.
“Lucky for me, my father, my mother, and my husband were all great matches,” said Heather, who in February 2014 was placed on the transplant fast-track list.
In June 2014, exactly one year after being diagnosed, and at the peak of the disease, Heather was called for the surgery. The doctors at Maine Medical Center decided that Heather’s mother would be the best match, and wanted to save Matt’s kidney for later down the road in the event that she required a second transplant.
My mother didn’t second-guess her decision to donate a kidney to me. She was honored to give me life for a second time.
Heather says the Coast Guard’s support over the past couple of years has been greatly appreciated and will never be forgotten.
“From the moment I was admitted to the hospital in 2013 to the moment I received my new kidney, and the months after my transplant, the Coast Guard all came together to support my family,” she said. “They said it was something they wanted to do, and would do for anyone in their Coast Guard family that is in need.”
Heather returned to college in the fall of 2014 after making a full recovery and decided to change her direction and focus. Heather’s goal now is to become a licensed clinical social worker at the Maine Transplant Program and help those who are suffering with kidney disease. “I feel as though my past and my story could help inspire others to overcome the disease as I did,” she says.
Heather reports that the support from the Foundation and USAA is not only helping financially with the cost of tuition, but motivating her to continue working hard, even on the days when she feels challenged for attempting a degree with the demands of being a wife and mother.
“It means a lot to get this scholarship,” she said. “It, again, shows me and reminds me of my relationship with the Coast Guard, and my appreciation for the service from a personal and a professional level.”
“I hope that I can keep my dad's words of wisdom with me forever; that I remember the lessons he taught me, and the most important one being after his death: that you hold your head high and you love, unconditionally.”