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A Heart for Scholars

Honoring the Organ Donor Who Saved My Life
Dusty and Vicki Rhoades
Dusty and Vicki Rhoades

In April 1994, I was 47 years old and dying of a heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I was very sick and could not leave the hospital. I would either receive a heart transplant or die at Fairfax Inova Hospital waiting for one, and I would be the organ donor. Because Leslie Rickerson Kotsalas ’80 made the decision to donate her organs upon her death, and then her family honored her wishes on the most tragic day of their lives, I am alive today. I received Leslie’s heart.

I went from dying to renewed hope and renewed life because of Leslie’s decision. As a result, I had an overwhelming need to know about the wonderful person who chose to make another person’s life possible, even as she was dying. Eventually, through anonymous letters via the Washington Regional Transplant Consortium, I was
able to connect with Leslie’s husband and then her mother. After a time, we exchanged names and then phone numbers.

My husband, Dusty, and I learned from Leslie’s mother, Caroline, that the family had established the Leslie Rickerson Kotsalas Endowed Scholarship at Montgomery
College. Leslie’s experience at Montgomery College was special to her, so Leslie’s family honored her by helping others pursue their educational goals at the College. Dusty first started making donations to the scholarship fund on my birthday in December, but for the last few years, he has made the donation in April, the month that Leslie gave me a second chance at life.

Contributing to the scholarship in Leslie’s name has been a way for us to continue to honor Leslie’s generous and selfless act of becoming an organ and tissue donor.
The scholarship helps others to fulfill their dreams and live more fully, which is a wonderful tribute to Leslie.

I have tried to live a meaningful life to honor Leslie’s gift. Living well with purpose and intention is my personal tribute to her. Any good that I do in my life, she is also doing. Leslie’s gift has reinforced my belief that we are all connected in ways we can never truly understand, and that love and goodness are timeless. Her beautiful spirit lives on.

The Leslie Rickerson Kotzalas Memorial Scholarship was established on March 16, 1999. To date, 27 students have benefitted from receiving Leslie’s scholarship, which is designated for students with financial need, students with a handicap or disability, or students who are single parents. Dusty and Vicki Rhoades have been supporting the scholarship since 2003. To support the Leslie Rickerson Kotsalas Scholarship, visit, click on the scholarship drop-down menu, and type Kotsalas under “Other.”