The Life of Carissa Haston - Her Joys, Sufferings, & Faith

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's Joys

Carissa was always a very active fun-loving girl.  She loved this old three-wheeler.  Look at those tires!

Her big sister Faith loved Carissa from the time she was born until she breathed her last breath.  Boots, our German Shepherd loved her too.  I sure hope our pets will be in heaven with us!  Boots was a remarkable–very intelligent and loving dog.  The photo on the right is of Carissa at age 5.  Isn’t she cute?!

Because she became ill as a mid-teen, Carissa never married and did not enjoy the blessing of motherhood, but her cabbage patch doll was very special to her.  Later, she became “Mommy” to a sequence of guinea pigs.  Here she is in the third grade with her first little furry pet.  I (Dad) will never forget how heart broken she was when this little piggy passed away.  But she soon cheered up when she very quickly found another guinea pig to love on.  Unfortunately, our dear Carissa can never be replaced here on earth.  But we will see her sweet smiles again.

Little girls grow up to be big girls.  Although our family moved to Pennsylvania as Carissa was going into her senior year of high school, her previous school–Grace Academy–in Chattanooga made it possible for her to graduate with her senior class in 1996.  

Carissa enrolled in Messiah University (Grantham, PA) in the fall of 1996 as an art major.  By that time, she was on nutritional support through a J-tube into her small intestine and was carrying a feeding pump, but she finished college in four years and graduated with her Class of 2000.  

Here we are (Mom, Celeste, Carissa, Faith, Davis, Kyrie, and Dad) at Carissa’s college senior art show.  She poured many hours into her show–a display of artwork she created to highlight health struggles and physical limitations of young people that she admired for their perseverance in spite of their physical limitations.

A year after her graduation from college, she was the recipient of Messiah University’s Young Alumnus of the Year Award, for her work founding a non-profit organization, Gastroparesis Patients Association for Cures and Treatments (G-PACT).

Carissa loved stuffed animals and had dozens of them.  

She met Mike and Darla Johnson while working as a volunteer in the Kid’s Ministry Department of LCBC (Lives Changed By Christ) Church.  She was one of the 200 or so seed members sent out by the main campus in Mannheim, PA to start the Harrisburg, PA campus.  That was the first campus extension of LCBC.  Now there are more than a dozen other campuses.  She helped pioneer the extension of LCBC Mannheim, PA through multiple campuses.  

Carissa put in a lot of time helping the group prepare for its Harrisburg campus opening, as well as special events early in the ministry of LCBC Harrisburg.  She enjoyed the ministry of LCBC as long as she was able to drive across the city to attend there.

She was a funny girl.  She got in a tugging war with this local cow, but I think the cow eventually won.


Here she is with Mom, Dad, and her nephew Nolan when he was just a tot.  Her friends hosted this special G-PACT Day for her.

Carissa loved being outside on pretty days.  Her friend and caregiver, Wendy, would take her to the local parks so she could get some exercise and enjoy God’s creation.

Carissa was an excellent writer and often shared her stories of suffering and medical experiences through writing.  Some of her articles were published in medical magazines.  She also was invited to medical conferences to share her experiences as well as medical insights.  She enjoyed meeting Joni Eareckson Tada.  

Carissa loved her lapis blue Jeep.  She called him “Blue Lightening.”  She enjoyed having the top down on the Jeep and driving the backroads near our home and along Yellow Breeches Creek while blasting Christian songs and music by Enya.  

See!  I told you she was a fun-loving girl.  She charted her own course in life, sometimes causing Mom and Dad to roll their eyes occasionally, but we were just happy to see her happy.  But within her bounds of enjoying life, she kept her focus on Jesus Christ, her Lord and Savior.  More about that coming up.


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. 

Here Carissa is with Dad and Mom in a pre-transplant orientation.  We were told then that she would be tethered to the transplant department of Montefiore Hospital (part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) for the rest of her life.  Little did we know how true that was.  It was there that Carissa passed away.  Many of the doctors and nurses knew her well, after treating her for nearly 20 years.  She was special to all of them. 
While Carissa and Mom were living in Pittsburg, waiting for organs, they met Karis Kornfield and her mother, Debbi.  Carissa and Karis were about the same age and were both committed followers of Jesus.  Karis had already gone through one multiple organ transplant that had failed.  Carissa and Karis became close friends.  Unfortunately, Karis passed away several years before Carissa.

Sharon and Carissa waited in Pittsburgh for about 15 months before suitable organs became available from a nine-year-old boy.

Here she is a few months or so prior to her transplant.  From her usual 110 pounds, she was down to 62 pounds.  Her liver was beginning to fail and she was turning yellowish-green.  The above photo was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  One of the reporters of that newspaper, who had medical problems himself, took an interest in Carissa and published a couple of stories about her.  He was planning to publish a post-transplant story, but he died before creating and publishing the third story. 

She needed five organs: stomach, liver, pancreas, small intestines, and duodenum.  All five of those organs came from the same donor.  But we were never allowed to know the name of the donor.   

Compare this pre-transplant photo (above) with the two post-transplant photos below.  Hopefully, it will convince you to become an organ donor.  That little boy’s life gave Carissa seventeen more years of life.  Donate Life

But, post-transplant life had its ups and downs.  She was rushed to a hospital many times over the past 17 years, with numerous extended hospital stays and countless (to us) nights in the Emergency Department of Hershey Medical Center.  But by God’s grace, she enjoyed many days, weeks, and even months of relatively normal life.  And God used her greatly to help other gastroparesis patients, as well as to be a bold witness for Jesus.

Carissa's Faith and Eternal Hope

Carissa grew up in a Christian home.  Dad was a seminary professor and pastor.  Mom was a Christian school teacher.  She attended church, Sunday school, children’s church, Christian school, and earned awards in the church’s AWANA program for memorizing Scripture, etc.  Very early in her life she put her trust is Jesus to be her Savior.  Due to some social struggles in junior high and high school and the demise of her health, her spiritual zeal waned.

When she recovered from the transplant, she said, “Dad, I want to sort of restart my Christian walk with Jesus.”  Will you take me through The Story of Hope, a book that I (Dad) wrote which has been translated into 40+ languages..  We did those studies and from that point on, Carissa was solidly rooted in her faith in God and God’s Son, Jesus.

Even though she had been baptized when she was a kid, she wanted to be baptized again after her recovery from the transplant.

After studying The Story of Hope, Carissa said The Story of Hope helped her to clearly understand the overall story of the Bible better even than all of those years in Sunday school, Christian school, and all of the other Bible learning experiences she had participated in throughout her life.

Carissa knew that her earthly life would not extend to a typical lifespan.  So, she was always thinking about how she could help her friends know the same eternal hope that gave her peace as she faced the possibility of death and eternity every moment of her life. 

She insisted that I (Dad) make you aware of this Bible study book.  It was one of her strongest requests.  That’s why it appears here.

Be sure to get this 2016 (64 pages) edition.

The following comments came to me this morning (3/26/2023) from a cousin-friend who knows by experience, what she says.  At age 3 she was killed by a family member–she was physically abused to the point her back was broken. 

She died and went to a blissful place, which she still vividly remembers (as a mother and grandmother) as is described below.  She remembers looking down and seeing her broken body lying on the floor.  But what she saw and experienced in the place where she was is too wonderful for her ever to forget!

She had never been to church and did not know about Jesus or heaven, but she was lovingly received by a man she later learned must have been Jesus.  She was so excited and happy that she wanted to stay with him in this blissful place, but the man (Jesus) told her he wanted her to return to where she came from because he had a purpose for her there. 

Her older sister had been riding a church bus to a local church for some time, long enough to know about Jesus and heaven.    

When my little cousin told her story to the big sister, the sister told her about Jesus and heaven. The Biblical facts perfectly fit what my little cousin had experienced, even though she had never heard those Biblical truths before. 

Later in life, she forgave this family member who was responsible for her death.  So, she desires to keep the story anonymous so as not to reflect badly on the way she was treated by this person.

I just saw on Facebook that Carissa has gone home. Wayne, I am so very sorry. My heart is with you and Sharon.
May it help to know that right now she is held in the loving arms of Jesus, healthy and joyful. She can soar with the wings of eagles, and run and not grow weary. She will never again feel so much as a twinge of pain. There is nothing to hold her back from enjoying abundant life.

This I know from experience: Carissa is in a place where the very air/existence/atmosphere around her is love. She is being cradled in a feeling of warmth that conveys a message that she is treasured and loved beyond measure. It feels like you are held in this love wherever you go there. You know that you are home – where you have always belonged.

Praying the Lord will help you, Sharon, and your family through this difficult time. God Bless you all.

I am thankful that I was inflicted with gastroparesis. Otherwise, I probably would not have known the Lord the way I do now.

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22 thoughts on “Carissa Renee Haston – Her Story of Suffering and Faith

  1. Wayne, thanks so much for sharing your daughter. She is truly amazing, and her story is important in the Kingdom. Never let her light stop shining. I WON’T!

  2. The amazing Carissa. Thank you for sharing this. She was an incredible person and leaves an incredible legacy on so many.

  3. So beautifully written. Thank you and Sharon for sharing the incredible life if Carissa. Carissa will always hold a special place in my ❤️ heart. Peace be with you

  4. What a testimony of endurance!! I only met Carissa a couple of times but she left a beautiful impression on my heart!
    I’m so sorry for your loss! Thankfully you will be reunited in eternity! Praying for all of you.

    1. OH I am sorry for your loss, an amazing young life. She accomplished more in a short period of time, than most in a long lifetime. Love and prayers.

  5. I met Carissa once at church and I was so intrigued by her strength and will to keep going. Her story is very touching. I am thankful that she is now in eternal Heaven! God Bless you all!

  6. Thank you so much for this. My late husband, Jim, and I first met Carissa and Sharon pre-transplant at UPMC. Carissa and I then became “friends” on Goodreads, where we could keep each other up on the books we read and loved. She was an inspiration. I am grateful to have met her.

  7. Thank you so much Wayne! This is beautiful! Carissa was a warrior! I am thankful God placed Carissa in our lives. Her light will continue to shine here on Earth. 💛💛💛

  8. John and I are so thankful to know she is with Jesus! But are hearts are sad and at the same time glad for you precious people! Cannot even imagine how hard this journey has been, but we know God is comfort, love, and hope. 😢🙏🏻💕.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. Carissa was one amazing woman. You and yours are in our hearts and prayers.

  10. What a beautiful tribute for a beautiful soul. I can’t wait to really get to know her in heaven. She is one of the most inspiring people… whose life I watched from the sidelines. What incredible perseverance and an amazingly upbeat and happy heart even in the midst of such trials. Prayers for all of you!

  11. If we have pets in heaven she is surrounded by all her little piggies! I loved Carissa so much! She made e always wonder why I ever complained. Thank you so much for writing this, Wayne! I have shared her story a thousand times as I teach high school in a Christian school. She touched many more people than she ever knew! Sending love from Ken and Peggy.

  12. Thank you Wayne for sharing Carrissa’s story. She will remain an encouragement to my heart as I continue this journey. I look forward to meeting her in Heaven! Love, Hugs, and Prayers for her amazing family!❤️🥰🙏

  13. Wayne, thank you for sharing this story of dear Carissa. You and Sharon gave yourselves to her like no other parents I know. “When you couldn’t see His face, you trusted His heart.” The Lord led you one step at a time. I am sure your commitment and dedication brings joy to the heart of our Savior. As a family member, I am in awe. One day we will see our Carissa enjoy her new heavenly body. I can just imagine her running down the streets of gold with joy of the Lord reflected on her face. Maybe she and Uncle Mike are having a race…

    1. What a wonderful tribute to Carrissa and the amazing life she lived. Only by God’s grace and strength would any of us be able to push through such difficulties. It was a joy to read how The Story of Hope impacted her life. God is so good. May God continue to give comfort to you all through the days to come as you miss her.

  14. An amazing woman!!! The battle is over and the victory has been won, ten thousand years and it’s just begun. Our life is a vapor but what a beautiful vapor she obviously was to those she knew! Love you all!

  15. Thank you for sharing her story. Carissa was an amazing woman that my family was so blessed to know. I was thankful to know her as she helped with our fundraisers. I was thankful for knowing her when our daughter Brielle received her transplant. I was thankful to know her when Brielle went to heaven. She was an amazing woman that I will never forget and always be thankful for 💚

  16. I met Carissa on FB when I found G-PACT after I was diagnosed with Gastroparesis in 2012. At the time, nobody I knew had ever heard of the disease, and it was very isolating and lonely. I learned more from her and her group than I ever have from my medical team. Thank you for blessing the world with your incredible daughter. I’ll never, ever forget her. I only wish I’d had the chance to meet her. The world is truly better because she was in it. Rest in peace, Carissa! 💚💛

    1. That should say that I met her in 2009 or 2010. I apologize. I have “hospital brain.”

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