Contributed by Michelle Vronch
April is National Organ Donor Awareness Month. Recently, a transplant support group got together to share stories and give encouragement. Member Michelle Vronch said, “Our hope is to provide support and share everyone’s own personal story and experiences to individuals and families who are waiting for a transplant, those who have already donated or are planning on donating, and those who have already received a transplant.”
Patty Abel, of Capron, Ill., represents donor families in the transplant support group. She works as an RN with OSF Home Care. Her husband, Otto, who died in 2007, became an organ/tissue donor with Patty’s consent. Patty and her children, Nathan and Natalie, have made contact with the recipients and are very proud to know that Otto has helped so many people. Patty Abel is the donor family liaison for Team Illinois and will be participating in special activities for donor families at the 2010 National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant games in Madison, Wis., from July 30-Aug. 4. The games are to honor donor family members and living donors, show the success of transplantation and increase public awareness of organ and tissue donation. There are several programs for donor families, and any members interested in participating can go to www.team-illinois.org for more information. Patty Abel notes that there are 100,000 people currently on the national organ transplant list, and 1 in 20 people will need some type of transplant in their lifetime. Patty also knows from experience that there is healing in knowing a loved one gave the gift of life and that they live on in others.
Beth Johnson shared her story: “Throughout my life I have learned about the need for organ transplants through various ways—a young family friend who needed a liver transplant and died waiting, a co-worker who donated a kidney to her father, my friend’s father who had not just one, but two heart transplants, my friend and co-worker who lost her young, healthy husband to a brain aneurysm and donated his organs to save several lives, including taking two people off dialysis, and eventually my own father, who needed a kidney transplant.
“When I received my first driver’s license at the age of 16, I immediately signed the back and told my parents of my wishes to donate my organs if I was to die and had my mom and sister witness my signature; this was back in the day where that’s how one could join the registry. At that time, I had no idea that I didn’t even have to die to donate an organ or how much of an impact organ donation would have on me and my family.
“Several years later, my father was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). This disease is hereditary and causes cysts to grow all over the kidneys and eventually caused his kidneys to stop working. When he began the tests for a transplant, the doctor found an eyelet cell tumor on his pancreas. Although the tumor was removed, he had to go five years cancer free before being eligible for a transplant.
“Meanwhile, dialysis sustained his life until he was eligible for transplant. Maybe it is because of my past experiences or the time waiting for my dad to be eligible for a transplant that I had no hesitation to give him one of my kidneys. After many tests and many days of waiting and anticipation, the doctors gave us the OK to proceed. On June 26, 2008, I was able to give my father the ‘gift of life’ by giving him my left kidney.
“Over 100,000 Americans are on the UNOS waiting list for a transplant. The most-needed organ is a kidney with almost 78,000 Americans waiting for one. Most people are born with two kidneys and only need one to survive. The second-highest-needed organ is a liver. Almost 16,000 Americans await a liver transplant, which can also come from a living donor. If just one family member, friend, or even a complete stranger would donate a kidney or part of their liver to these 94,000 people, the wait list would be reduced to only 6,000!
“The feeling of saving a life is indescribable… not just for living donors but also for the family of a deceased donor. So, why not give the gift of life… when you are alive, or after you pass on… or both!”
Mark Giardin was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease in 2004 at the age of 49. He inherited the disease from his mother. He recalls, “To my surprise, I was rushed to the hospital due to a serious kidney bleed, and at that time was told I had the disease. My kidney function is now at Stage Five, which means I either receive a transplant or start dialysis. I have had five wonderful people offer to donate their kidney to me. All five had compatible blood type, but for certain reasons all five have not been able to donate. My blood type is O-positive, and any O type blood may be compatible.”
If you would like to save a life and are unable to be a living donor, please consider donating your organs upon your death. For more information, go to www.donatelifeillinois.org
From the April 21-27, 2010 issue