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Entries in Organ Donor (15)

Wednesday
Nov212012

New Jersey Father Donates Cornea to Legally Blind Son

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Tom Bestwick enjoyed the open road, especially the feeling he got when riding his Harley Davidson through the back roads of southern New Jersey with his son, Tom.

But on July 17, 2012, Tom Bestwick would ride for for the last time.  His 1997 silver CMC motorcycle collided with a Buick La Saber in Quinton, N.J.  He was rushed to Christiana Hospital in Delaware, but doctors could not save his life.

His unexpected death, however, left his family with an unexpected gift.

"I never would have even dreamed of it," said his son, Tom, 32, who is legally blind.

In 1987, Tom, then 7, was celebrating another Thanksgiving in Pennsville, N.J., with his family when he and his younger brother, Paul, had found a Bungee cord and wanted to see just how far the giant elastic string would stretch.

"It flung back and caught me in my left eye.  I went blind instantly," said Tom.  "Everything happened so fast.  It didn't even hurt."

For the next month, Tom wore an eye patch.  Five years later, he underwent an inner ocular lens transplant -- the first in a handful of surgeries to improve his damaged sight.

"Doctors at that time questioned if the surgery would even work or not," said Tom.  "I got some sight back amazingly enough.  But I was legally blind."

For years, Tom needed surgery to correct the sight in his damaged left eye.  His ophthalmologist suggested the idea of laser eye surgery to help minimize the original scarring on his cornea.  But Tom hesitated to try such new technology.

"I never put a second thought into a transplant of any sort," he said.  "I just figured my vision is what it is."

But his father was a registered organ donor, and Tom and his family began to wonder, what if?

Tom's aunt, Kathy Hughes, asked if Tom could use his father's cornea to help correct the vision in his left eye.  A cornea transplant had never been considered.  The family wondered whether it was even possible.

Corneas must be transplanted within 12 to 14 days, and the clock was ticking.

"It all had to be precise," said Hughes, who has worked as a transplant coordinator at the Gift of Life Donor Program, an organ procurement organization.  "We had to stay on top of this to make sure it happened."

She reached out to Christiana Hospital in Newark, Del., where Tom's father had died, to find an eye surgeon.  And to keep it all "under one roof," Hughes coordinated with Christiana Hospital, the Gift of Life Program and Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia

Dr. Parveen Nagra, a corneal surgeon at Wills Eye Institute, agreed to perform the surgery after hearing Tom's story.

Nagra she'd never encountered a situation quite like Tom's.

"It was a very emotional time for him having learned very unexpectedly of his father's premature death, and to make these decisions," she said.  "He felt very strongly about getting his father's cornea."

Nagra performed the surgery four days after Tom's father died.  When Tom went back for a follow-up checkup, it was the day of his father's funeral.

"A loss of a loved one, and certainly a donation doesn't take that away, but it does give people hope that their loved one somehow lives on in the recipient," said Nathan Howard, CEO and president of the Gift of Life Donor Program.  "It really is a living legacy."

Tom Bestwick's legacy also lives on through others who received his other organs, including his kidneys, skin, bone and other tissues.

"This is what he wanted.  We got a really nice letter from the recipient of one of his kidneys," said his son.  "His liver and lungs went to science and I got his cornea."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun072012

Woman Dies While Donating Kidney to Relative

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Montefiore Hospital in New York voluntarily suspended its live donor organ transplant program after a woman who was trying to donate a kidney to a relative died during an operation, according to a hospital source.

The voluntary move by the hospital has drawn attention to the possible dangers of living organ donation, and some experts say the case may dissuade some who are contemplating becoming a live donor to follow through.

The incident, which is now under investigation by the state health department, is the first live donor operation death to occur at the hospital, according to hospital sources.

"The patient experienced a rare complication of this surgery," according to a spokeswoman for the hospital, who would not confirm details of the case.  "The doctors recognized the problem and took extensive steps to save the patient's life."

More than 900 people nationwide have participated as living donors since January 2012, according to data by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.  Kidney and liver are among the most common organs donated by a living person.

"[Live organ donation] is incredibly important because there are not enough cadaver organs to go around," said Dr. Jonathon Bromberg, chief of the division of transplantation at the University of Maryland.  "Live organ donations allow us to save more lives."

Bromberg said however rare a fatal complication may be, the number of willing donors plummet when people hear about cases where a transplant goes wrong.

"We often do see a decrease in people willing to be a living or deceased donor," he said.  "We do have very direct conversations with those who are considering being a donor about the risks."

Live organ donations are among the most highly regulated procedures, not just by the hospitals but federal agencies including the Health Resources and Services Administration, according to Dr. Alan Koffron, chairman of surgery and director of the transplant program at William Beaumont hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

"It's so well controlled and so well regulated that it's typical that when something goes wrong the center shuts down to find what's wrong," said Koffron.  "We're trying to be good stewards of this procedure."  

Organs from live donors are more likely to function sooner in the recipient's body and be of better quality than an organ from a deceased donor since the live donor organ has only been out of the body for a short time.  Living donor and recipient surgeries are typically done on the same day to help preserve the organ.

Evidence also suggests that recipients of live donor organs live longer and have a better quality of life.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
May032012

Man Wrote Letters to Kidney, Donated It to Stranger

AbleStock.com/Hemera Technologies(NEW YORK) -- In August, Eric Parrie donated his kidney to a woman he'd never met. But before he parted ways with his organ, he had some things he needed to say to it first.

So the 26-year-old Yale law student wrote about a dozen letters to his kidney, an organ he said he'd always taken for granted. He even settled on a name for the kidney: Dick Posner.

"Dear Dick Posner, first off, I want to say thanks. From what I can tell, you've done a pretty good job these last 25 years," Parrie wrote in his first letter on Feb. 1, 2011.

Why "Dick Posner?" The name actually belongs to a real person, a judge in the 7th circuit Court of Appeals who has written about the legal aspects of organ donation. Parrie said thinking about giving his kidney away made him see it more like a person.

"It just made me think more about my kidney, which is a body part I've never really thought about before," Parrie said. "And it was a way of not taking myself too seriously through the whole process."

Even if Parrie didn't want to take his decision too seriously, for Laura Cheaney, of Sulphur, La., it was a lifesaver.

The 30-year-old mother's kidneys had failed her after she gave birth to her son in 2007. She had been on dialysis for almost two years when Parrie decided to donate his organ.

"You can't really give a better gift to someone, especially someone you don't know," Cheaney said. "It really saves their life."

Living organ donation is somewhat rare. About 6,000 people volunteer to donate one of their kidneys every year, according to the National Kidney Registry.

Meanwhile, more than 92,000 people are currently awaiting kidney transplants in the U.S., according to the National Kidney Foundation. Most people who donate give their kidneys to family members or friends. The National Kidney Foundation counted about 165 anonymous donations in 2011, compared with 1,100 kidneys donated to siblings and nearly 900 donated by children to their parents.

The need for kidneys is so great that last year nearly 5,000 people died while waiting for a transplant.

Typically, hospitals take great pains to ensure that anonymous donations stay anonymous. But both Parrie and Cheaney decided they wanted to meet and Guillera put them in touch. On Jan. 2, 2012, Parrie, back in New Orleans on break, rode his bike to Ochsner, just as he had on the day of the August surgery. Cheaney, her husband Matt and son Devon made the three-hour drive from Sulphur to the New Orleans hospital.

"I was thinking, 'Man what am I going to say to this guy?' I just wanted to let him know how much he's done for us, me and my family," she said. "He's just a magnificent person."

Parrie said the choice to be a living donor may not be right for everyone, but he hopes more people will consider it as a safe and realistic option. He wants others to know it doesn't take a saint to donate.

"It takes diligence and courage, but doesn't take a superhero," he said. "You can be someone who believes in loving your neighbor as yourself and this is a way to make it happen."

What did the real Dick Posner have to say about all this? Parrie wrote an email to him, telling him about his kidney donation and the letters he had written.

"I got an email back from his assistant. She said, 'Judge Posner was pleased to hear that since up to now the only thing named after him was a house cat,'" Parrie said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar152012

16-Year-Old’s Death Becomes a Life-Changing Gift

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(PLATTE, S.D.) -- Andrea Cleveland was leaving her boyfriend’s home just south of Platte, S.D., last November when her car hit loose gravel and rolled.

She died from the injuries she sustained in the crash.

Just 16, Andrea was a new driver who had decided to become an organ donor when she got her driver’s license. Her decision likely saved the lives of several others.

This week, 2 1/2-year-old Keegan Johnson of Fridley, Minn., and 30-year-old Meleah Richter, of Northfield, Minn., met Andrea’s family. Keegan was the recipient of Andrea’s liver; Richter received her lungs. Andrea also donated her pancreas, kidneys, eyes, heart valves and other tissues.

“Of course you can tell that she was a very caring person by her being a donator,” said her mother, Marlene Cleveland, in an interview with ABC Minneapolis affiliate KSTP. “It was her idea, it was her choice.”

It was only after Andrea was declared brain dead, and hospital personnel noted that the teen’s license indicated that she was an organ donor, that her parents learned of their daughter’s special generosity.

Andrea’s friends told her parents she was proud of her decision.

“She came to school first thing, and was like ‘I got my driver’s license,’ and ‘I’m a donor, I’m a donor,’” friends told her father, Jeff Cleveland. ” She made a big deal out of it that she was a donor.”

In Richter’s eyes, Andrea lives on, “She didn’t deserve to go but she’s an angel now, she’s my angel, she’s Keegan’s angel, she’s everybody’s.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jan272012

Kidney Donor Gives Organ to Stranger on a Whim

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Celia Oyler had never been in the hospital, never had a stitch and had never even taken a prescription drug.

But last June, the 55-year-old professor gave doctoral student John Young -- a virtual stranger -- her kidney, enduring every invasive test and eventually transplant surgery to save his life.

As Oyler tells it, her decision was rooted in compassion but executed on a whim last spring in the hallways of Teachers College Columbia University.

Oyler, director of inclusive education programs, is a white lesbian. Young, 49, is African-American and had just completed his doctorate in curriculum and teaching when they found they were a match last spring.

Live organ transplants, especially for African-Americans, are hard to come by. And Oyler was also fast approaching 60, when she would be deemed too old to donate.

Transplant experts say that "stranger" donors, though still small in numbers, are on the rise. Since 2000, they have jumped from 14 to 26 percent of all live donors, according to the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

"I had seen John in the hall and I knew who he was, but didn't know him," said Oyler.

"I happened to see him standing there, and it was a little awkward," she said. "I asked him what he was doing and he said, 'Not much … because I have to do dialysis three or four times a week.'"

Young told her he had been cleared for an organ wait list and "maybe it would work out and after a few years I'll get a kidney on time."

"He's an extremely positive person and I am not," she said. "I am talking to this guy and I think maybe he is dying. So I very impulsively I said, 'What's your blood type?' And he said 0-positive and I said, 'Who knows, maybe we'll be a match.'"

They were -- and even learned their birthdays were a day apart.

"I didn't know her that well and was really taken aback that in just minutes she would make such a huge offer," said Young, who has now fully recovered and is off dialysis. "It was a tremendous obligation, and I was really shocked."

Oyler had always listed herself as an organ donor on her driver's license and all her family knew that she wanted her body parts used for science, but this was impetuous.

"I am kind of a jump-first, think-later person," she said.

When she returned home, Oyler realized, "What have I gotten myself into now?"

"I was actually nervous telling my wife I had made this impetuous offer," she said. "She always gives me a hard time. 'Celia, it's not like lending your car.'"

Every step of the way, the medical staff at New York's New York-Presbyterian Hospital told Oyler, "If you don't want to go through with this for any reason, we never tell the recipient, only that you're not a match."

But Oyler knew that once she had committed to Young, "I wouldn't be able to not do it."

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 4,573 kidney patients died while waiting for a life-saving transplant in 2008. Of the 14,208 organs that were donated overall in the United States that year, less than half were live organ donors like Oyler.

"As a group, live donors work better and last longer than dead donors," said Dr. David Cronin, a transplant surgeon at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "It is taken alive and passed all the evaluations and we know it's a good kidney."

Young's kidneys had begun to fail when he was 47 because of high blood pressure and diabetes. That and end-stage kidney disease is more common among African-Americans because of genetic and social factors like access to health care, according to Cronin.

Young had a long difficult recovery -- the kidney was nearly rejected at the onset.

Oyler, who had a less-invasive laproscopic procedure, was up and feeling normal within days. The only physical reminder of her gift is a two-inch scar on her bikini line.

When they woke up Oyler in the recovery room, nurses wheeled her by Young. "It was one of those moments, I felt, 'Whoa, I helped this guy get a second lease on life.'"

Now, seven months later, both Oyler and Young have healed from surgery.

"It wasn't actually that bad," said Oyler.

Transplant experts agree there are no statistical disadvantages for donors, given that they are so healthy to begin with to pass screening.

Young said he is feeling "better and better" and is more conscious of what he eats, trying to control his diabetes."

Oyler is "crazy busy," but she plans to invite Young to dinner. They have begun regular email contact since the surgery.

"It's weird to think there is a piece of my body walking around in someone else's body," she said.

Now, she tells her story to anyone who will listen -- about the importance of live kidney donation. And Young, also inspired by her act of love, has decided he, too, will offer to be a donor.

That, said Cronin, is also possible as there is an overwhelming need for other organs like lungs, hearts, skin and corneas.

In the end, Oyler's wife and her parents supported her decision.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec222011

Poised to Donate Organs, 21-Year-Old Emerges From Coma

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(PHOENIX) -- Sam Schmid, an Arizona college student believed to be brain dead and poised to be an organ donor, miraculously recovered just hours before doctors were considering taking him off life support.

Schmid, a junior and business major at the University of Arizona, was critically wounded in an Oct. 19 five-car accident in Tucson.

The 21-year-old's brain injuries were so severe that the local hospital could not treat him. He was airlifted to the Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Phoenix, where specialists performed surgery for a life-threatening aneurysm.

As hospital officials began palliative care and broached the subject of organ donation with his family, Schmid began to respond, holding up two fingers on command. Today, he is walking with the aid of a walker, and his speech, although slow, has improved.

Doctors say he will likely have a complete recovery. He even hopes to get a day pass from the hospital to celebrate the holidays with his large extended family.

"Nobody could ever give me a better Christmas present than this -- ever, ever, ever," said his mother, Susan Regan, who is vice-president of the insurance company Lovitt-Touche.

"I tell everyone, if they want to call it a modern-day miracle, this is a miracle," said Regan, 59, and a Catholic. "I have friends who are atheists who have called me and said, 'I am going back to church.'"

Schmid's doctor, renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Spetzler, agreed that his recovery was miraculous.

"I am dumbfounded with his incredible recovery in such a short time," said Spetzler. "His recovery was really remarkable considering the extent of his lethal injuries."

Hospital officials are crediting Spetzler with having a "hunch" that despite an initially dire prognosis, the young man would make it. But he said it was "reasonable" for others to consider withdrawing the patient from life support.

"It looked like all the odds were stacked against him," said Spetzler, who has performed more than 6,000 such surgeries and trained the doctor who operated on Congressman Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot at the beginning of this year.

During surgery, Spetzler clipped the balloonlike aneurysm in the blood vessel -- "as if I were patching a tire," a procedure that eventually worked.

For days Schmid didn't seem to be responding, but what puzzled his doctor was that he did not see fatal injuries on the MRI scan. So he decided to keep Schmid on life support longer.

"There was plenty wrong -- he had a hemorrhage, an aneurysm and a stroke from the part of the aneurysm," Spetzler said. "But he didn't have a blood clot in the most vital part of his brain, which we know he can't recover from. And he didn't have a massive stroke that would predict no chance of a useful existence."

So while the family was given a realistic picture of Schmid's poor chances for survival, Spetzler ordered one more MRI to see if the critical areas of the brain had turned dark, indicating brain death.

"If not, we would hang on and keep him on support," he said. "But I didn't want to give the family false hope."

Schmid's mother said no one "specifically" asked if her son would be a donor, but they "subtly talk to you about quality of life."

"At some point, I knew we had to make some sort of decision, and I kept praying," said Regan.

The MRI came back with encouraging news during the day and by evening Schmid "inexplicably" followed the doctors' commands, holding up two fingers.

"It was like fireworks all going off at the same time," said Spetzler.

Today, Schmid -- his speech clear and sounding upbeat -- told ABCNews.com, "I feel fine. I'm in a wheelchair, but I am getting lots of help."

He said he remembers nothing of the accident nor coming around after being in an induced coma. "It wasn't until I woke up in rehab," he said. "But they told me about afterwards."

Schmid was returning from coaching basketball at his former Catholic school when a van swerved into his lane. The Jeep in which he was riding went airborne, hit a light pole and landed on its side.

Schmid's left hand and both of his femurs broke and required surgery. But the worst were the traumatic head injuries, which were complex and nearly always fatal.

All those involved say the support that Schmid got from family and friends -- and especially the care at Barrow -- may have made the difference. His brother John, a 24-year-old IT specialist, took a leave of absence from his job in Chicago to be at his brother's bedside.

Family flew in from around the country, and Delta Chi fraternity brothers made regular visits, even creating a mural for their friend.

"It seems like we were being led down a path to plan for the worst and that things were not going to work out," said John Schmid. "The miracle, to put it bluntly, was that in a matter of seven days, we went from organ donation to rehab. What a roller coaster it was."

He said his brother's speech is slow, but he understands what others are saying. Sam Schmid's athleticism -- as a basketball coach and snowboard instructor -- probably helped, he said.

"Honestly, I am at a loss for words," said John Schmid. "I am just so proud of Sam. He's got a strong constitution and he's very determined. But it's been quite an eye-opener for me -- a real learning curve. You can't take anything for granted."

Sam Schmid's surgeon agrees.

"You get incredible highs when you save someone facing neurological devastation or death," said Spetzler. "That is counter-pointed by the incredible lows when you fail to help someone."

"In a way, his recovery was truly miraculous," he said. "It's a great Christmas story."

Ever the scientist, Spetzler wasn't willing to speculate what a comatose patient hears. But he admits, "There are so many things we don't understand about the brain and what happens at the time someone is near death."

"The whole family was at his side during the day and at night hovering over him, then to see there was a chance after being ready to let go," he said. "But I am very much a big believer that positive thoughts and positive energy in a room can only help."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec062011

More than One Sexual Partner? You May Be an ‘Elevated Risk’ Donor

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Proposed guidelines that would label organ donors who have had more than one sexual partner in the last 12 months as risky are for the benefit of patients receiving the organs and would not halt or ban donations, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said Tuesday.

The proposed guidelines, however, remained controversial in the transplant community.

“What we are trying to do is make sure patients are informed about the risks the organ might have so they can make the best decision about whether the transplant is right for them,” Dr. Matthew J. Kuehnert, director of the CDC’s office of Blood, Organ and Other Tissue Safety, told ABC News.

Under the new guidelines, which have not been adopted and are in the public comments stage, living and deceased donors who had more than one sexual partner in the past 12 months would be considered “elevated risk” donors because of the increased likelihood they could have HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, even if they did not show any risk factors.

Organ transplant doctors said they are concerned the proposed guidelines will lead to more deaths of the 112,000 people who are currently on the transplant waiting list because they will eat up valuable time and money conducting tests on organs for HIV, and Hepatitis A and C, even though the tests aren’t 100-percent accurate.

“If you game the system to prevent any possible transmission of an infectious disease, you will simply wind up with an increase of deaths,” said Dr. David Cronin, who is an associate professor of surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin and director of liver transplantation at Froedtert Hospital.

The American Society of Transplant Surgeons agreed with Cronin and issued a letter criticizing the new guidelines, decrying the lack of a collaborative process behind the scenes, which caused several of its members to withdraw from an advisory panel.

“[The guidelines have] a real potential to mislead the public regarding the risks of disease transmission through solid organ transplantation,” said the letter, which was directed to CDC Director Thomas Frieden. “These guidelines, if finalized in their current form, are likely to have significant consequences for the transplant community.”

Kuehnert said he “would be concerned about any factor that would deter a donor,” but added that there is education that needs to be done for donors and recipients. If implemented, these guidelines would be just that -- markers to guide the transplant process, and they wouldn’t be policy, he said.

He stressed that certain medical information from donors would be kept anonymous from recipients of their gifts.

“There is no exclusion of organs in any case, unless the organ tests positive for HIV,” which is a federal law, he said.

As of now, there are no specifics regarding how donors would be questioned about their sexual histories, Kuehner said, but it’s an area that Cronin finds deeply concerning.

More than 28,000 organ transplants take place each year, according to data from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

The public comment period regarding the proposed guidelines ends Dec. 23.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov232011

Parents Donate Child's Organs After Accidental Death

Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock(ASHEVILLE, N.C.) -- Skateboarding was one of young Niyale Johnson's beloved hobbies.  That's exactly what the middle-schooler was doing two weeks ago with a couple of friends in her Asheville, N.C., home when her father heard a terrible scream.

Niyale fell through a plate of glass.  She was cut but conscious, and her father took her to the hospital.

Her parents didn't panic, because she seemed fine.  But suddenly, her mother told ABC News affiliate WLOS-TV, things went very wrong.

A piece of glass pierced one of her heart valves and got stuck in her spine.  She never regained consciousness after surgery, and after 11 days, her parents took her off life support and decided to donate their dead daughter's organs.

"You make decisions on what they should eat, and just -- what they should wear, and you go from that to should I donate my child's organs," Niyale's father, Demetrius McGee, told WLOS.

But their daughter loved to help people, and it was in that spirit that Niyale's parents made their decision.

"That's what she would have wanted, because she's a helper.  That's what she always does.  She helped everybody," McGee said.

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, there are more than 110,00 people nationwide waiting for organ transplants who could benefit from the family's generosity.  The American Academy of Pediatrics said in a 2010 study that 2 to 3 percent of those individuals on transplant waiting lists are children younger than 17.

Niyale's parents hope that their tragedy can bring joy to others who need it.

"I just feel like if another child out there can be saved, or adult or anything, that's the best thing that we can possibly do," McGee told WLOS.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct072011

Timing Can Be Everything in Organ Donation

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(ROTTERDAM, Netherlands) -- Organ donation and transplant is all about timing. The organs have to be harvested quickly to remain viable and must be transplanted within hours to increase the likelihood that the new organ will take.

One of the most controversial aspects of the donation-time equation is choosing when to discuss donation with a potential donor’s family. Should discussions begin when brain death is deemed inevitable, or should they wait until neurological tests can confirm brain death?

From a medical perspective, the sooner discussions and arrangements for donation occur, the more likely the transplant will succeed. From a psychological standpoint, talking to family members about organ donation too soon could unnecessarily upset them and, according to research from the Netherlands published Thursday, make them less willing to go through with donation.

In the specific Netherlands hospital studied, researchers found that before 1998 organ donation was not discussed with the family until all neurological tests had confirmed brain death. After 1998, discussions began a little earlier, after the loss of consciousness and brain stem reflexes but before confirmatory neurological tests.

They found that when discussions began early, the number of families opting for organ donation dropped from 89 percent through most of the 1990s to 58 percent between 1998 to 2009.

While it is impossible to say whether the timing of the discussion played into the decline in families opting for donation, the research raises a difficult question: How can these discussions be timed to minimize the family’s discomfort while maximizing the chance that the organs can be harvested early enough for the transplant to succeed?

This question came up in September, when the United Network for Organ Sharing updated its guidelines to suggest that hospitals and organ donation organizations begin discussing the possibility of donation before raising it with the patient’s family. This change was intended to expedite the donation process when donation is possible and spare the family needless donation discussions in cases when it is not.

This change stirred controversy, however, because it requires donation discussions to begin, even if only among medical professionals, before the family has made the decision to withdraw life support.

Even if it makes it more likely that organ donation would succeed, broaching the idea before the patient has died remains a touchy topic, and it could scare some donors away, Dr. Michael Grodin, a professor of health law, bioethics and human rights at Boston University, told ABC News last September. He said he worried that any loosening of regulations surrounding organ donation could break down the “absolute trust” that must exist between donor families and doctors.

“Better to have fewer transplants and absolute trust in the system, or not only will there be individual problems, but this could actually lead to fewer families willing to donate,” he said.

At the same time, waiting too long to have the discussion may mean that “sometimes [it] is not logistically possible for donation to occur,” Dr. Jeffrey Punch, chief of the section of transplantation at the University of Michigan’s Department of Surgery countered. “This is tragic for that family, [because often] they desperately want their loved one’s last function on earth to be saving other’s lives, as well as to the recipients that do not benefit.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Sep212011

Chicago Woman Loses 135 Pounds to Give Her Brother a Kidney

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Kari Roberts always wanted to lose weight, but a powerful motivation finally helped her succeed: She needed to be healthy enough to give her brother a kidney.

Roberts, 35, of Crestwood, Ill., a Chicago suburb, weighed 320 pounds three years ago when her brother, Tony Bolda, learned he had a serious kidney disorder. She started trying to lose weight as soon as she heard he needed a transplant because she couldn't even be tested to see if she was a match until she slimmed down.

"You have to be healthy to even be considered as a donor, so there was no question but to get up and do it," Roberts said.

Bolda, 40, has IgA nephropathy, an illness in which an antibody builds up and attacks the kidney, leading to kidney failure. He first realized something was wrong when his father checked his blood pressure with a home machine and it was sky-high.

"I was scared for him, I was real scared for him," Roberts said, adding that she and Bolda are the closest siblings in the family.

Their two other sisters both had medical issues that ruled them out as potential donors. "It felt silly to not be able to help him because I was overweight," she said.

Her brother knew she could do it: "I have faith in her," he said.

Roberts' biggest helpers were her mom Marty Bolda and her MP3 player. "My mom…would get excited every time I lost a few more pounds," she said.

Roberts followed a strict low-fat diet with lots of chicken, chicken tacos and salads. "My mom found the most ways to make chicken taste different," Roberts said, laughing.

Roberts, a working mother of three, loves music and found it helped her keep to an exercise routine. "I would put music into my MP3 player every couple of days to keep myself motivated, to make me want to get out there and work out," she said.

She started out walking a mile a day and worked up to three miles a day.

"I think it's really cool that she was able to do it without all those crazy fad diets and all that....She did it by eating well and hard work," Bolda said.

The weight loss was necessary, according to Dr. R. Michael Hofmann, medical director of the Living Kidney Donor Program at the University of Wisconsin Hospital, because of the potential risk to Roberts, not her brother.

"The more a person is overweight or obese, the greater the chance they have of developing high blood pressure or diabetes," said Hofmann, who is not involved in this specific case. "Having one kidney instead of two, you're at a little more risk" if you develop those conditions, he said.

Most centers would turn down potential living donors who have BMI (body mass index) greater than 35, he said.

In April, Roberts was in good enough shape to be tested to see if she was a match. Waiting for the results, she called every couple of days. "They called me one day and said Kari, 'You're a match and not only are you a match, but you're a perfect match.'"

His surgery is scheduled to take place shortly at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Both brother and sister are keeping fingers crossed that there is no rejection of the transplanted kidney and that both bounce back quickly.

The chance of rejection is low, Hofmann said. About 98 percent of transplanted kidneys will be working a year later if it's a first-time transplant, he said.

But he cautioned that Roberts should be aware that her weight loss needs to be maintained for her lifelong health. "We do have people who have been able to lose weight [to be donors]," he said, "but more than 80 percent will gain weight back."

Roberts is feeling optimistic about her long-term health, and her brother's. "Everybody keeps telling me that they think I'm great for saving him, but in reality I think we saved each other," Roberts said.

As for naming her weight-loss regime, she suggested, "the inspiration diet."

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