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    Advances in Transplant Help Save Lives

    More than 120,000 people need organ transplants in the United States. Of those, nearly 20 die each day from the lack of available organs. And that number of those needing organ transplants continues to rise due to skyrocketing rates of diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.

    “There is a growing demand for organ transplant, but there is a limited supply of organs,” says William Bry, M.D., surgical director of Sutter Health CPMC’s Kidney Transplant Program. That’s why transplant centers such as CPMC are using new approaches—such as kidney paired donation and organ perfusion—that help maximize the organs available for transplant.

    "I'd do anything for Taiwan," says DeWanda, of her decision to donate her kidney.
    The Gift Of Life
    Taiwan Walker of Richmond, 42, faced the grim future of a long wait for kidney transplant. After nearly 20 years with hypertension, Taiwan’s kidneys gave out in 2010, forcing him to go on dialysis. His uncertain health outlook and the seemingly never-ending time he spent hooked up to a machine devastated him physically and mentally. “I was feeling horrible, tired and trapped,” Taiwan says. “It was like a slow death.”

    Taiwan’s aunt, 58-year-old DeWanda Stewart-Joseph, couldn’t stand watching her nephew suffer and slowly fade away, so she underwent a living donor screening at CPMC’s renowned Barry S. Levin, M.D. Department of Transplantation. At the forefront of transplant advances, CPMC has performed more than 6,000 kidney, pancreas, heart and liver transplants, with 275 surgeries in the past year alone. When tests showed DeWanda was a match, she offered her nephew her kidney. “I’d do anything for him,” she says. “As much as he needed to live, I needed him to live.”

    At first Taiwan refused. “I didn’t want anything to happen to her,” he recalls. But doctors assured both of them that living donation posed few risks. Finally this past November, the pair underwent transplant surgery.

    Recovery And Rebirth
    “I’m feeling like a brand-new person,” Taiwan says. “The dark cloud has lifted and I can live my life with new hope.” Taiwan is now making plans for his future, hoping that his love of cooking will lead to him owning his own restaurant. “He has a new shine about him,” adds DeWanda.

    After her six-week recovery, DeWanda regained her energy and returned to her job as a community advocate and case manager, working with families and children. “People say, ‘You gave the gift of life; you’re a hero,’” she muses, “but I’m just looking forward to spending time with my nephew and watching him flourish.”

    Even though Taiwan was lucky enough to have a compatible donor, at least one-third of individuals with living donors are incompatible with them. That’s why CPMC is at the forefront of kidney paired donation—a process in which kidneys are “exchanged” between pairs, making multiple, compatible living donor transplants possible. In 2011, the hospital made history as the first California transplant program to perform five paired donor kidney transplants in one day.

    Creating Hope Out Of Tragedy
    For individuals awaiting a liver or heart transplant, they rely on the nationwide system of organ allocation from deceased donors. Napa winemaker Spencer Hoopes, a previously healthy 66-year-old skier, golfer, and fisherman, found himself in desperate need of a liver transplant in March 2013. Doubled over in abdominal pain from an aneurysm on his hepatic artery, Spencer was transported to the hospital because his artery had started unraveling into his liver, destroying it. “I was losing eight to 10 units of blood a day,” recalls Spencer. “If the artery had burst, I would’ve died.” Spencer’s condition was one of only 22 such cases in recorded history, and doctors didn’t have many options. He needed a transplant immediately.

    Fortunately for Spencer, the California Transplant Donor Network (CTDN) works with local hospitals to provide information on organ donation to families whose loved ones have died. One such family came forward, and Spencer received his liver transplant at CPMC on May 2, 2013. The organ started working immediately, and within three months, Spencer returned to his active lifestyle. “It was a miracle—an opportunity to live life, do things better, and be more helpful to others,” says Spencer. “I’m extremely grateful, but it’s bittersweet. I can only imagine the sadness and tragedy of my donor’s family. Yet they still understood that their loved one’s organs could help another person live. It’s an unbelievable gift.”

    Teamwork Combined With Expertise
    Spencer, Taiwan and DeWanda are also grateful that they were in the hands of California Pacific’s transplant team, a dedicated group of specialty doctors, nurses and support staff. “My doctors were not only detailed and proficient,” says Spencer, “but they came by my room every day and showed incredible enthusiasm for my progress. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them.” “Everyone was so attentive,” adds DeWanda. “I didn’t want to go home—that’s how excellent the service was!” “The doctors showed us a lot of love,” adds Taiwan. “After our surgery, the entire team had tears in their eyes—I’d never seen anything like it.” That emotion comes because doctors and nurses know they’re witnessing something uniquely special when one person gives life to another. Organ donation is a rare gift, but it doesn’t have to be. “If people just look around,” says Bry, “they’ll find that someone they know is in need of a transplant. This is not a theoretical issue; it’s a real one.”

    Take Action: Visit DonateLifeCalifornia.org and register to be an organ donor.

    Five Facts About Organ Donation

    April marks Organ Donation Awareness month, a good time to learn the facts about organ donation:

    1. One person can save eight lives and enhance 50 others through organ and tissue donation.
    2. Anyone can become a potential organ donor regardless of age, ethnicity or medical history.
    3. Organs are allocated according to medical need, blood and tissue type, height and weight. Celebrity status and wealth are not considered.
    4. You can sign up to be an organ donor by checking "yes" when applying for your driver license or online at DonateLifeCalifornia.org
    5. More than 120,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant. It is their only remaining medical option.
    Source: DonateLifeCalifornia.org