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    Happy New Birthday: Organ Transplantation Makes New Lives Possible

    A decade ago, a young woman bravely fought a losing battle against a deadly autoimmune disorder that had compromised her liver. Her condition became so grave that her doctors estimated she had a week to live. In the nick of time, a generous family, still reeling from the sudden loss of their loved one, intervened, donating a precious organ and giving her a second chance at life.

    “I just got a card and a photograph from her,” says Robert Osorio, M.D., the surgeon who performed her liver transplant 12 years ago. Dr. Osorio is chairman of Sutter Health CPMC’s Barry S. Levin, M.D. Department of Transplantation. “She’s living a full life now and is mom to four beautiful kids,” he adds.

    In this business, he says, “You almost become part of your patient’s family. There are days you cry with them and days you celebrate. And every year they remember their ‘new’ birthday and you get to share it with them. It’s a feeling you just can’t buy.”

    A Long History of Transplants
    Since opening in 1969, CPMC’s transplant center has been at the forefront of transplant advances, now averaging 300 surgeries per year. To date, the CPMC team has performed 5,318 kidney; 1,822 liver; 440 heart; and 346 pancreas transplants.

    Last year, the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) recognized CPMC as the nation’s only hospital with higher-than-expected one- and three-year survival rates for kidney and liver transplants

    Making Miracles
    One of the newer methods that CPMC has helped advance is kidney paired donation—a process in which kidneys are “exchanged,” making multiple, compatible living-donor transplants possible.

    Kidney exchanges can happen between two or more donor/ recipient pairs. In fact, in 2011, CPMC made history as California’s first transplant program to perform five paired donor kidney transplants in a single day.

    Another form of kidney donation is the Living Donor Chain. “One live, altruistic donor can actually set off a chain of countless transplants,” explains Dr. Osorio.

    Alternatives on the Horizon
    “Sometimes patients become too sick to withstand a transplant,” says Dr. Osorio. For these patients, artificial organs such as a heart can keep the patient alive until they are strong enough to receive a donor organ. Today’s artificial hearts are more advanced than previous models and include tiny battery sources that can be implanted in the patient.

    “Unfortunately, artificial organs are still not as effective as real living tissue long-term, so they’re not going to solve the organ shortage problem,” he says.

    Stem cell research is another hopeful alternative as scientists try to “grow” new organs. In this process, which is being done only in animal trials, stem cells from one animal are inserted into a second to grow an organ that is then implanted back into the first animal.

    Organ Donation Still the Best
    While ongoing research is promising, a viable solution to the shortage of available organs is still years away. April marks Organ Donation Awareness Month, a time for increased dialogue about this subject.

    “Why should we bury precious organs?” says Dr. Osorio. “We plan for so many things in life—college, kids, retirement. Take a minute to reflect on organ donation and consider registering. So many people’s lives can be touched by this one selfless decision. And if you do decide to be a donor, tell your loved ones about it. Let your wishes be known.”

    A Desperate Shortage

    As the U.S. population ages and obesity increases, diseases such as diabetes, hepatitis, and high blood pressure are skyrocketing, dramatically increasing the need for organ transplants.

    Right now, some 120,000 people need organ transplants in the United States, approximately 21 percent of whom live in California. For these patients, a new organ is their only remaining medical option.

    No matter your age, ethnicity, or medical history, you can decide to be an organ and tissue donor. Learn more at

    Megan Bondy - Liver Recipient

    Megan Bondy was 23 years old when she was hospitalized at CPMC with acute liver failure from an autoimmune disease. The liver of a 16-year-old girl killed in a car accident and donated by her parents saved Megan’s life.

    “From the beginning, I was so aware of her,” says Megan. “Before the transplant, I didn’t even know where my liver was. Now I feel an angel there. I put my hand there and I feel centered.”

    In 2003, Megan joined the staff at California Transplant Donor Network and worked there for more than a decade, helping other donors give the gift of life to other recipients.

    Megan, now 37, is married and has four children. In 2013, Megan and her husband had twins. Then in June 2014, she gave birth to a second set.

    “My donor would be 30 years old now,” she says. “I feel responsible to live for her, too, to honor her life. I feel that I had my twins and I had hers, too.”

    Derrick Hardy - Kidney Recipient

    “This lady named Vicki called from CPMC’s transplant center—the voice of my new beginning,” says kidney recipient Derrick Hardy. “She said, ‘We need you down here today. You’re going to get a transplant.’ I cried for five minutes.”

    Derrick had spent the past seven years going to dialysis three times a week, four hours per visit as he waited on the transplant list. It just drains you,” he recalls. “All you want to do is go home and sleep because it takes 24 hours to feel normal again. It’s like losing three days a week out of your life.”

    Every year on his new birthday, November 11, 2011, Derrick calls CPMC to let them know how he’s doing. Then two years ago he founded Hardy’s Transport Service, ferrying dialysis patients to and from their treatments. With four vehicles, he serves up to 45 clients at a time while charging a fraction of the cost of other medical transportation services in the Stockton area.

    Clearly, Derrick says, his new kidney changed his life. “But not just my life,” he adds quickly. “I now have a 6-monthold son, Derrick Jr. So my new kidney not only gave me life, but it helped to create a new life, too.” “I am a new person,” he continues. “God has given me another chance to dance.”

    Mackinnon and Millard Families

    Janice MacKinnon (left), kidney donor, alongside Bill Millard, kidney recipient, Jake MacKinnon, pancreas recipient, and Tish Millard.

    Why is my son alive and someone else’s son is dead? That’s the question Janice MacKinnon kept asking herself.

    Ten years ago, when Janice’s son Jake was 19, he received a life-saving pancreas transplant. The donor, they discovered later, was another 19-year-old named Kalem Millard, who was killed in an ATV accident.

    After the successful operation, the MacKinnons planted a tree in their yard and decorated it with lights in memory of Kalem. They took photos of the tree-lighting ceremony and sent them with a letter of thanks to the Millard family through the transplant center. To Janice’s surprise, Kalem’s mother responded and the two families formed a friendship that grew deeper and deeper.

    Meanwhile, Kalem’s father Bill was going blind from diabetes and was on the transplant list waiting for a kidney. When Janice found out, she called CPMC and volunteered to donate her kidney to Bill. “To this day,” says Janice, “there are no words to describe what the Millard family did for us.”

    Coincidentally, Janice’s kidney turned out to be a nearly a perfect match for Bill, who underwent his transplant last July.

    “The whole thing has been mind-blowing for me and my family,” says Bill. “We didn’t have a choice as to who received our son’s organs. But Janice had a choice and she chose me. There’s no way to thank her. All I can do is pay it forward. And getting the word out about organ donation is one way I can help someone else.”