Saving a Loved One's Life
New Approaches to Organ Donation and Transplant
By Laura Miyashita
With more than 21,000 California residents waiting for organ transplants, increasing awareness of organ donation is critical to helping individuals who desperately await a life-saving transplant.
For 65-year-old Redding, Calif. resident John Williams, learning that one of his kidneys could improve the life of his friend was all the motivation he needed to become a living kidney donor. In what is called a kidney paired donation, John recently gave a kidney to an unknown, compatible recipient so that his friend Jim Gironda could receive a similar compatible kidney from another donor within the “exchange.” Kidney paired donation is an option for living donor pairs who are not compatible with each other. Previously, people with kidney failure who had an incompatible donor needed to wait for a deceased donor. But, with kidney paired donation, kidneys can be “exchanged” between pairs, making multiple, compatible living donor transplants possible.
If a living donor transplant hadn’t occurred for Jim, the 63-year-old manager of an Italian restaurant in Redding, he would have waited 5-7 years for a kidney transplant from a deceased donor. “The rising incidence of kidney failure has resulted in more Californians needing a kidney transplant,” says Steven Katznelson, M.D., medical director of California Pacific Medical Center’s Kidney Transplant Program. “As a result, transplant centers nationwide are using new approaches — such as kidney paired donation — that can provide a new source of living donor transplants. This type of kidney transplant offers many benefits, most importantly better success compared to deceased donor transplants and a shorter wait,” Katznelson explains. In the past year, surgeons at California Pacific performed 66 living-donor transplants, including a five-way, kidney paired donor transplant—the first to occur at any California hospital.
The Need for Organ Donors
Every day at CPMC, several patients are hospitalized while waiting for an organ transplant. Their need is so acute that they must remain at CPMC until an organ becomes available.
Fremont, Calif. resident and physician David Hooper is one example. Thirty-six years ago at age 19, David contracted the hepatitis C virus (HCV) after a hiking accident that required a blood transfusion. Back then, blood products didn’t undergo the rigorous screen for viruses that they do today. David’s body handled the hepatitis virus until a few years ago, when he developed liver failure. Last summer, David was hospitalized at CPMC after developing hepatopulmonary syndrome, a condition in which the liver disease advances to affect the lungs, causing low blood oxygen levels and shortness of breath.
Since a liver transplant is the only treatment for his condition, David and his family waited — and prayed — that a liver would become available before he died. After David had been in critical care for more than three weeks, his family rejoiced to learn a donor liver had become available. On August 8, 2011, surgeons transplanted a new liver into David’s body.
“We are eternally grateful that someone donated their organs and for the life-saving liver that has changed our lives forever,” says Linda Hooper, David’s wife. “We have sent a letter to the family and are so profoundly appreciative of this gift.”
“The sad truth is that with an aging population and diseases such as hepatitis and diabetes on the rise, the need for transplantation has increased, and the number of organ donors hasn’t kept pace,” says Robert Osorio, M.D., chairman of CPMC’s Barry S. Levin, MD Department of Transplantation. He adds, “Last year, CPMC’s transplant team performed 317 kidney, pancreas, heart and liver transplants for patients with end-stage disease, a number that would have been even higher had enough organs been available.”
What You Can Do
To bring attention to the growing need for organ donation, April is designated as National Organ Awareness Donation month. Because California is home to more than 21 percent of the nation’s individuals awaiting a transplant, education surrounding organ donation is critical. To register to be an organ donor and learn more, visit donatelifecalifornia.org.
Following his own transplant experience, Jim enthusiastically shares how the gift of a kidney can transform a life. “After my transplant, it felt like they turned the blood back on—I feel better now than I have in a long, long time,” he explains.
By touting the benefits of living kidney donation, Jim hopes he might inspire others to learn about organ donation. His friend and donor John agrees, saying, “I’m so glad I could help by donating my kidney. It was easier than I thought and it’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to help.”
For more information on organ donation, visit donatelifecalifornia.org. For more information on living donor kidney transplant at California Pacific Medical Center, call 415-600-1700 or visit cpmc.org/kidney.
One Organ Donor Can Help More Than 50 People in Need:
- Your heart could beat for someone else.
- Your lungs could breathe for someone else.
- Your kidneys could free two people from dialysis.
- Your liver could save the life of someone awaiting transplantation.
- Your corneas could give sight to two people.
- Your bone could help repair other people’s damaged joints.
- Your skin could help heal many burn victims.
From U.S. Department of Health and Human Services