Patient Stories

The Gift of Organ Donation – April is Donate Life Month

donate-lifeFor many, April signifies the start of spring with the first signs of sunnier days, bluer skies and growing flowers. But for transplant patients, their families and donors, April symbolizes another kind of rebirth – the journey of organ transplantation and the generous gifts of organ donors.

Started in 2003 and celebrated every April, National Donate Life Month aims to highlight the growing need for organ and tissue donations and provide a positive reminder for people to sign up to become donors. As we celebrate Donate Life Month, we’d like to take a look back at some of our amazing stories of donation and transplantation. None of these stories would have been possible without organ donation:

If you’re interested in registering to become a donor, it’s simple. Just visit http://donatelife.net/register-now/.

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Emory Transplant Center

10 Years and Still Diabetes Free – Islet Cell Transplant Patients Celebrate Anniversary of Life-Changing Procedure

islet-trans-patients“I feel free. I feel normal.” That’s what Emory Transplant Center patient Laura Cochran says of her life since having a pancreatic islet cell transplant to treat her brittle Type 1 diabetes.

Last week, Cochran, along with the Emory Transplant Center team and fellow patient Rob Allen, gathered to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their participation in a clinical trial for their severe Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas ceases to produce insulin, a hormone that allows people to get energy from food. Type 1 diabetics must take insulin every day to live.

Both Cochran and Allen were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as young adults. Allen’s diabetes was controlled with insulin injections for about 10 years until his episodes of low blood sugar became more frequent and more severe. As for Cochran, as her diabetes progressed, she developed hypoglycemia unawareness, where her blood sugar would drop so low so quickly, that she didn’t recognize how low her sugars were. She often became dazed during these episodes and had to be watched at all times. While both benefitted some from insulin pumps, they still needed more relief. Fortunately, they were candidates for a clinical trial at Emory where donor pancreatic islet cells were transplanted to restore insulin production in people with Type 1 diabetes.

Cochran and Allen each received two islet cell transplants from two different organ donors, several months apart. After the first transplant, they both still needed small amounts of insulin injections. After the second transplant, neither Cochran nor Allen needed insulin injections. Both have been insulin free since 2004.

“We transplanted just two teaspoons of islet cells into these patients 10 years ago, and they no longer need insulin injections,” says Christian Larsen, MD, DPhil, professor of surgery in the Division of Transplantation at Emory, and dean of Emory University School of Medicine. “This has been a miraculous transformation.”

Researchers are awaiting FDA approval of islet cell transplants so that the surgery will no longer be experimental. Once approval is obtained, surgeons can perform these transplants on patients who meet the criteria.

“The best part about the islet cell transplants is not having to worry daily about my blood glucose levels getting out of control,” says Allen. “It has been an amazing thing.”

Related Resources

Emory Islet Transplant Program
Islet Transplant For Type 1 Diabetes? Julie Allred’s Story

Mother Daughter Team Kicks Off Six-Way Kidney Swap

kidney-swapWhen Mother’s Day rolls around this year, Cindy Skrine and her daughter, also named Cindy, will have a lot to celebrate. Having lived with kidney disease for many years, the elder Cindy needed a kidney transplant. Her daughter was tested as a donor, but ultimately was not a match for her mother. She was, however, a match for someone in California. With the help of Emory’s Kidney Paired Donor Exchange program, thus began a six-way kidney swap that stretched from Georgia to California to Tennessee and then back to Georgia.

“Emory began its Kidney Paired Donor Exchange Program in 2010, and we have been participating in the National Kidney Registry since 2012,” says Nicole Turgeon, MD, associate professor of surgery, Emory University School of Medicine and surgical director of the Paired Donor Exchange Program. “Paired donor exchange gives patients an opportunity to receive a living donor kidney transplant from a loved one or friend, despite incompatible blood types and positive crossmatches. In paired donation, a donor and recipient are matched with another incompatible donor and recipient pair, and the kidneys are exchanged between the pairs.

According to Dr. Turgeon, there are currently more than 100,000 people on the kidney transplant waiting list. The discrepancy between the number of organs available and the number of people on the waiting list continues to grow. The Emory Transplant Center is the state’s largest transplant center performing the highest volume of kidney transplants in Georgia.

To learn more about the Skrine’s story, check out the video below:

Visit the Emory Kidney Transplant Program website for more information on the Emory Paired Donor Exchange program.

Celebrating the Gift of Life in the New Year

Donate Life New Year's FloatWhile many people were recovering from New Year’s Eve parties and setting their resolutions for 2014, Emory transplant recipients Amy Tippins and Julie Allred were celebrating life on a much grander scale on New Year’s Day.

Tippins and Allred were two of 30 transplant recipients nationwide who rode on the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., which preceded the Rose Bowl. The float, which featured illuminating lanterns, was called “Light Up the World,” and sought to bring awareness to organ and tissue donation.

Tippins received a liver transplant in 1993 at Emory University Hospital after being diagnosed as a teenager with hepatic adenoma, a rare benign tumor of the liver. In the 20 years since her transplant, Tippins has gone on to graduate high school, college, own her own company and volunteer with the Georgia Transplant Foundation.

Julie Allred on the Donate Life Float

Julie Allred on the Rose Parade Donate Life Float

Allred, a type 1 diabetic since age 10, got her first insulin pump in 1992. Despite her efforts to carefully watch her diet and test regularly, she continued to suffer the effects of severe hypoglycemia. But thanks to two islet cell transplants at the hands of Emory transplant surgeon Dr. Nicole Turgeon and interventional radiologist Dr. Kevin Kim, Julie has experienced relief in ways she never knew possible. Soon after the first islet transplant, the episodes of life-threatening low blood sugar levels stopped for Allred, helping her get back to the things she enjoys.

Dr. Turgeon joined Allred and Tippins on the Donate Life float, which also was decorated with floragraph portraits of deceased organ donors.

“The Rose Parade float is just one of the many ways we can raise awareness of the importance, need and life-saving capabilities of organ donation,” says Turgeon. “I was thrilled to be able to both honor our donors and celebrate life with our recipients.”

Emory Transplant Center’s Donor Wall Debuts 21 More Names

Transplant Donor WallThe Emory Transplan Center’s living donor wall, spanning one entire wall in the Outpatient Transplant Clinic’s (OTC) reception area, includes 21 additional names as of Nov. 26. As we celebrate the holidays, paving the way to a season of giving, it is with joy that we highlight the names of those who have given a part of themselves to a related or unrelated individual — donations of selfless gifts so that others may live and enjoy improved health and wellness.

The wall made its debut in Emory’s OTC in 2007. The new panel is the third installation since the wall’s premiere, with additions also made in 2009 and 2011. Today, the wall displays over 400 living donor names and their relationship to the recipients of their life giving/life enhancing gift, a kidney or portion of one’s liver.

Our living donor wall pays tribute to the individuals named there as tangible depictions of the ultimate gift of love to another.

“You can make a living by what you get, but you can make a life by what you give.” —unknown

From a Life of Giving to Giving the Gift of Life

Michael (Mike) Beller wanted to make a real difference in the lives of others. He didn’t want to help just one person, he wanted to help as many people as he could. So Mike decided to altruistically donate one of his kidneys, which was the kickoff to a kidney transplant chain that has effected people in Atlanta to Wisconsin and beyond.

As the son of missionaries in Mexico, Mike grew up believing he had the responsibility to give back. He currently serves as Chief of Investigations for the Chamblee Police Department, and formerly served as an Army ranger. He is also the father of 5 children.

“It’s amazing,” says transplant surgeon Dr. Nicole Turgeon, “he’s lived a life where he has been giving, to his family, to his job and to his country.”

Last winter Mike started thinking abut donating a kidney. He found an article on the internet about the National Kidney Registry.

“There are 90,000 people in this country that need a kidney and there’s 1000s of them every year that die without one”, says Mike.

The National Kidney Registry matches people who need a kidney and have a willing donor who is not a match for them, with someone who is a match; therefore, connecting together a chain of transplants with p aired donors across the country.

In paired donation, an incompatible donor and recipient pair is matched with another incompatible donor and recipient pair, and the kidneys are exchanged between the pairs. By giving their kidneys to unknown, but compatible, individuals, the donors can provide two or more patients with healthy kidneys where previously no transplant would have been possible.

Mike decided he wanted to be the person to start one these chains.

“If he gave to one person, that would be great but this would allow him the possibility to maybe help two, three, five, six, and in some chains we see even up to 50 or 60 people involved,” says Dr. Turgeon.

On August 1st, Mike donated his healthy kidney that was immediately flown by passenger jet to Madison, Wisconsin to save the life of a recipient. Mike’s gift would then trigger another transplant in Pennsylvania, and then another in South Carolina and so the chain goes on.

Two and a half weeks later Mike returned to work and is doing well.

Says Mike, “I can’t think of anything else you could do that could help another human being this effectively.

Mike’s story was recently featured on Fox 5 News. You can learn more about this tremendous gift by watching the video below:

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Emory Transplant Center Takes Part in Second Largest Kidney Swap in History: 28 people Now Have a New Lease On Life

Kidney swap patients Troy Milford & Robert PooleAs a former pastor, Troy Milford had spent years counseling his congregation through the joys and challenges of their lives. But, as it turns out, he was quietly dealing with a challenge of his own.

In 1997, he was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. Though he felt well on dialysis, he knew he’d eventually need a kidney transplant. In 2010, he was placed on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. Several of Troy’s family members were tested in hopes of donating their kidney to him, but they were not matches. Troy’s friend and parishioner, Robert Poole was then tested, but he wasn’t a match either. That’s when Robert (pictured right with recipient Troy Milford) learned about the Kidney Paired Donor Exchange Program at Emory University Hospital.

“Emory began its Kidney Paired Donor Exchange Program in 2010, and we have been participating in the National Kidney Registry since 2012,” says Nicole Turgeon, MD, associate professor of surgery, Emory University School of Medicine and surgical director of the Paired Donor Exchange Program. “Paired donor exchange gives patients an opportunity to receive a living donor kidney transplant from a loved one or friend, despite incompatible blood types and positive crossmatches. In paired donation, a donor and recipient are matched with another incompatible donor and recipient pair, and the kidneys are exchanged between the pairs. This was the case with Mr. Poole and Mr. Milford, and the basis of how Chain 221 worked.”

Map of Kidney Transplant SwapTroy and Robert are now part of the world’s second largest kidney swap in history, and the largest kidney swap to be concluded in less than 40 days. Named “Chain 221” by the National Kidney Registry, the chain involved 56 participants, which facilitated 28 transplants in 19 transplant centers across the country, including the Emory Transplant Center. A Good Samaritan donor, also known as an altruistic donor, initiated Chain 221 in Memphis on April 30, 2013, and the chain ended just five weeks later, on June 5, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Both Troy and Robert underwent surgery on April 30 at Emory University Hospital. That day Troy received his new kidney, while Robert donated his kidney to another person half way across the country, also in need of the new organ. Both men are doing well after their surgeries.

“Words can’t say how it made me feel that Robert, who’s not even related to me, would do this for me,” says kidney recipient Troy. “I am one of 28 people who has a new kidney, and a new outlook on life, thanks to this swap. That’s what God can do. He can work miracles.”

“Troy is a good friend and special person,” says Robert, who manages a golf course in Canton. “He was too proud to ask for help, even when he was sick, so I am really happy I could assist. It didn’t matter to me if I gave to someone I knew or to someone across the country. I was just thrilled to donate on behalf of Troy.”

According to Dr. Turgeon, there are currently more than 100,000 people on the kidney transplant waiting list. The discrepancy between the number of organs available and the number of people on the waiting list continues to grow. “Ultimately we want to bring awareness to living and deceased donation with this story,” Turgeon explains.

Since the Kidney Paired Donor Exchange Program began at Emory, the hospital’s surgeons have performed 27 kidney transplants. The Emory Transplant Center is the state’s largest transplant center performing the highest volume of kidney transplants in Georgia. In 1966, Emory performed the first Georgia kidney transplant. To date, the Emory Transplant Center has performed more than 4,300 kidney transplants, with 247 kidney transplants performed in 2012.

Visit the Emory Kidney Transplant Program website for more information on the Emory Paired Donor Exchange program.

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Bogey the Transplant Therapy Dog Brings Cheer to Patients

Bogey Transplant Therapy Dog with Patient Daphne VeysOne of our kidney transplant recipients, Daphne Veys (pictured right), recently received a visit from one of her favorite caregivers during her last visit to the Outpatient Transplant Clinic. This caregiver happens to have four legs — he’s Bogey, one of the OTC’s therapy dogs. Veys frequently requests a visit from her furry friend when she is in the transplant clinic’s infusion room. Bogey, who has his own official Emory Healthcare ID and “business” card, is known to put a bright smile on many of our visitors’ faces.

Bogey Transplant therapy dog

“Daphne walked more distance than I have seen her walk for some time by taking Bogey for a stroll through the clinic, and she even danced a little jig,” says Satrina Hill, the nurse manager in the OTC. “The excitement on her face was priceless, and she smiled continuously. Bogey is amazing.”

Bogey is a seven-year-old flat-coated retriever owned by Kyle Kusa-Henry, senior medical secretary in the liver transplant program. She trained Bogey and had him certified through Therapy Dogs International, which tests and registers therapy dogs and their handlers for the purpose of visiting hospitals and medical clinics such as our Outpatient Transplant Clinic.

 

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Six Lives Connected through Paired Donor Kidney Exchange

Living Organ DonationThe Emory Transplant Center played a role in a 6-chain kidney swap that will forever bind 6 individuals.  Maya Cosola wanted to donate a kidney to her aunt but was not a compatible match.  So she agreed to be a part of paired donor kidney exchange program that allows incompatible donor and recipient pairs to be matched with other incompatible donor and recipient pairs, allowing kidneys to be exchanged between these pairs. A match between pairs was arranged, and Maya’s kidney was flown to someone in North Carolina, and thus began the 6-chain exchange across 4 states.

Share their touching story in this video from Fox 5 below:

Visit the Emory Kidney Transplant Program website for more information on the Emory Paired Donor Exchange program.

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When Living Organ Donation Means Living On Through Others

Living Organ Donation Donate Life MonthIn recognition of Donate Life month, the Emory Transplant Center was honored to have a very special speaker share an extraordinary story – one that touches the very heart of what it means to give the gift of life even in times of heartbreak.

Scott Haggard shared with Emory physicians and staff the story of his sister, Terri Haggard Wade – a loving 48 year old wife, mother, sister and daughter – who spent her professional career as a nurse.  And as part of the medical profession, Terri knew the importance of organ donation.  As a matter of fact, when her son was learning to drive, Terri said that before he could drive on his own, he would need to register to become an organ donor.

It was March of 2009 when Terri was rear ended in an automobile accident.  She began to experience headaches, and when they continued after a few weeks, Terri decided to go to an urgent care center to be evaluated. The urgent care center sent her to a nearby hospital to have a CT scan of her head.  And that was when they discovered Terri had a brain tumor.

On April 15, 2009, Terri had surgery to remove her tumor.  The surgery was more complicated than anticipated, and Terri did not wake up immediately after the surgery.  After ten days, Terri still had not awakened and her intracranial pressure spiked to very high levels, causing brain death.

At this time, Terri’s medical team approached her family asking them to make a very difficult decision.  They had to decide whether or not to allow Terri’s organs to be donated – they knew she wasn’t really with them anymore.

“We were never going to have Terri,” said Scott, “but to have her be able to help others, even in death, meant everything to us”.

To honor Terri’s wishes, her organs were donated, saving lives as she had done so many times before as a neonatal intensive care nurse at Egleston.  Terri was very loved among many – over 700 people were present at her funeral.

Although Scott knows that the individuals who received his sister’s organ are grateful for their gift of life, he says “It also means a lot to us, the donor family, to know that Terri is able to live through others”.

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