Patient Stories

Real Patients, Real Stories – Hear from an Emory Liver Transplant Patient

Simone Whitehead was an active 30 year old, running half marathons and chasing around her 2-year old son. In April 2016, she began to feel ill, and she slowly started getting worse. Tests revealed that her liver was failing, and that she would need a liver transplant. Hear Simone’s story as she describes her experience receiving a liver transplant from the Emory Liver Transplant Program and how she was saved by an exclusive liver dialysis therapy machine called MARS.

Stranger Gives Holiday Gift to Georgia Teen

This time of year, during the holiday season, most people are shopping for family and loved ones trying to find that perfect gift. Well, a 16-year old Georgia teen received that perfect gift from a complete stranger – she received the gift of life.

Kelly Bundick, a 42-year old medical sales rep and single mother of a 5-year old son and a 12-year old daughter, decided to donate one of her kidneys to the Georgia teen. Kelly saw a photo of the teenager on the Callaway Facebook page. You may remember Raleigh Callaway, a kidney transplant recipient who received a lot of media attention when his wife posted a message on Facebook with their two children holding a sign that read, “Our Daddy Needs a Kidney.” They were able to find a donor, and Raleigh had his kidney transplant surgery at Emory. To give back, the Callaway family continues the Callaway Facebook page to spread the word for others who are in need of a kidney and searching for a living donor.

This was the first time a child had been featured on the Callaway Facebook page, and Kelly knew she had to help the teen.

Watch the video below to see how the story unfolds…this truly is the holiday of giving.

Dr. Nicole Turgeon, who performed Kelly’s operation, is Director of Emory’s Living Donor Kidney Transplant Program. The Emory Transplant Center has a well-established program, performing more than 1,200 living donor transplants to date.

“I really cherish the opportunity to work with these donors because they put themselves in harm’s way,” Dr. Turgeon says. “So, I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to them as well as to the potential recipient.”

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What our Transplant Patients and Families are Saying

patients-wordsEmory Transplant Center is dedicated to partnering with our patients and their families to provide a quality and caring experience. One of the ways in which we track the patient experience is by regularly surveying our patients about the care they received at our facilities. Emory Healthcare works with Press Ganey to conduct a nationally benchmarked, objective patient satisfaction survey.

We are proud to share with you some of the gracious remarks we have received. Our physicians and staff continue to work to improve patient satisfaction and the care experience. Our goal is to respect our patients and visitors, value them as special people, and care about their overall wellbeing. Below are some of the comments Emory Transplant Center has received from our patients:

  • [We are] always greeted by the front desk staff with a smile and “hello.” They are very professional.
  • I’ve been coming to Emory probably over 10 years. [I was] hesitant about coming to a big city hospital at first, but I’ve found Emory to be the best of the best overall. Love my doctor, James Spivey, and my whole [liver] transplant team is terrific.
  • HUGE improvement in the promptness of the registration process.
  • My labs were taken promptly and the phlebotomist was very pleasant.
  • Total redesign from my last visit (clinic). Much warmer, inviting and attractive.
  • Excellent and efficient visit.
  • Dr. Spivey is an excellent caregiver and I am VERY fortunate to have him as my liver transplant doctor. I feel that he genuinely cares about my physical as well as mental well-being. And as busy as I know he is, he makes me feel as if I’m the most important issue at hand during the time we spend together! Not only is he a Great Doc, he’s a Great Guy!!
  • Dr. [Sharon] Graves [transplant nephrologist] is the greatest!
  • The staff are professional and very friendly and patient-oriented.
  • Emory has always provided a level of care that goes a step above and beyond what is required. I would recommend EUH to anyone in need of a health care facility. Emory University Hospital is one of the best in Atlanta.
  • The only tests [I had] performed were an EKG and labs drawn. Both of these services were very professional and an easy experience.
  • The staff always takes great care of me!
  • Service all around was excellent!
  • The lab technicians are wonderful! They are friendly and caring. Very professional and they know you by name. Have never been treated anything but great by these individuals.
  • The transplant center always takes good care of me in every way!
  • Krystal Lee and Dr. [JP] Norvell [liver transplant program] are fantastic!!!

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about Emory Transplant Center

Liver Transplant Recipient Celebrates Silver Liverversary

patient story 8-11On July 2, Terri Willis celebrated her 25th anniversary with her transplanted liver. Over the years, Willis, who lives in Douglasville, has become one of the Emory Transplant Center’s most vocal advocates on the benefits of organ donation and liver transplantation, talking to other transplant candidates and recipients, participating in many transplant events and writing about her experiences on Facebook and blog posts.

“If someone had not said yes to organ donation, I would not be here,” she says.

Willis had her liver transplant at age 13 at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, but she has been an Emory Transplant Center patient since 1999. Her liver failed 25 years ago as the result of a metabolic disorder called tyrosinemia, a genetic defect that causes the immune system to break down the amino acid tyrosine, the building block of most proteins. When tyrosine and other byproducts build up in the tissues and organs, it can lead to nosebleeds, dietary issues, problems with the central nervous system, liver and kidney failure, and hepatocarcinoma. Willis developed tumors throughout her liver, and her transplant saved her life, keeping the cancer from spreading to other organs.

Willis has been running for years to stay in shape, and has participated in five U.S. Transplant Games mostly in track and field events. She is an inspiration to other recipients — to everyone who has ever heard her story.

Willis remains optimistic, even though she is currently experiencing a few issues with her liver and kidneys due to her medications and the age of her organ graft. The road hasn’t always been easy. She had two quickly resolved episodes of rejection in the mid-1990s and one eight-month long episode this year that has been more of a setback. But she keeps her positive attitude and shows other transplant recipients what a little grit can do by continuing to walk and run. “I want other patients to see that they can be active post-transplant,” she says. She ran Douglasville’s Hydrangea Festival 5K road race on June 5 in a specially made t-shirt in celebration of her upcoming liverversary. She gave her finisher’s medal to her longtime transplant hepatologist, Dr. Samir Parekh, who is pictured above with Willis.

Emory Liver Transplant Patient Celebrates One-Year Liver-versary

UntitledAll of our patients are pretty special, but there is something extraordinary about a liver transplant recipient who comes all the way from Gaffney, S.C. to host a party to thank the medical team who cared for her while she was at Emory Transplant Center.

Evonne Leland received a lifesaving liver transplant on April 22, 2015. She came back on the same date one year later — this time in good health — to celebrate what we at the Emory Transplant Center like to call a one-year “liver-versary.” A former restaurant owner, Leland, with help from her family and friends, organized a lunch to thank Emory Transplant Center staff and physicians. It was a true celebration of life.

“Before I came to Emory,” Leland says, “I was told there was nothing I could do; I had only six to nine months to live.”

Throughout the mid-1990s, Leland had one medical issue after another, resulting in many visits to doctors. In 2001, Leland learned she had an abnormal finding on her liver, and by 2009, her liver began to fail. In 2014, Leland was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and placed on the liver transplant waitlist in Charlotte, NC. Due to her health status at that time, she had to be taken off the list. She subsequently sought a second opinion at another hospital in North Carolina, but she was told her cancer was out of the criteria for a transplant there.

Leland then made a call to Emory Transplant Center and was able to make an appointment right away with the Emory Liver Tumor Clinic. “Mrs. Leland came here on April 2, 2015 and because we have a multidisciplinary clinic, we were able to arrange for the right specialists to evaluate her and obtain the necessary imaging studies to evaluate her liver cancer,” says Dr. Anjana Pillai, a transplant hepatologist and director of the Liver Tumor Clinic. “She was able to see the specialists she needed and we were able to make the decision to admit her that same day and expedite her liver transplant evaluation.” The Emory Liver Tumor Clinic was opened three years ago and has coordinated a multidisciplinary team of transplant hepatologists and surgeons, medical oncologists, palliative oncologists, interventional radiologists, and advanced practice providers to care for HCC patients.

Leland received her transplant only three weeks after her first visit to Emory. It has been a difficult road over the past year, but she is an example of how the Emory Liver Tumor Clinic’s multidisciplinary team works with each patient with HCC, or tumors originating in the liver, to determine a care plan that is best for him or her. Leland has made a remarkable recovery.

“I am so grateful for my transplant,” Leland says. “When so many doors were closed, Emory opened one for me.” Dr. Joe Magliocca, surgical director of the liver transplant program, was her surgeon.

The Emory Liver Tumor Clinic treats patients with HCC, which often is the result of cirrhosis, or liver scarring, from chronic liver disease and decompensation. Patients with early-stage HCC and cirrhosis treated with liver transplantation have a five-year survival rate of 75%, compared to only 25% to 30% without a transplant. HCC is a growing problem in the U.S.

According to Leland, “It was so nice to see the staff again now that I am so much better. I get up in the morning, and I can hold up my hands and they work. I can get out of bed and my legs work. And I don’t have to be on dialysis any more. I am so happy at what I can do. Each milestone is so very important. I’m getting there!”

The Powerful Gift of Organ Donation – A Lung Transplant Recipient’s Story

More than 120,000 individuals are waiting for for a transplant. Alice Koone, an Emory lung transplant recipient was one of those people.According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there are currently more than 120,000 individuals waiting for a transplant. One organ donor can save up to 8 lives, and sadly, 22 people die every day waiting for some type of transplant.

Alice Koone, an Emory lung transplant recipient was one of those individuals awaiting a life-saving transplant.

Alice was in desperate need for a double lung transplant due to severe complications with breathing. At a Talladega Superspeedway race in 2007, she remembers not being able to walk more than 20 feet without having to stop to rest because her lungs were so damaged.

In Jul 2007, Alice was place on oxygen, but her condition didn’t seem to be improving. On Sept. 13, 2007, three months after being placed on the lung transplant waiting list, she received a call that would change her life – she would receive a lung transplant that day with the Emory Transplant Center.

Neile Chesnut, an Emory heart transplant coordinator, said most people don’t understand how important it is to become an organ donor. Liver, heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas and small intestine are among organs that can be donated.

Chesnut says one of the best parts of working with pre- and post-transplants patients includes getting to know the individuals as they wait, sometimes several months, for a transplant.

“I feel like they are my family,” said Chesnut.

A year after receiving her transplant at Emory University Hospital, Alice wanted to write a “thank you” note to her donor family, but she could not go through with it.

“How do you thank somebody for this?” she wondered.

But on her second transplant anniversary, she finally wrote that letter to the donor family. Alice, now 54, spends time with her baby grandson and volunteers as a mentor for the Georgia Transplant Foundation.

“I’m able to do a lot of the things I thought I would never be able to do again,” she said. “We are able to travel, camp, hike and just enjoy life. You are thankful for everyday that you get.”

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*Blog adapted from story written by Marisa Stout. Marisa is a senior at the University of Georgia majoring in public relations. Her passion for transplant stemmed from her grandfather’s need for a heart transplant. He received his life-saving transplant at Emory in 2004, and is doing well today.

Marisa says, “I wrote this piece because I feel as a college student writing a piece on organ donation, I can send a message about this important cause to my generation.” And of course, Marisa is an organ donor herself.

Giving the Gift of Life: Former Marine Donates Kidney to National Guardsman

MarineGuardsmanPhotoThe Emory Transplant Center loves to share heartwarming stories that happen right here in our Center. As we celebrate Donate Life month, we would like to honor those who have graciously made the decision to give the gift life. Former Marine, Temple Jeffords, is one of those individuals. He made the decision to donate one of his kidneys to help out a fellow serviceman.

It all started with a plea for help via social media. Suffering with Stage 4 kidney disease, 28-year-old Dustin Brown, Army National Guardsman, relied on dialysis machines to rid his body of waste, salt and water that his failing kidneys could no longer do. Doctors told him a kidney transplant was needed.

Dustin connected with Kristi and Raleigh Callaway. Raleigh Callaway, a Greensboro, Georgia, police officer, received a new kidney in 2014 following a Facebook post publicly appealing for help.

Soon Brown, posing with his wife and five-year-old son, had a similar Facebook post on the Callaway’s page, desperately searching for a new kidney.

Former Marine, Temple Jeffords, saw the plea for help and contacted Kristi Callaway and the Emory Kidney Transplant Program. A few weeks later, 44-year-old Jeffords learned he was a match for Brown.

“I have never thought about donating a kidney to anyone, but when I saw another serviceman’s need for help, I wanted to help,” says Jeffords. “The testing and donating processes are simple.”

Living donor kidney transplants, such as this one, make the wait times shorter for critically-ill patients, while also providing the greatest chances for long-term success,” says Nicole Turgeon, MD, surgical director of the Paired Donor Kidney Exchange Program at Emory Transplant Center.

“I am so thankful for Temple,” said Brown, just days after his kidney transplant surgery. “Brothers in arms are always brothers, no matter what. He is a super hero in our family.”

Watch the story featured on ABC News here.

Watch the story featured on Fox News here.

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about kidney transplant and the Emory Living Donor Kidney Program 

Putting the Care of Our Transplant Patients First

patients firstThe Emory Transplant Center is very grateful to our compassionate and dedicated employees and faculty who treat our patients with the highest level of care possible. We strive to deliver outstanding quality with every patient interaction every day. Sometimes, all it takes is a smile to make someone feel special. The Emory Transplant Center is proud to share some excellent patient and family comments we have received highlighting the care we give.

  • I love case coordinator Ms. Santiba [Johnson, kidney transplant coordinator]. She went out of her way to make sure I was informed, comfortable and had what I needed to make an informed decision.
  • I am extremely pleased with Dr. [James] Spivey and all of the personnel in the transplant center. They saved my life not just with the liver transplant, but also with all of the issues and meds that I had after the transplant. I was fortunate to be able to receive a transplant. No one believes that I was ever as sick as I was. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Emory!
  • I love the staff. I visit the Emory [outpatient] transplant clinic every month. Most of the people working there know me by name.
  • The nurses in the infusion area are all excellent. They are always friendly and have a great attitude. They make sure I’m ok.
  • All of my experiences have been over and beyond my expectations, whether small to me or large to me. My prescription refills after calling Emory is an ease and a joy. Please don’t change the warmth of the employees — they are Human and Real, and the Best. Hats off to Emory.
  • The staff has always been lovely to my family and me. Fast, efficient service with well explained process and services being done.
  • The heart transplant team is terrific. They have taken great care of me during the past 15 years.
  • Love the doctors, especially Dr. [John Paul] Norvell, and we love the front [desk] staff. It is a soothing atmosphere while waiting.
  • Wonderful staff at registration. Cheerful and genuinely sincere in making the patient and family feel at ease.

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Emory Transplant Center Giving Back

Swing Easy Transplant Charity Check

(From left to right) Kirk Franz, seen here with two of his daughters, Dr. Tom Pearson, Executive Director, Emory Transplant Center and Chris Dimotta, Emory Transplant Center Administrator.

Every year, National Donate Life Month at Emory is a festive time to honor the donors and donor families who make renewed lives through transplantation possible. This past April was no exception as Emory Transplant Center physicians and staff participated in community events to raise money for two worthy causes – the Georgia Transplant Foundation and Donate Life of Georgia. Both organizations play a major role in helping to support transplant recipients in Georgia.

The Swing Easy Hit Hard golf tournament, held on April 16th at Windermere Country Club, has become an annual Emory tradition. The event is organized and hosted by Emory liver transplant recipient Kirk Franz. Thankful for his liver transplant, Kirk wanted to give back in some way and create awareness about the importance of organ donation. The annual event raises funds for the Georgia Transplant Foundation and Emory Transplant Center. This year’s event raised a total of $14,000 — a stunning increase over the five years the event has been organized by the Franz family.

Emory Transplant Center staff also participated in the second annual Donate Life of Georgia Run 4 Your Life 5K walk/run on April 18th. The event attracted more than 132 runners and transplant enthusiasts.

Emory Transplant 5K

Emory Transplant Center 5K Team

“It was a beautiful and festive day on the Silver Comet Trail,” says Dawn Fletcher, Emory Transplant Center employee and one of the race’s organizers. “We received approximately $6,100 in donations for Donate Life Georgia’s educational programs.” She encouraged the Emory team to dress in blue and green — official Donate Life colors — to get into the spirit.

Both events not only not only raised money for these two worthy causes but also promoted team unity among the Emory Transplant Center family – team they are proud to be a part of.

Georgia Transplant Foundation Gala Provides Assistance to Our Patients

Raleigh Callaway

Raleigh Callaway

Nearly 25 years ago, Tom Glavine’s Spring Training started as a small fundraiser for Georgia Transplant Foundation. In its first year it raised only $17,000 but in 2014 it brought in more than $300,000.

This year, on February 7th, the Spring Training event was the year’s most productive transplant fundraiser, netting more than a quarter million dollars for Georgia Transplant Foundation (GTF) programs that assist many of our patients. More than 1,000 people from the transplant community were on hand for the event, which was held this year at the newly renovated Delta Flight Museum near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Bill Backus, a heart transplant recipient from Emory and president of GTF’s board of directors, served as master of ceremonies. In fact, at least 20 Emory transplant recipients were there, including Raleigh Callaway, the Greensboro, Georgia policeman who received a living donor kidney transplant last fall.

“Last year, GTF provided financial assistance grants to nearly 400 of Emory’s transplant recipients and candidates,” reports Cheryl Belair, GTF director of development and community relations. “In 2014, GTF provided more than $1.2 million in financial assistance to Georgia’s transplant population.” Over the years, the gala has raised $6.2 million for the GTF, directly impacting the lives of the transplant patients the organization serves.

This year was retired Braves pitcher Tom Glavine’s 23rd annual Spring Training event. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

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Transplant recipients gather for a picture at the Miller Ward Alumni House during the Annual Heart to Heart Celebration for transplant recipients and their guests.