Patient Stories

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.”

cta-learn-blue

 

*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.

cta-learn-blue
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.

cta-learn-blue

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.

transplant recipients

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.

Heart to Heart – Celebrating Our Heart Transplant Patients

Harry WuestEach year, Emory heart transplant recipients, their families and our staff and faculty look forward to Heart to Heart, a celebration of renewed lives through heart transplantation and the gift of organ donation. This year, heart transplant recipients from both Emory University Hospital and Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital attended the event on Saturday, February 14th, at the Miller-Ward Alumni House. The Valentine’s Day event was a great success with nearly 200 guests attending.

“We always enjoy seeing the smiling faces of our heart transplant recipients and their families, especially on Valentine’s Day, a holiday celebrating the heart” says Neile Chesnut, Manager of the Emory Heart Transplant Program. “The celebration affirms how important our work is. We love seeing so many recipients doing well and back to their normal lives.”

One of the event’s highlights was getting reacquainted with Harry Wuest, who had the “oldest” heart. In May, Harry will celebrate the 30th anniversary of his heart transplant. Harry received a new heart on May 24, 1985 and was the third patient to receive a heart transplant at Emory University Hospital. At the time, his heart was weakened from cardiomyopathy, which he suffered with for 12 years. He was unable to work and in such bad shape, he spent a month hospitalized in the cardiac care unit prior to his transplant.

With his new heart, this lively 70-year-old is in good health. Harry spends time with his 10 grandchildren, works full-time as a CPA at Bach, James, Mansour & Company in Duluth, and plays a mean game of golf. (“I feed the fish,” he says.)

Harry’s happy story is one of many told time and time again among the recipients at Heart to Heart. It is an honor to know that we, the Emory Transplant Center, might have had a small part to play in the lives of the people there, recipients whose lives were forever changed by the miracle of donation and heart transplantation.

A Home Away From Home for Transplant Patients

Mason House VisitThe Mason Guest House is a private retreat on the Emory University campus offering low cost housing for organ transplant candidates, recipients, living donors, and their families. It serves as a home-away-from-home, allowing patients to be away from the hospital setting, but yet close enough to feel secure should they need medical assistance.

During the holiday season, the Mason Guest House, like Emory University Hospital, did not close. It continued to serve transplant patients and their families, opening their doors to accommodate as many guests as possible. Kidney transplant recipient Donald Mason invited a couple of family members to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with him.

The wife of a lung transplant patient wrote on a comment card, “Because the timing of our transplant (and additional complications) that happened over the holidays, it touched our hearts that the Mason Guest House took that under consideration [and provided a] ‘holiday feel’ with a Thanksgiving dinner and atmosphere that allowed us to enjoy the holiday even though we were not able to spend it at home with our family. We now have extended family with your staff. God bless and thank you for all you do.”

Mason House HolidayLiver transplant recipient, Robert Croyle, schedules his annual follow-up appointments during the Thanksgiving holiday each year so that he can bring his traditional cornbread stuffing for dinner and play special holiday music for guests.

The Mason Guest House also hosted its annual Christmas dinner with some of the same guests who remained at the House throughout the holidays.

Many guests have to catch meals when they can, sometimes at odd hours. “Having a nice, unhurried sit-down meal is a much needed comfort to a lot of our guests,” says Mason Guest House guest services coordinator Zadya Lundgren. “We always enjoy the festive spirit and lively conversations we get to have with our guests during the holidays.”

For more information about the Mason Guest House or to make a reservation, call 404-712-5110.

Take a tour of the Mason Guest House. 

The Most Precious Gift – the Gift of Life

As a reminder during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, please take a moment to reflect on those who have given the most precious of gifts – the gift of life.

At Emory, each time a patient or their family makes the generous decision to donate his or her organs; a Donor Flag is raised in their honor. The family is then presented with a replica flag as a memento of this most precious gift.

“As the Donate Life flag is raised, what that means to me is it honors those who have graciously made the decision to give life. And it also allows people hope and a second chance with their renewed and active life”, says Kimberly Simpson-Dailey.

In this video, Kimberly Simpson-Dailey remembers her son, Anthony, whose organs were donated when a sudden and rare illness took his life. She reflects on this with a mix of pride and grief. May we remember all of our loved ones this holiday season, honoring their life and the life they have passed on to others.

Truly Thankful – Update on Veteran Police Officer and Altruistic Donor

Raleigh Callaway

Raleigh Callaway and Chris Carroll

As you may remember, it all started with a Facebook post. Raleigh Callaway received a lot of media attention when his wife posted a message on Facebook sharing Raleigh’s need for a kidney. The post resulted in thousands of people contacting the Emory Transplant Center with offers of help. But it was one man from Texas who heard his story, and gave the gift of life – a new kidney. Chris Carroll, who lives near Dallas, says he saw the Callaway family pictured on Facebook with their two children holding a sign that read, “Our Daddy Needs a Kidney.” Chris said he felt divinely led to call to see if he could become a donor.

“I’m just blessed to be able to do it,” Carroll said in one of the many TV interviews the two have conducted after their donor and transplant operations. The media coverage has spread far and wide — from the U.S. to the U.K., Australia and Japan. You can check out some of the stories at these Atlanta outlets: AJC.com, WAGA-TV, WSB-TV, and WGCL-TV.

Carroll’s and Callaway’s surgeon, Dr. Nicole Turgeon, says they are both doing “incredibly well.” Callaway hopes to go back to his job as a police investigator in Greensboro, Ga. in a couple of months to continue to support his family. His community will be glad to have him back on the job.

As we reflect on this Thanksgiving holiday and of all that we are thankful for, let’s remember those who have given the generous donation of life through organ transplantation.