Posts Tagged ‘transplant patient story’

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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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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Sherrell Gay Receives the Gift of Life Just in Time to Witness New Life

Sherrell Gay, Double Transplant Patient

Sherrell Gay

If you remember reading about kidney transplant recipient Ken Sutha and his participation in the U.S. Transplant Games, you might also remember reading about Sherrell Gay, who received her heart at the Emory Heart Transplant Center and also participated in the games. In fact, Sherrell celebrated the 8-year anniversary of her transplant procedure during the Games’ closing ceremonies.

Although Sherrell (who’s originally from Waynesboro, GA) received her first heart transplant a decade ago, for the past 18 months, she has been on the waiting list for another heart due to allograph vasculopathy, a fairly common long-term complication from heart transplant. Allograph vasculoplasty is known more commonly as chronic rejection, which can develop in transplanted hearts at any time – soon after transplant or many years later. The small vessels in the heart become blocked first and as the disease progresses, the larger vessels can become blocked too. “I was diagnosed with allograph vasculpathy at my 7 year annual post-transplant appointment,” Sherrell recalls. “I was treated with medication for 1 ½ years and then the team decided the disease had progressed too far to benefit from drug therapy and I needed to be evaluated for another heart transplant.”

Both throughout her first heart transplant journey and while Sherrell was hospitalized for a portion of 2012, her kidney function continued to decline. “As my wait time continued, my kidney failure worsened, as did my heart function,” Sherrell recalls. Emory’s kidney transplant team was asked to consult on her case, and they concluded that after Sherrell had spent 10 years on immunosuppressants and her kidney function was in decline for almost a decade, her kidneys were in end stage kidney failure. They added Sherrell to the kidney transplant waiting list, knowing that the other option was a potential lifetime on dialysis following her next heart transplant.

Thankfully, Sherrell was contacted about her waiting list status and learned she would be receiving her new heart and two kidneys from the same organ donor. “On the day I got the call there were organs matched for me, I had to start emergency continual dialysis. The organs became available at just the right time,” she says, and “by doing both organs from the same donor, I stood a better chance at successfully living healthy.”

On December 9, 2012, Sherrell received her successful double organ transplant and is now recovering and doing well. Dr. Duc Nguyen performed her heart transplant first, and Dr. Paul Tso performed her kidney transplant immediately after.

While Gay spent much of 2012 at Emory, this mother of two daughters and one son never missed a chance to help cheer up and educate other candidates and recipients and families about the transplant process from her bedside, except, of course, when she was most sick. (At the worst point, she suffered two heart attacks and was placed on emergency peritoneal dialysis.) If such a thing were awarded, Gay would win the Oscar for the Best Advocate Ever for Organ Transplantation.

“I am extremely grateful for my donor family who made the decision to make that donation of life — we got the best gift that day,” says Gay, who also helps lead the Georgia Transplant Foundation Mentor Project.

We are very glad to hear about Sherrell’s remarkable recovery and send her best wishes on her continued recovery and on the upcoming arrival of her first grandbaby. Thanks to her double organ transplant, Sherrell is now well enough to be by her daughter Tracy’s side when she gives birth at the end of March.

The gift of life just in time to witness the gift of a new life; now that is a transplant miracle.

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Emory Heart Transplant Patients Celebrate the Gift of Life!

Heart transplant gift of lifeOur Emory transplant surgeons help facilitate the tremendous gift of organ donation and renewed life by performing approximately 60-70% of all heart transplant procedures in Georgia each year. On an annual basis, approximately 50 new Georgia adults receive heart transplants each year, and recently, over 100 of our Emory Heart Transplant patients and their families gathered together to celebrate this gift of life.

Watch this heartwarming Fox 5 News piece and meet some of our patients whose lives have been changed thanks to their heart transplant procedures.

For Ed Mann & Felicia Henderson, It’s a Small World After All

Ed Mann Felicia Henderson Living Donor Kidney Transplant

Ed Mann and Felicia Henderson on a recent visit to the Emory Transplant Center.

As a physical education teacher, every day Ed Mann helps keep the children of Mount Zion Elementary School in Carrollton, GA in tip-top-physical condition, but ironically, his own health has been suffering for the past three years. In 2009, Ed was diagnosed with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that resulted in a decline in his heart and pulmonary health initially, but then, took a toll on his kidneys. As a result, six hours of every one of Ed’s days was spent undergoing dialysis treatments. And despite his declining health and ongoing medical needs, he still didn’t missed a single day of work.

After seeking a kidney donor via traditional methods to no avail, one day a few months ago, Ed had an idea that he called “a shot in the dark,” but it was a decision that proved to be much more than that. Ed posted a message on Facebook, “Just a little advertising. Still need a kidney. 404-712-4450.”, which is the phone number of the Emory Kidney Transplant Program. A shot in the dark turned into an even more unlikely set of circumstances when the person who answered Ed’s call for help was not only a fellow employee at Mount Zion Elementary, but also Ed’s longtime friend of 16 years, Felicia Henderson.

Not knowing whether she would be a match for Ed, “I just called the number,” recalls Felicia. And after undergoing the necessary testing, the team at the Emory Transplant Center confirmed that Felicia was indeed a match to be Ed’s kidney donor. Upon receiving the news, Felicia immediately committed to being Ed’s donor, “People that are able to give a kidney live longer than the average person, not because they have given a kidney, but because they were healthy enough in the first place to be able to do it.”

Because of Felicia’s gift of life, Ed will continue to coach and teach the children of Mount Zion Elementary how to stay physically fit. “The gift of life. I know I’ve got so many good friends. Very thoughtful, very kind.”, he says.

Felicia and Ed’s transplant operation took place exactly two months ago today, on November 16, 2012. Since the surgery, both Ed and Felicia are doing well. They spent time with their families over the holidays celebrating renewed health and the gift of life, and have both returned to work at Mount Zion Elementary.

When we asked Ed if there is anything he would like to say to Felicia, he told us, “Yes. I would like to tell her thank you for saving my life. You are the most thoughtful and kind person I know, and I appreciate what you did for me.”

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Islet Cell Transplant for Type 1 Diabetes? Julie Allred’s Story (Part II)

Julie Allred, Islet Transplant PatientIn November, we shared with you part I of Julie Allred’s story. Of the nearly three million Americans living with type 1 diabetes, many of them will be able to successfully control their disease with insulin injections or pumps. But like Julie Allred, some patients will develop brittle type 1 diabetes, a condition in which even insulin injections and pumps cannot fully control the dangerous and often unpredictable swings in blood sugar that can lead to loss of consciousness and coma.

Throughout her life, Julie’s low blood sugar has been a constant source of concern, affecting her moods, relationships, career and ability to think clearly. A type 1 diabetic since age 10, Julie has always had to have someone, whether it be her father, husband or daughter, be on the lookout for the highs and lows of her blood sugar because she could not recognize them herself.

“I could never go anywhere alone,” says Julie. “And, I got to the point where I couldn’t even be in my home alone. Looking back, I realize now that my husband and daughter were always coordinating their schedules so that one of them could make sure that I was ok. It wasn’t just me who had diabetes. My whole family was dealing with it, too.”

But thanks to two islet cell transplants — one in July 2011 and another in February 2012 — 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.

“The transplant has allowed my blood sugar to stay even throughout the day,” says Allred. “I have never felt this way in my life. I have more energy, and I am able to do things without constant worry and without someone always having to watch me.”

As part of a multi-year national research study on the islet cell transplant procedure, Allred is one of just 18 patients who has had the procedure at Emory, the only transplant center offering islet cell transplants in Georgia. Insulin-producing cells (islets) are harvested from an organ donor’s pancreas and inserted into the recipient’s liver. The fragile islets implanted in Julie’s liver serve to take over the job of making insulin, reducing the need for insulin shots, at least temporarily, and helping her body regain the ability to maintain steady, healthy blood sugar levels. Julie has been able to reduce her insulin from 65 units a day received through a 24-hour insulin pump to just a once daily injection of four units at bedtime.

“I’m so lucky to be one of those few people to have that little bit of normalcy for my life and family,” Allred says. “My family and I finally have freedom.”

Julie’s father, who was her primary caregiver, passed away shortly before Julie’s first transplant.

“My dad always said there would be a day when this would happen, that I would feel better,” says Julie. “Though he’s not here to experience it with me, I know he’s watching me and is so happy that he was right.”

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Families Pay Forward the Gift of Life in Emory’s Paired Exchange Program

Paired Exchange Tiffany Prevo Mark VillantiAs a personal trainer and general manager of Workout Anytime in Decatur, GA, Mark Villanti believes being healthy and living life to the fullest is a top priority. Fitness is Mark’s passion and he especially enjoys running ultra-marathons and helping his clients get into shape. One day, a client of Mark’s mentioned that her husband was in need of a kidney transplant and that neither she nor any other loved one was a match. Mark got to thinking, ‘what if I became a donor?’ Coincidentally, back in college as a Sports Science major, Mark conducted research on renal failure and gained a keen understanding of what physical limitations a person on dialysis experiences – being tied to a dialysis machines for hours at a time, multiple times during the week. When his client mentioned her husband’s need for a kidney, in some way Mark felt it was a spiritual message.

“I have always loved to help and protect people; my wife would say that I am a very giving person. Being a combat veteran of the US Marine Corp and the US Army, serving in the Iraq war, and losing both parents in the past 5 years made me realize how important life and living is.”’

Knowing what a dialysis patient is up against on a daily basis and thinking about his client’s husband’s need, Mark began the matching process and was approved to be a donor. But while in the process, Mark’s client’s husband received a kidney from another donor. Instead of returning back to his daily life and forgetting the notion of donating, Mark decided to continue the process to become an altruistic donor.

When he was contacted by Emory informing him they found a matching patient candidate, Mark learned only that she was a woman in her 30s needing a kidney and that she was a part of the Paired Exchange Program through the Emory Transplant Center. This program was established to help pay forward the gift of donating life, meaning that when Mark donated his kidney to the recipient, the recipient’s loved one would then donate their kidney to another person in need since there was not a compatible blood match. In a paired exchanged donation, a donor and recipient are matched with another incompatible donor and recipient pair, and the kidneys are exchanged.

Mark’s recipient Tiffany Prevo, wife and mother of three daughters (a 9 yr old and 5 yr old twins), was diagnosed with Lupus in 2008, which led to her end stage renal failure. Tiffany’s doctor told her that she would either need dialysis treatment for the remainder of her life, or that a kidney transplant was an option. Tiffany decided to be placed on the transplant waiting list. While waiting, Tiffany underwent peritoneal dialysis which tied her to a machine for eight hours every day.

“The dialysis treatments made me very emotional. I was up and down and just borderline depressed. I wanted a transplant right away – I couldn’t work and worse of all, I couldn’t do things with my daughters.”

Jemel, Tiffany’s husband, and other members of her family went through the matching process but were not eligible. Jemel immediately offered to be a part of the paired exchange program to accelerate Tiffany’s chance of receiving a kidney. Tiffany waited 18 months before she received the call from Emory stating they found Mark, her donor match.

On the day of transplant, Tiffany felt calm, asking herself, “Is this really happening?”. As Mark went in to have his kidney removed, he was not afraid at all. As a matter of fact, he felt excitement and was “ready to get this done to help this woman.” And finally there was Jemel, who also had surgery on that same day to donate to a child that he has never met.

All surgeries were successful. As Mark was recovering from his surgery at Emory University Hospital, he was up walking the halls as requested by his doctor, Dr. Nicole Turgeon. “As I walked past a room in the hall, I looked in and saw a woman. She looked back at me and we both thought, could this be the person?” As a matter of fact, Jemel and Mark were recovering in patient rooms right next to one another, and by chance a meeting of the three occurred. There were many smiles, hugs and tears of joy. Mark knew he had given the gift of live.
With words of wisdom to others who may be considering becoming a living donor, Mark says, “With anything else you have to look at the pros and the cons; in my case there were no cons. I knew I could live with just one kidney so I went for it. Life is a gift God has given us.”

Tiffany is very thankful to Mark stating, “I’ve never met such an amazing kind hearted man in person. You see it on TV or hear about it on the news but I never thought it would happen to me – I’m really grateful to Mark”. As for her husband, “Well he’s my hero. Without him all this wouldn’t have been possible – he’s amazing too.”
Two weeks post surgery, Mark was already back to one of his favorite pastime’s, running on the trails. Fast forward two months later to today, and Mark is training for another ultra marathon in September, where he will run 35 miles. He is back to his normal day to day activity and feeling great.

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Donate Life Month “Thank You” from Joe Persichetti

Joe Persichetti transplant patient
Dear Donor Family,

It has been eight years since my life saving heart transplant, and once again, I want to thank my donor and donor family for the gift of life.

I suffered my first of three heart attacks at age 40, and for eighteen years I struggled with heart disease. At age 58 my heart was failing and I was told that I would need a heart transplant to live. I was put on the on the transplant list and waited at home for four months. Waiting and not knowing if the call would come in time. At that point I did the only thing I knew how to do, pray.

When the call did come that there was a heart for me, all I could think about was that someone I never met was going to save my life.

I never imagined that I would enjoy this quality of life. I am using my new life to bring awareness to the importance of organ donation, and mentoring others who are waiting for a life saving transplant. I am determined to give back and celebrate life in honor of my donor.

My family and I are always thankful for each day we have together. I am playing golf and enjoying life to its fullest. I truly must say that my greatest joy is the time I spend with my seven grandchildren. As I hold them close to me I am grateful I have the chance to watch them grow. They are the joy of my life and I am truly blessed.

As always your family and my donor are in my heart and daily prayers forever.

There is no greater gift then the gift of life you shared with me.

Sincerely,
Joe

 

“My Offer Stands.” – Emory Transplant Nurse Donates Kidney to Patient

Clay Taber, Transplant Patient with Nurse Allison BatsonEmory University Hospital transplant nurse Allison Batson has spent many years caring for patients in need of a life-saving organ transplant. She has seen many patients’ lives saved because of the gift of organ donation … and many others lost because a matching organ simply could not be located in time.

Recently though, Allison was not only in the position to provide care and comfort at the bedside of a transplant patient in desperate need of a kidney transplant, she selflessly gave of herself – literally- by becoming an organ donor to 23 year-old Clay Taber of Columbus, Georgia.

Clay graduated from Auburn University in August and is soon to marry his college sweetheart in a few months. While he has been eagerly looking toward his future, over the last few months, he’s also been battling the fight of his life.

After his graduation, Clay’s family took a celebratory beach vacation at the Gulf of Mexico – not long after the unprecedented oil spill that occurred there. A few weeks later, Clay was not feeling well.

A doctor’s visit and standard blood tests uncovered Clay had Goodpasture’s Syndrome, a rare (approximately 1-in 1 million), life-threatening autoimmune disorder related to antibody formation in the body. Goodpasture’s syndrome is characterized by renal (kidney) disease and lung hemorrhage.

There is no exact cause known for Goodpasture’s disease, a disease in which the immune system fights the body’s own normal tissues through creating antibodies that attack the lungs and kidneys. Sometimes the disorder is triggered by a viral infection, or by the inhalation of gasoline or other hydrocarbon solvents – such as those found in crude oil.

Nurse Allison Batson, Patient Clay Taber

Nurse Allison Batson with Clay Taber

While Clay was lucky that the disorder was discovered before his lungs were affected, he was now suffering from complete kidney failure. He was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where he would spend numerous weeks on the 7th floor – the transplant unit, where he would undergo weeks of dialysis and plasmapheresis (blood purification procedure used to treat several autoimmune diseases.)

And that’s where the bond began.

“Immediately when Clay came onto our unit, he became a special patient that everyone just gravitated to,” said Allison Batson. “Here was this young man with everything in his life ahead of him, and he was fighting for his life. He quickly became friends of many of the staff, and really was just a tremendous inspiration to us all.”

Allison continued to visit with Clay during his weeks at the hospital, and a deeper connection began to form than the typical nurse-patient bond.

“I learned more about Clay, his family, his life, what he saw for his future. He wanted to get married to his sweetheart. He just graduated from college. The whole world was his, with the exception of this incredibly rare illness that hit him out of the blue. I have children his age, and I felt the same kind of pain his mother was feeling. Something inside me said I needed to do more.”

Soon Clay was strong enough to return home, where he would continue to receive dialysis treatment for a few months while waiting for a donor organ. Because Clay’s blood type is O-negative, finding a matching donor would prove to be challenging.

Clay’s mother, Sandra, would be tested as a possible match. She, however, would not qualify to be Clay’s organ donor. Then in late October, during a visit to Emory and the transplant unit where he regularly visited with friends and well-wishers, Clay, of course, also met with Allison.

“She said ‘If you’ll let me do this, I want to donate my kidney to you,” Clay recalls. “Something at that point just hit me. There are so many people in need of an organ transplant and have been waiting like me – even longer than me in many cases. And here is Allison offering to do this amazing thing. When she said ‘If you’ll let me,’ there was just something in those words. I couldn’t say no.”

Soon after, Allison would undergo the donor testing process that would eventually confirm her as a perfect match for Clay.

“People have asked me why I would do this for a stranger, or what if I had a family member in need one day, or why would I risk my own life or health for someone I barely know. My answer is because I can. Sure, I have children who might possibly be in need one day, but here was this young man right in front of me who needs help – today, and I am in a position to help him – today. If what I do for Clay causes more awareness among others that live organ donation is a possibility, then I can only hope that other lives will be saved because of my actions.”

On Tuesday, January 10th, the families of both Allison and Clay gathered in the early morning hours at Emory University Hospital. Smiles, tears and hugs were abundant between people who had formed an unbreakable bond over the course of the last few months, and had, in effect become extended family to one another.

In Operating Room #9, Allison underwent surgery to remove her kidney, while Clay was prepped for surgery just 30-feet away in Operating Room #8. Hours later, both patients were resting comfortably on the 7th floor of Emory University Hospital, where they had met by chance just months before. Both ready to start the new year in incredible fashion – with a new lease on life for Clay, and as a hero for Allison.

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