Inspired by his brush with death last year, Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Friday made a surprise appearance at Stanford's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital to describe how a liver transplant saved his life — and why patients with less wealth and fame should have the same opportunities.
"I was almost one of the ones that died waiting for a liver in California last year," said Jobs, whippet-thin but healthy, in a brief event with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to unveil a new legislative effort to greatly expand the number of California organ donors.
In his first public description of his much-rumored but long-secret crisis, Jobs said "there were simply not enough livers in California to go around and my doctors here advised me to enroll in a transplant program in Memphis, where the supply-demand ratio of livers is more favorable than it is in California."
"I was very fortunate," the notoriously private Apple icon shared with an audience of doctors, transplant patients and media. A Tennessee donor was a "match" — and Jobs had a jet available to rush cross-country within the four-hour "window" needed for successful surgery. "Many others died waiting to receive one."
Moved by his good fortune and quick access to an organ, Jobs shared his story last year with California First Lady Maria Shriver at a Christmas event, then started discussing ideas with Schwarzenegger to broaden California's organ donor program. The governor's office drafted legislation, which is being sponsored by State Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose).
The number of available California organs has declined in recent years, so the demand for organs far outstrips their supply — a consequence of helmet laws and drunk-driving crackdowns that have reduced auto and motorcycle deaths.
In contrast, the Memphis-based Methodist University Hospital, where Jobs had surgery, has one of the shortest waiting times of any liver transplant center in the country, according to a transplant registry.
Of his current health, Jobs told other transplant survivors who attended the crowded Friday news conference at a Packard auditorium, "I'm feeling fine. I almost died. It's been a pretty good last few months."
The new bill would require applicants for drivers licenses to answer whether they would be an organ and tissue donor before the California Department of Motor Vehicles will issue their license. Those willing to donate would be added to a formal state registry.
For now, the DMV issues a license regardless of whether the applicant answer that question at all.
Of the 26 million drivers in the state, only 6.3 million have signed to be organ and tissue donors.
The bill also creates a "California Living Donor Registry," which connects sick patients to altruistic strangers who are willing to donate a kidney. According to Stanford doctors kidney donation is relatively safe and does not shorten life span of donors.
Until now, Jobs, 55, has been mostly silent on the subject of his transplant. Six years ago he disclosed that he had been diagnosed with — and cured of — a rare form of pancreatic tumor called islet neuroendocrine cancer. Then he was treated for weight loss and went on a medical leave from Apple. He received his liver transplant last April and has returned to work.
Methodist Hospital in Memphis said Jobs did not receive favored treatment — rather, he received a transplant because he was the sickest patient on the wait list, with a matching blood type, when a donor organ became available.
But it takes money to be added to an out-of-state transplant list. A prospective patient must go to the hospital for evaluation and testing. If accepted, they must be able to fly to the center quickly — which means renting or buying a nearby home, or owning or renting a jet.
Jobs' decision to advocate for greater organ donations was applauded by the governor.
"Steve Jobs' was very instrumental in getting us here today," said the governor. "He put the pressure on us to get this bill going."
Happily recounting the events that led to the bill, a smiling Schwarzenegger said last Christmas, Jobs "talked to my wife about his transplant and then my wife talked to me about it, and I talked to him about it, and we had these great phone conversations back and forth and now here it is reality — we are introducing the bill."
Schwarzenegger also said he was inspired by UCLA Medical Center's chief transplant surgeon Dr. Ron Busuttil who, while seated next to the Governor at a Christmas party, described the desperate need for greater donations.
The governor's office drafted the legislation this winter and asked Sen. Alquist, who has a long-standing interest in medical issues, to introduce it.
There are now more than 21,000 California residents waiting for an organ donation.
Commending Jobs, the governor said "What I like about Steve is, because he is a wealthy man that helped him get the transplant. But he doesn't want that — that only wealthy people can get the transplant and have a plane waiting to take him anywhere he needs to go.
"He wants every human being, if you have no money at all or if you're the richest person in the world," he said, "everyone ought to have the right to get immediately a transplant."