Organ donor's kin meet recipients

Event joins families of Beyer teacher and two of three he saved

Debbie Ogden went to Hayward on Saturday to see people she refers to as "extended family."

They are not related by blood, but by a liver and kidney that her husband, retired Modesto teacher Rob Ogden, donated upon his death last year.

She met the recipients for the first time at a gathering hosted by the California Transplant Donor Network.


    The need:

    More than 100,000 people await transplants in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Their needs, as of Saturday according to a federal Web site:

    • Kidney: 84,546

    • Liver: 15,971

    • Heart: 3,163

    • Lung: 1,851

    • Pancreas: 1,448

    • Intestine: 245

    • Kidney and pancreas: 2,176

    • Heart and lung: 77

    Becoming a donor:

    • Call 866-797-2366 or to sign up with the Donate Life California Organ and Tissue Donor Registry.

    • More than 6.4 million state residents have signed up to make their organs and tissues available upon their death.

    More information:

    • California Transplant Donor Network: 888-570-9400 or

    • Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network:

"It was absolutely fabulous," she said by phone on the way back Saturday evening. "The people there all made you feel like you were the most special person on Earth. They were grateful and humbled and thrilled to meet us."

The annual gathering in a Chabot College theater featured six sets of donor and recipient families meeting for the first time. Health care providers took part in the event, which celebrated organ donation in speeches, music and dance.

For most of the 56 years since the first successful transplant, the donor and recipient families were not disclosed to each other, said Gwenn Silva, donor family aftercare supervisor for the network.

That has changed in recent years. The Oakland-based network arranges for willing families to get in touch. In some cases, they grow so close that they share holidays, Silva said.

"We're now realizing that for donor families and recipients alike, it's magnificent," she said.

Rob Ogden was 61 when he died Sept. 4 at Memorial Medical Center of complications from heart surgery. He had retired in June after 29 years at Beyer High School, where he taught architectural drawing and history and where his wife is still a counselor.

Ogden had signed up as an organ donor when renewing his driver's license, so the hospital staff knew that his liver and kidneys could go to other people with critical health problems.

Donations saved three

One kidney went to a Salinas woman, who did not attend Saturday's event.

Another kidney went to Lavell Pennington, 63, of San Jose, who met Debbie Ogden and a few of her family members and friends at the gathering.

The liver went to Jim Wright, 63, of Danville, who also was there.

"We're thrilled," his wife, Christie Wright, said by phone before the event. "He's doing amazingly well, absolutely amazing."

The Ogden contingent included teenage son Colin; Debbie's mother, Marilyn Wallstrom; and Beyer colleagues Pat and Terry Gentile.

Colin said he was delighted to find that the kidney recipient shares his interest in sports and the liver recipient is a fellow music lover.

Another twist: The Wright and Pennington families met at Stanford Hospital during the transplants, and they realized that the organs came from the same Modesto man, whose name they did not know at the time.

At Christmas, Debbie Ogden sent a letter to the recipient families, anonymously through the network. She wrote "Dear extended family" at the top and asked to meet them someday.

She also shared a little about her husband, who loved reading, movies, skiing and cars.

His obituary told more -- how he took up the accordion as a boy, spent a year with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, and planted trees on the Beyer campus.

Debbie Ogden said the families she met Saturday plan to stay in touch and perhaps gather again before Christmas. The new relationship, she said, "hopefully will be a very long and healthy one."