Source: Times-Gazette

Gifts of life: Organ donors give hope to others

Friday, April 30, 2010
Kerri Upchurch, left, and her sister, Jennifer Meeks, receive a standing ovation from those present at Thursday's Chamber Coffee, held in partnership with the Rotary Clubs and in recognition of National Organ Donor Month. Jennifer donated one of her kidneys to Kerrie, who is now expecting a child.
(T-G Photo by Mary Reeves) [Order this photo]

Jennifer Owen gave her sister, Kerrie Upchurch, a kidney. With that, she not only gave her the gift of life, you could even say she gave her the gift of two lives.

"I'm 32 weeks pregnant," said Kerrie through her tears.

She and Jennifer, now Jennifer Meeks after a recent wedding, were only a few of the inspiring organ transplant stories found at the Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning. The Chamber and the two Rotary Clubs were hosting its sixth annual coffee honoring those who give -- and those who receive -- and in recognition of National organ donor Month.

"I was expecting to have to speak," said Jennifer, also crying. "But this is what I want to tell everybody. It hurts -- but not as painful as losing my sister."

When Jennifer was 22, she gave her sister, then 26, a kidney, after Kerrie's failed, a result of her long battle with lupus, an autoimmune disorder.

Jennifer was also recognized by the Shelbyville-Bedford County Chamber of Commerce Beautification Committee with a Good Citizen Award.

"What a wonderful life gift," said Charlene Nelson, with the Chamber.

Jo Ann Holland spoke of her own son's tragic death in a car accident 31 years ago.

"Back then, they didn't donate organs like they do now," she said. "But something told us ... we did it anyway. We donated his kidneys. If I knew then what I know now, we'd have given more."

Linda Nichols spoke for her sister, a recent kidney recipient who was unable to make the coffee because of an infection.

"It's been five months and she's doing well. And organ transplant is a gift of life," she said.

David Orr offered up hope for her sister. He has received not one, but two double-lung transplants, having to have the second one after a bout of RSV turned into pneumonia. He reminded everyone that transplant patients must take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives -- but those can be long and fulfilling lives.

"Tell your sister to keep her head up. You can get through it," he said.

Tennessee State Trooper Barry Qualls told the crowd that when there is a very bad accident, the troopers do look at the driver's license to see if the victim is an organ donor and notifies the medical team when it arrives, but Orr cautioned everyone to put it in writing.

Other donors and recipients were mentioned -- Craig Perry, who will give one of his kidneys to his 16-year-old daughter who has only recently been placed on dialysis; and David Brown, who donated the organs of his son after a fatal car accident. Both men were unable to attend.

Dan Buckner, CEO of Heritage Medical Center, said the hospital has an organ procurement program to ease donations, and several transplants have been made possible by the hospital in the last year.

"Obama's health care plan has cost controls in organ transplants," he said, adding that by the time the organ passes through a broker, it can cost as much as $30,000. "The price keeps a lot of people from having transplants. I'm not saying that I'm a fan of Obama's health care plan, but that part is good."

Numbers and facts

A few facts about organ donation:

* More than 106,500 U.S. patients are currently waiting for an organ transplant; nearly 3,000 new patients are added to the waiting list each month.

* Every day, 17 to 18 people die while waiting for a transplant of a vital organ, such as a heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, lung or bone marrow.

* Because of the lack of available donors in this country, 2,025 kidney patients, 1,347 liver patients, 458 heart patients and 361 lung patients died in 2001 while waiting for life-saving organ transplants.

* Nearly 10 percent of the patients currently waiting for liver transplants are young people under 18 years of age.

* Acceptable organ donors can range in age from newborn to 65 years or more. People who are 65 years of age or older may be acceptable donors, particularly of corneas, skin, bone and for total body donation.

* An estimated 10,000 to 14,000 people who die each year meet the criteria for organ donation, but fewer than half of that number become actual organ donors.

* Donor organs are matched to waiting recipients by a national computer registry, called the National Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). This computer registry is operated by an organization known as the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which is located in Richmond, Virginia.

* By signing a Uniform Donor Card, an individual indicates his or her wish to be a donor. However, at the time of death, the person's next-of-kin will still be asked to sign a consent form for donation. It is important for people who wish to be organ and tissue donors to tell their family about this decision so that their wishes will be honored at the time of death. It is estimated that about 35 percent of potential donors never become donors because family members refuse to give consent.

* All costs related to the donation of organs and tissues are paid for by the donor program. A family who receives a bill by mistake should contact the hospital or procurement agency immediately.

* Tissue donation can enhance the lives of more than 50 people. Donated heart valves, bone, skin, corneas and connective tissues can be used in vital medical procedures such as heart valve replacements, limb reconstruction following tumor surgery, hip and knee joint reconstruction and in correcting curvature of the spine.

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