Organ Donation – Giving the Gift of Life

 

By Lisa Moore

For much of his life, Bill Katsanos struggled with the complications of Polycystic Kidney Disease, a progressive, incurable disease that is typically inherited. The 47-year-old Charlottean battled pain, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, frequent urination and a brain aneurysm that was luckily caught early. After a year and a half on dialysis, he unexpectedly received the best gift ever.

In May of this year Tara Bernecky, a 20-year-old woman Katsanos worked with, made a decision that would affect his life forever. “My kidney came from an angel,” said Katsanos, a husband and father of a 12-year-old son. “She approached me out of the blue and said she wanted to be tested to see if she was a match.”

Katsanos’ prognosis is good now and he has the utmost reverence for his health, family and life. “I thought my life was spiritual before but I had no idea what spirituality meant until I saw my life being controlled by a machine.”

According to OrganDonor.gov, almost 100,000 men, women and children in the US currently need life-saving organ transplants, however the demand still vastly exceeds the number of donors. An average of 18 people die each day from lack of available organs for transplant.

A national report card recently prepared by Donate Life America shows a 10 percent increase in donor designations over the two years, bringing the total number of registered donors in US to nearly 70 million. Still, only 35 percent of licensed drivers and ID card holders have registered to be donors.

States vary on requirements to become a donor. In North Carolina residents can register at the Department of Motor Vehicles when they renew their licenses and/or register online at www.donatelifenc.org. It is important to inform family members to avoid any confusion or delay in the process.

A donation can occur from both the deceased and living. A deceased donor can give kidneys, pancreas, liver, lungs, heart and intestinal organs. Tissues that can be donated include skin, bone, corneas, heart valves and veins. Corneas are transplanted to give sight and heart valves are used in valve replacement surgery, common in children. Skin grafts are used for burn victims. Bone, tendons and ligaments are used in reconstructive surgeries. A living donor can provide a kidney, or a portion of the liver, lung, intestine or pancreas.

Anyone can be a potential donor regardless of age, race or medical history. All major religions in the United States view donation as an act of love and generosity toward others. A gift of donation can help numerous people enhance their quality of life. Over 50 people can be helped through one tissue donor, while one organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people.

The United Network for Organ Sharing maintains a waiting list for deceased organs and essentially operates on a first-come, first-served basis. When a deceased organ donor is identified, a transplant coordinator from an organ procurement organization accesses the database and enters necessary medical information about the donor. The system uses this information to match the medical characteristics of the candidates waiting against those of the donor. The system then generates a ranked list of patients who are suitable to receive each organ.

Factors affecting ranking may include tissue match, blood type, length of time on the waiting list, immune status, distance between the potential recipient and the donor and degree of medical urgency. The organ is offered to the transplant team of the first person on the list. The team has one hour to make a decision. If the organ is refused for any reason, the transplant hospital of the next patient on the list is contacted. The process continues until a match is made.

Nearly 3,000 North Carolinians need life-saving organ transplants. Mark Vincent, a 45-year-old Charlotte physician, is one of those. Like Katsanos, he also has Polycystic Kidney Disease and lost his mother to the disease at age 63. Vincent knows that wait times for a deceased donor are often years and that it is not unusual for a patient to pass away while still awaiting a kidney.

With his kidneys weakening and condition progressing, Vincent recognizes that dialysis is imminent. To increase his chances for a healthier life, he is hoping to obtain a live donor kidney. These transplants generally last much longer than deceased donor transplants because they are done before a patient goes on dialysis.

“I am just now starting the process of trying to find a living donor,” said Vincent, a father of two small children. “My wife and I have sent letters to all of our friends and relatives explaining my situation and to ask for their prayers and thoughtful consideration.”

Extensive testing is done to find the best match. Although Vincent’s blood type is rare, he can accept any blood type. Still, doctors want an ideally matched organ from a person that is close to his size. 

Organ and tissue transplants offer patients a new chance at healthy, productive, normal lives and return them to their families, friends and communities.

Katsanos says it takes a special person to offer the gift of life. “I don’t call them donors,” he said, “I call them angels.”

For more information or to register, visit www.donatelifenc.org or www.lifesharecarolinas.org.

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