Organ donation lobbyist gets transplant

By Robb Hicken
Reprinted with permission from the Nevada Appeal

Friday, August 6, 1999 2:47 AM

Debbie Pinjuv, a lobbyist for  organ donation, right, received a  liver transplant two months ago. She and United Blood Service
spokeswoman Nyla Emerson , left, both pledge to continue to enlighten people about the benefits of organ donation and the importance of filling out a donor’s card.

Photo credit/Rick Gunn

Two months ago, organ donor lobbyist Debbie Pinjuv wrote e-mail letters and
called friends and family to say goodbye.

“There wasn’t any one thing,” said Pinjuv of the feeling that came over her just two
days before her liver transplant on May 28. “I just knew that I was going to walk from
this life to the other side.”

Pinjuv, who only 10 months earlier had made a plea to Northern Nevada residents to
become organ donors, waited patiently by the phone, hoping for a call that would give
her new life.

“I was so full of the poisons from having a failing liver that I was not thinking properly,”
she said. “I was planning for my funeral.”

The 42-year-old Pinjuv was just finishing her masters degree in counseling at the
University of Nevada, Reno, when she was diagnosed with primary biliary cirrhosis of
the liver. It was something that her physician said had most likely been progressing
for at least 10 years. It showed up in her blood tests.

Active in tennis, skiing, and community activities, she said she hadn’t been sick or
noticed any difference in her physical abilities. She noted changes to her skin color –
jaundice -and her stamina faltered. She had lived with that liver disease diagnosis for
the past seven years.

During the last week, she said the doctors at Stanford Medical Center had ordered
her stay at home, close to a phone.

“When the call came through, it was like a party in the house,” she said. Her
husband, John, answered the phone, and was stunned that the call had come.

Transplant surgery took eight hours. She recovered for five days in the hospital and
three weeks in an out-patient recovery center near the hospital. She now consumes
40 pills a day, and hopes to get that number down.

Her complexion and whites of her eyes have cleared.

Throughout her illness, she didn’t relax. She has played a key role in the Volunteers
for Life, an organization that works to educate the public in the proper methods for
organ donation.

She lobbied the Legislature to get donor ID cards legally binding. In addition to getting
Department of Motor Vehicle computers up to speed on donor information and aid
directed donation.

“I’ll be after organ donation even more,” she said of being back to good health. “I
already have plans to be with the governor within this month.”

Pinjuv said she has returned to counseling with patients who are organ recipients.

“We’re trying to put together a state registry now,” she said. “It will allow us to track
donors.”

In addition, the Transplant Network is being established to aid transplant patients.
This nonprofit group will help all transplant patients and provide donor awareness.

“It’s just not necessary for people to nearly die before getting a donated organ,” Pinjuv
said. “No one should be as sick as I was before they get a new organ.”

She said that doctors are saying that death of an organ occurs, but can be overcome.

“They said this is trading an incurable disease for a manageable disease,” she said.

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