Small acts make a big difference

By Robb Hicken, Appeal City Editor
Reprinted with permission from the Nevada Appeal.

October 22, 1998



National Blood Services
Executive director Nyla Emerson, left, and  Volunteer for Life spokeswoman Debbie Pinjuv urge people to register  to donate organs and blood for Make a Difference Day.
Photo/Rick Gunn




Fear of not knowing may be the biggest haunt in Debbie Pinjuv’s life.  “Sometimes late at night, when I’m all alone in bed, it all comes in on me, and I cry,” she says. “Yes, I’d have to say I’m frightened.”

An anxiety that creeps up despite the fact that she is a mother of two children, a wife, a counselor for organ transplant patients and aVolunteer for Life.

In less than a year, she may die from primary biliary cirrhosis of the liver.  Diagnosed six years earlier, 42-year-old Pinjuv was just finishing her masters degree in counseling at the University of Nevada, Reno.  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.
Even today, changes to her skin color – she’s a little jaundice – and her stamina are the only signs that she is ill.

“It’s not something that is passed on,” she said. “And, make it clear, that when people hear the words cirrhosis, they immediately
think of alcohol abuse, but that’s not the case her.”

The fact that she is almost certain to die from the cirrhosis hasn’t deterred her fight to stay alive.

“I tell all my clients that the most important thing is to fight for their lives,” she said.

The Volunteers for Life work to educate the public in the proper methods for organ donation. She said organs that can be donated include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Tissues that can be donated include eyes, skin, bone, heart valves, veins and tendons.  “One person can help 50 other people,” she said. There are currently 61,800 people who needed a transplant. Of that, there were only 4,166 liver transplants performed in 1997.

“The donor pool has been stagnant for the past three years,” Pinjuv said.  That stagnation has her concerned, and moved her, along with Nyla Emerson, of United Blood Services, to take action.  “People can do anything to make a difference. Pick up garbage, clean up the river, help shop for the elderly and the poor, but for a life giving measure, donations of blood and organs help beyond just the day,” Emerson said.

United Blood Services, 256 E. Winnie Lane, will be educating and taking donations on Make A Difference Day, which is Saturday.  “By donating an organ, you’re helping someone to have a life,” she said. “By donating blood, you can help people with their lives.”

Emerson met Pinjuv during a luncheon and became immediate friends and cohorts in saving lives.  “I tell stories all the time of people who have lived because of blood donations,” she said. “I’m hoping that through this effort, I’ll be
able to tell people stories about people who have lived because of organ donation.”  Pinjuv said that most people don’t understand the process of organ donation and that simply signing the donation card when picking up a drivers license is not enough.  “You need to tell next of kin about you’re request to have body parts donated,” she said.

Kevin Pinjuv, 18, faces the facts of his mother’s death regularly.  “It’s difficult to a certain point because when you comfort her, you’re reminded of her being so close to death,” he said.

Kevin, who works for his dad, John Pinjuv, at Grubb & Ellis realty in Reno, has been taking classes at the community college and helping out around the home.  He adds, “Most people don’t see anything wrong with donating, but the problem is that they don’t seem to see the urgency for it.”

That urgency is what his mother and Emerson are stressing.

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