Thankful for the gift of life

February 2, 1998 seemed like a normal day, started like a normal day; that is, until I looked in the mirror. The whites of my eyes were no longer white, but had an unattractive yellow glow. Something was not quite right. My stomach had been irritated lately, but I attributed it to stress; you know, the familiar stuff, holidays, end of the year, end of the month, the impending audit. It turned out to be a little more complicated than stress.

The month of February brought many doctor visits, sonograms, and blood tests. My eyes became brighter than the newly introduced VW Bug, and my skin was changing color. As my condition worsened, the answers seemed to get farther away. On March 6, 1998, I had an appointment with a hepatologist that traveled to Reno from Stanford University in California. She informed me only that I needed to board a plane and be in San Jose, California, the following morning for a liver biopsy. She had already checked flight information and had a room waiting for me at the hospital. That was a Friday afternoon, slightly longer than a month after my initial doctor visit. After leaving the doctor’s office, I returned to work, put a few (a very few) things in order and boarded a plane with my husband. Over the weekend my condition deteriorated rapidly. By Monday morning I had slipped into a coma. I suffered from “fulminant liver failure of unknown etiology”, (unknown complete liver failure). Without a liver transplant, my days were now hours and the hours were few. My family and friends had nothing to do but wait and pray. The following Wednesday morning, my family received news that they had found a matching liver, and by God’s grace, I received the most precious gift, life. I believe I am truly blessed; one of the fortunate.

This waiting list includes kidney, liver, pancreas, heart and lung organs. Every fourteen minutes another name is added to the list. In the year ending June 30, 2001, there were 23,407 transplants performed, less than one third of those on the list. While some will receive this precious gift of life, a staggering number will die while waiting. 

So, you ask, “how does one get on the list?” and “how did Tracy get in front of them?” 

The United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) coordinates the nation*s Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) under contract with the US Department of Health and Human Service. Under the guidelines set forth by the OPTN, transplant programs decide whether to accept an individual patient for transplant based primarily on medical criteria. Also included in the decision making process, is the likelihood of a patient’s survival and the consideration of a patient’s willingness to comply with long term medication requirements to prevent rejection. Social criteria such as celebrity status and wealth are excluded from consideration. More specifically, regarding adult liver transplants, patients are then categorized by medical necessity. There are four categories of liver transplant patients, Status 1, 2A, 2B and 3. Status 1 patients are the most critical. They either suffer from fulminant (sudden) liver failure or their newly transplanted liver does not function. These patients have a life expectancy of less than seven days without a liver transplant. My condition put me immediately into this category. Status 2A patients are those who typically have chronic liver disease and are in the hospital’s critical care unit with a life expectancy of less than seven days as determined by the objective and subjective medical criteria. Status 2B patients generally have chronic liver disease and are becoming more urgently in need of a transplant, but do not meet the criteria for Status 2A. Status 3 patients are under continuous medical care, but are not in the hospital, except for short stays.

How come there are so many on the waiting list and so few transplants performed? Most believe it is primarily due to misinformation and/or a lack of information. A most disturbing fact is that less than one-half of the families of potential organ donors will consent to donation. Some of these people are not aware that becoming an organ donor will not affect medical treatment, there is no age limit for organ donation, and most religions support the donation of organs.

If you have already made the decision to be an organ donor, personally, I thank you and implore you to discuss your decision with your family, friends or your physician. Make sure that whoever you have designated to make such decisions for you is aware and will honor your wishes. Please be aware, that simply signing the back of your driver’s license is not enough. If you have not yet made a decision, I would like to encourage you to consider organ donation and the opportunity to provide the gift of life to someone in need. I believe you will be blessed by this decision. I have met and developed a loving, life-long friendship with my donor’s family. On March 12, 1998, my family grew by five. My donor, Terry Snow, his parents, Kathy and John, and his sister and her husband, Lynn and Eric. Terry was in a motorcycle accident on March 2, 1998. After two operations and many days in a coma, his family made the difficult decision to remove him from life support. If not for the loss the Snow’s suffered and for their willingness to bless others in spite of it, Terry’s heart recipient, lung recipient, kidney recipient and I, the liver recipient, may not be alive today. Kathy, a registered nurse at the time of her son’s death, is now a transplant coordinator in Southern California. This family, my family, will always have a special place in my heart.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I hope in some way it has blessed you and has inspired you to consider blessing another with the most precious gift, the gift of life.

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