By Michelle Howe
Every day someone is sick enough to need an organ transplant - that averages out to a new person being added to the national organ transplant waiting list every ten minutes. In the United States, there are 115,000 people waiting. Think about Kinnick and Jack Trice Stadiums at full capacity - that is the size of the need. There are over 700 waiting here in Iowa.
The Iowa Donor Network coordinates and manages the Iowa Donor Registry and facilitates the recovery of organs and tissue statewide, while serving as an information resource to promote donation throughout the state. Kaylie Hoyle with the Iowa Donor Network explains, “As an organization, we strive to provide the best possible care to our donor families and care for them during this difficult time. We also work closely with hospital staff and many other organizations across the state to honor and facilitate the wishes of donors and their family members.”
For kidney transplant recipient Paul Curtis, organ donation has been a lifesaver - not once, but twice. “My first transplant in 2008 was not a good match, but good enough to have a better life,” says Paul. “I didn’t want to do more dialysis - but I had to - until the kidney started working 11 days later.” Since July 2016, Paul had been on peritoneal dialysis (a process that pumps fluid into the cavity surrounding your organs and cycles through four to five times per night, using 2.7 liters of fluid), after his first kidney failed. Paul was told that he could wait up to seven years for a new donor, due in part to a large number of antibodies in his blood that makes finding a match more difficult. Antibodies are crucial to anti-rejection. But a call came on a Sunday evening in late February, giving him hope. He was contacted by the pre-transplant coordinator at the University of Iowa who said they had a potential match. Paul spent a sleepless night and in the morning was told to go to the hospital to prepare for surgery. The odds of getting a match so suddenly were one in ten million. The odds of getting a match like he did are non-existent.
Paul went through the pre-surgery routine and waited. The hospital wanted to re-test the kidney because they didn’t believe the match was as good as the first test results. But they were and the next morning, he went in to surgery at 8:15 am. “When I woke up all I cared about was whether I was producing urine,” says Paul. “Once I found out I was, all I wanted to do was get to my room and see my family. I was up and walking the next day, six times. The goal was four. The day after that I walked eight times. The goal was five. On Friday they said I could go home.” The Dr. told Paul it was a complex and extremely successful transplant - where two kidneys were linked together, (the donor was a child under the age of ten) and she had to use the smallest instruments possible. The kidneys will grow inside him and he has had forty years added to his length of life. “The transplant team couldn’t be more thrilled with the results,” says Paul. “And so am I. I want to thank my entire transplant team and the nurses at 2RC-East for their care. I walked out of that hospital like I owned it. The energy is phenomenal.”
If you’re thinking of becoming an organ donor, you can sign up at iowadonornetwork.org. If you designate as an organ, eye and tissue donor on your driver’s license, be sure that your family knows of your wishes. Hoyle says that “being an organ donor is a life-giving legacy to leave behind. A lot of donor families talk about how organ donation has been a silver lining, during a dark time.”