September 1, 2014

Organ recipient advocates the gift of life

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com

Gardner Edgerton High School student Evan Donahue needed a second chance at life the moment he was born.

Diagnosed with posterior  urethral valves right after birth, Donahue was going to need a new kidney at some point in his life.

Kim Harbur, director of education for Gift of Life, shows high school students a blown-up copy of her driver’s license. She points to the spot where she agreed to be an organ donor. Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

“My kidney blew up when I was in my mother’s womb,” he explained.

In June 2007, his mother, Brenda Donahue, donated one of her kidneys to him.

Kim Harbur, director of education for Gift of Life, said that’s typically the case with living organ donations.

“Living donors – you’re going to be a donor for someone you know most likely,” Harbour told GEHS sophomores during a presentation about organ donation she gave to health classes at the school on Monday, March 28.

She told the group that there are a variety of tissues that can be donated including heart valves, corneas, bones, skin, ligaments, tendons, bone marrow, blood vessels and blood.

Harbur poses with Evan Donahue, center, a Gardner Edgerton High School student and kidney transplant recipient; and Phil Duncan, a 1962 Gardner High graduate and recipient of a heart transplant. Duncan shared his story with sophomore health class students during a presentation Monday. Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

There are eight organs that can be donated – two kidneys, liver, two lungs, intestine,  pancreas, and heart.

Phil Duncan, a 1962 graduate of Gardner High School, received a heart transplant in 2007.

“I had a miracle happen to me,” Duncan said.

The KCP&L employee was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 1994 when a doctor discovered Duncan had an irregular heartbeat.

“He gave me medicine and said quit climbing poles and quit working overtime,” Duncan said.

But by February of 2007, the disease was getting the best of him. The average person uses 50 to 70 percent of their heart.

“I was down to 10 percent,” Duncan said.

He was scheduled to receive a pacemaker on Feb. 14, 2007, but he almost didn’t make it to the surgery.

On Feb. 1, he was rushed by ambulance to the hospital where he “code blue-ed.”

“I just barely got there, and (my heart) was ready to quit completely,” he said.

Duncan stayed in the Intensive Care Unit for eight days. On Feb. 10, doctors installed a pacemaker.

“It didn’t work,” Duncan said.

Doctors told him he was going to need a heart transplant to survive for any amount of time.

Phil Duncan, a 1962 Gardner High School graduate, tells Gardner Edgerton High School students about his heart transplant in 2007. Duncan was on the organ waiting list for only four days. However, approximately 20 people die everyday waiting for organs. Staff photo by Danedri Thompson

After a series of tests, Duncan was placed on the organ waiting list.

Phil needed a donor that was a good match for him. His donor needed to have the same blood type and have a healthy heart, and be about the same size as Phil.

Harbur said her son needed a liver transplant when he was 11 months old.

“He weighed 18 pounds,” she said. “His donor couldn’t be a 300-pound man. (That liver) wasn’t going to fit in there. There’s not enough room.”

Harbur’s son, now a freshman at an Olathe high school, received a new liver from an 8-year-old named Aaron who died from an allergic reaction on a camping trip.

“My son is alive today, and he does very well with his health and his life, because someone made the decision to donate,” Harbur said.

For most organ donations, a donor has to die in order to give, although for many tissues and some organs live donors can be used.

“Just because someone dies, that doesn’t mean they can be a donor,” Harbur said.

Those who have cancer, AIDS or other diseases at the time of death and those over the age of 85 at death aren’t eligible to donate organs.

It is illegal to sell organs in the United States.

Harbur told the students about a husband who gave his kidney to his wife.

“Her kidney fails. The husband donates his kidney, and then the marriage failed,” Harbur said.

The husband asked for his kidney back. Of course, that wasn’t an option either, Harbur explained. So he asked for compensation.

“He got no money,” Harbour said. “He missed the part where this was called a gift.”

There’s a long line to receive such a gift.

There are more than 110,000 people on the waiting list for a transplant at any one time, she explained. In Kansas and Missouri, there are more than 3,000 people on donor waiting lists.

Approximately 20 people die everyday waiting for a donor.

“Our supply and demand is very lopsided,” Harbur said.

Phil was lucky. He waited just four days before a heart became available.

On June 19, 2007 he passed all of the required tests necessary to be placed on the waiting list.

By 2 p.m. on June 23, 2007, he was being wheeled into an operating room to receive a new heart.

The donor’s family made a decision to donate the organs.

“And I was in the right place at the right time,” Duncan said.

Duncan doesn’t know much about his heart donor. The decision to meet the recipients of organs is left up to the donor’s family. Phil wrote an anonymous letter to the donor’s family thanking them and the donor for giving him another chance at life, but to date, hasn’t heard back from them.

All he knows is that his heart donor was a Caucasian man in his 20s.

“Donors are giving a second chance to someone like Phil that was living on hope,” Harbur said.

Harbur asked the students to have “the talk” with their parents about organ donation.

“We’re not asking you to be an organ donor,” she said. “We’re asking you to have a discussion.”

She passed out brochures with information about organ donation for students to take to parents and get their signatures. The brochures ask students to check a box to say “yes,” “no,” or “undecided” about organ donation. The pamphlet also question whether they’ve checked the box for organ donation on their drivers’ licenses.

Harbur said agreeing to be an organ donor doesn’t mean someone will come and get you, and for people under 18, the guardians still make the final decision whether to give their organs.

She explained that donation doesn’t interfere with open casket funerals, and that most religions support organ and tissue donation.

Harbur said after a person suffers cardiac or brain death, that person’s family is asked to decide whether to donate organs and which organs to donate. If the family agrees, the donor is taken to the operating room and the organs and tissues to be donated are removed. Then the organs are sent to recipients’ hospitals.

One donor can save up to eight lives, Harbur said, and with tissue donations, one donor can enhance the lives of 50 recipients.

Most organs have a very short shelf life.

“Hearts have to be transplanted within four to six hours,” she said. Kidneys can be transplanted up to 48 hours later. Some organ tissues can be frozen up to five years.

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