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Life on a wait list: Organ, tissue donation provides 'gift of life'

By Liz Kilmer, Reporter, LKilmer@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 07 2014 03:02:38 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 07 2014 05:20:54 PM CST

Living on a wait list is a plight facing thousands across our nation as they stand by in need of an organ or cellular tissue to survive.

READING, Pa. -

Living on a wait list is a plight facing thousands across our nation as they stand by, in need of an organ or cellular tissue to survive. In just our region alone, experts say 6,400 people are waiting.

"And that's a huge number of people who could be saved, whose families are going through the trauma of sitting back and hoping and waiting and keeping that glimmer alive… watching that time get shorter," said Liz Faranda, of Berks County.

It's agony Faranda and her family know first-hand as they wait for 12-year-old Angel Boston to receive the bilateral lung and bone marrow transplants needed to save her life. It's a story we brought you here in the first part of our series, Life on a wait list: Girl with rare disease waits for complex transplant.

It's a path of daunting unknowns and startling statistics: experts say 18 people die each day, waiting for a transplant.

"We're seeing that number gradually increase because we're seeing more and more people placed on the transplant waiting list, so it's critical for people to get the facts about donation," said John Green, director of community relations with the Gift of Life Donor Program, serving the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.

"We need people to say 'yes' to organ donation, to give those individuals [who are waiting] a second chance at life," said Green.

In terms of becoming a registered organ donor, it's a process most anyone can complete, and with ease. If not at a local DMV, those interested in becoming organ donors can do so online.

With just a few clicks, Green said registered donors can save multiple lives.

"One person… can save or enhance the lives of more than 50 people," said Green.

It's a positive reality playing out locally. At Reading Hospital, Dr. Robert Brigham, chairman of the department of surgery, said seven donors provided organs for 21 people on the wait list just in 2013 alone.

"[It's] the opportunity to really provide life to individuals who are otherwise fully capable of living a full life, but because of one reason or another, have an organ that's not functioning properly," said Brigham. "And so it is truly the gift of life."

It's a gift that can be given by people of all ages, either living or deceased. Once deceased, it's a decision the falls on a family.

For that reason, Brigham said it's a topic of discussion that should occur within every household, albeit a sensitive issue. He said people need to make their loved ones aware of their decision.

"So that everyone is on the same sheet of paper when that very difficult and uncomfortable situation exists when somebody would be considered a potential organ donor," said Brigham. "And if those discussions are conducted way ahead of time, everyone is much more comfortable in being able to make that decision."

Green said most donations in the region come from adults, but children and even newborns can donate organs and/or tissue. While it's a choice no parent wants to face, Green said it's a decision that often saves the lives of other children.

"There are a great number of children in our region who are currently on the waiting list for a life-saving transplant, and unfortunately, many times, they need the organs of another child," said Green. "We have recipients who receive transplants when they are babies… and it's amazing to see the success of transplantation for so many years to come."

It's the type of success, and gift, Faranda and her family hope to see for Angel.

"We want to see her get married. We want to see her go to her prom, get her driver's license, and unless somebody gives our family the gift of her life, we won't get to see those things," Faranda said. "And that's how important organ donation is."

Those interested in becoming living donors should contact their local transplant center. A list of locations can be found at www.donors1.org. Hopeful bone marrow donors can register online at bethematch.org.