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His Heart Saved the Life of His Baseball Idol

When baseball legend Rod Carew visited Konrad Reuland’s middle school to watch a basketball game, the teenager could talk of nothing else to his family that night. Fifteen years later Konrad’s heart saved Rod’s life.

By then Konrad had become a public figure too, an NFL tight end — he had played for the New York Jets and the Baltimore Ravens — and by all accounts was in the best shape of his life. But, like so many other healthy people, he was hit without warning by an aneurysm in December when he was 29 and, despite a 17-hour operation, became brain dead. His parents donated his organs, saving the lives of some very sick people, all unknown to them.

One, it turned out, was Rod Carew, who had developed heart failure after a massive heart attack in 2015, and it was Konrad’s mother, Mary, who figured it out after friends wondered aloud if he could have been Carew’s donor.

All she knew was that the heart came from a 29-year old who lived in Southern California but it was enough for her to ask question after question until she found out what she could scarcely believe: that part of her son was keeping alive a man he had idolized. Carew, now 71, was an icon to millions: the Hall of Fame Minneapolis Twins first baseman who was a seven-time American League batting champion and who stole more bases in one season than anyone in history except Ty Cobb.

At the time of Konrad’s death, however, he was a man struggling to stay alive, the only possible cure being a donated heart. Given the severity of his condition, the need for the new heart to be compatible with his own and the chronic scarcity of families willing to donate the heart of a loved one who has just died, the chances were dauntingly small.

But there is always a trickle of families like the Reulands and Rod has recovered strongly in both body and spirits. I met him at one of the press conferences that in recent days the two families have held jointly to promote good heart health and draw attention to the power of every organ donation to transform the world for multiple people.  Asked whether having a heart that belonged to someone else gave him any physical problems he said simply, “No. I never think about it.”

At this press conference, held appropriately at the Little League stadium in Encino, California, I asked the two sides if meeting each other was beneficial. Neither hesitated. “Absolutely,” said Mary and Rhonda, Rod’s wife, added, “We feel we have known each other all our lives.” The Carews are profoundly grateful to the Reulands and the Reulands are comforted that Konrad’s decision to say ‘yes’ to organ donation, when he renewed his driver’s license a few months earlier, has saved the life of such a revered man.

More broadly, just as donating an organ gives solace to almost everyone who does it, Mary commented, “Knowing a piece of my baby is still down here on earth is a great comfort.” I had to fight back the tears. To call a 6-foot-6, 270-pound football player a baby in public takes boundless love and almost unbearable pain.

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Emotional Upsurge for Italian Earthquake Victims has one Precedent: Death of a Small American Boy

The recent devastating earthquake in Italy caused an enormous increase in blood donations. Searching for a parallel, the highly-respected health writer, Margherita De Bac, could only find one: an organ donation story. Here is an excerpt from her article in Italy’s largest newspaper, Corriere della Sera.

Earthquake, the Amatrice Effect, thousands of blood donors.

“The emotion after the earthquake brought a huge number of volunteers to the blood transfusion centers. Now the people in charge of such donations hope that the solidarity does not end. It has been called ‘The Amatrice Effect’. Thousands of blood units were donated by citizens to help the victims of the shock that crumbled towns between Lazio, Abruzzo, Umbria and Marche regions. There has never been such an immediate and spontaneous response [from blood donors.] The same thing happened in 1994, when the death of Nicholas Green, the American child killed along the Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway when he was traveling with his parents, moved the consciences of the Italian people about the problem of transplants…….. Sometimes emotion is worth one thousand campaigns of awareness.”

[After Nicholas’ organs were donated, donations in Italy increased every year for the next 10 years, until they were three times as high as before he was killed.]

Link to the article: http://www.corriere.it/salute/16_agosto_29/terremoto-effetto-amatrice-d5eae0fc-6e06-11e6-8bf4-ee6b05dcd2d0.shtml

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When the Lights Are Turned Off

      In “The Gift that Heals” (www.authorhouse.com) Mindy Zoll, then a transplant coordinator with TransLife, the organ procurement organization in central Florida, described the operating room — at one time crowded and noisy with perhaps 15 or 20 people in it — as the removal of a donor’s organs comes to an end. “The first surgeon will take the heart and he’s gone, already on the roof and into the helicopter or in an ambulance, with the lights and sirens going, while the others are still working. One by one each team leaves and, in the end, it’s just two or three people cleaning up, and everything is quiet again,” she said.

“I generally help put the patient in a shroud before they are taken to the morgue and I always thank them for what they gave. I think of their family at home, in a house that suddenly seems empty, and I want them to feel that I cared for their loved one, just like I would my own.”  

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Fifteen-Year Old, Weighing 60 lb., Now Has My Son’s Heart

A few months ago I received a letter from a transplant surgeon who helped put my dead son’s heart into the body of a boy who would have died without it . He is Dr. Stefano Marianeschi, now Director of the Pediatric Surgery Unit at Niguarda Ca’ Granda hospital in Milan, one of Italy’s foremost transplant hospitals. “We have never met in person but our lives crossed in 1994,” he wrote.

At the time, Dr. Marianeschi was a young cardiac surgery assistant at Rome’s famous children’s hospital, the Bambino Gesu (Baby Jesus) where one of his patients was “a bright boy” named Andrea, 15 years old, who suffered from a complex congenital disease of the heart for which he had already had three major operations, none of which had cured him. This time the diagnosis was terminal complications from the third operation, namely protein-losing enteropathy.

“When I met him he was struggling to survive, he was grossly undernourished, weighing only 27 kilos (60 lb.)and twice a week he had to be admitted to our hospital for albumin and calcium infusions. The only hope for him to get back to a normal life was a heart transplant.”

In those days organ donations in Italy were just about the lowest in Western Europe. “People were resistant to the idea of consenting to donate the organs of their loved ones. So every heart transplant brought challenges and great emotions at the same time,” Dr. Marianeschi wrote.

“I clearly remember the night of October 2. Andrea was in our ward and suddenly we were called because there was finally a heart for him. Dr Antonio Amodeo flew to Sicily to harvest the heart. I went to the hospital and gathered with all the surgeons assisting Professor Carlo Marcelletti to perform the transplant.

 “Initially I did not know who the donor was. I was just happy for my patient to receive the transplant. But as I realized that it was Nicholas’ tragic loss that was the light at the end of a very dark tunnel it was with mixed emotions that we proceeded, trying to make the best of a bad situation. The operation went well and Andrea gradually recovered. Now he is 35 and we meet sometimes on the social media on the Internet. He is still bright like when  he was a child.”

Just another medical miracle.

I remember that night too and the numbness that came with having made a decision that meant we had given up any last hope of holding on to Nicholas. But it never entered my mind, nor Maggie’s either, that this was anything other than the overwhelmingly right thing to do. And that is as true now as it was then.

P.S. I should add that the letter was mailed from Cambodia, where Dr. Marianeschi and other doctors from Niguarda hospital work several weeks of the year to make a dent in the huge backlog of medical problems in a country where a whole generation of physicians was blighted by civil war and repressive regimes and where even now medical resources are woefully inadequate.

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Child Killed at Random Gives Sight to Others

Roxanna Green is the mother of Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl who was killed when a gunman fired into the crowd at an outdoor meeting for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011. She remembers, as in a nightmare, her daughter covered with a sheet and she, beside her, kissing her face and stroking her feet, willing her to live.

But, even as she and her husband, John, grappled with the enormity of their loss, they found the strength to donate her corneas, restoring the sight of two people, for whom there was no other cure. The child, born on one day of indiscriminate killing, September 11, 2001 – ‘9/11’ – and dying on another, gave the nation a reason to believe that, even in the most heart-wrenching circumstances, selflessness can overcome senselessness.

Christina Taylor Green with Roxanna

Shot at random: Christina-Taylor Green with her mother, Roxanna.

(Courtesy: the Green family)

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The Seven-Year Old Policeman

Six-year old Noah Michael Davis of Shawnee, Kansas. wanted to be a policeman so he could make sure “everyone was safe.” He didn’t make it. Instead, he drowned in the family swimming pool and was declared brain dead. Although he couldn’t help everyone, his family did donate his kidneys, giving two very sick people their lives back. On what would have been his seventh birthday, he was sworn in as an honorary police officer.

noah - the 7-year-old policeman

Noah Davis, Honorary Police Officer

(Courtesy: the Davis family)

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Cora’s last smile

Cora Hill of Orlando, Florida, 22 years old, dying from cystic fibrosis and, having received a new pair lungs that in time failed, in chronic pain and too weak for another transplant, came to a decision: calmly, but definitively, she told her family she wanted to be taken off life support and donate her kidneys.

Cora Hill - hospital

In this photo, courtesy of the Hill family, she is holding the baby of a friend. Two days later, her ventilator was switched off and the lives of two very sick people were transformed. Her mother, Dee (who is in the photo) says it was Cora’s last smile.

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Map of places named for Nicholas in Italy (Mappa dei luoghi intitolati a Nicholas in Italia)

Within days of Nicholas being killed, Italian communities of all sizes, from some of the largest cities to small villages began to talk about naming places for him. Twenty-one years later, 110 have been identified: streets, schools, parks, squares, and one bridge, all over Italy. Please click on any tab for more information.

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Donated organs go to people in the greatest need so they are usually very sick, sometimes within hours of death. What happens to them?

When all goes well with a transplant operation patients who couldn’t walk across the room without having to stop for breath are out of the hospital in a few days after their transplant, back at work soon after, playing sports again. Athletes return to compete, including the Olympics, NBA championships and marathons.
Generally, their whole life changes. They become rejuvenated, take up pursuits they have never had the energy for, have babies that were previously not even a possibility, climb mountains, get degrees and travel to faraway places. They relish even the most mundane routines – shopping, driving the car to work, being alone without worrying about a catastrophe.
They come from all walks of life, all temperaments and all philosophies. Some are deeply religious, seeing the hand of God in their own experience; some are intermittent worshippers, some firm non-believers – in fact, a cross-section of society.
A common thread, however, brings them all together: gratitude: they have their donor’s photo in their wallet, send flowers to the family on birthdays, light candles and determine to be worthy of the gift they received. The other people in this inspiring equation are the ones who saved them. The great majority of donors never met the recipient and never will. They died and, in dying, their families, often acting on what their loved one had told them, agreed to make their gift without any knowledge of where it would go.

What kind of people are donors?

Donor families are as diverse as recipients. Some had scarcely heard of transplantation until suddenly faced with the death of one of their members. Others had talked about it freely. Some came to the decision agonizingly. For others it was so obvious they didn’t even debate it. But all, at the moment when they were most vulnerable, instead of turning inward in bitterness and despair, set aside their grief long enough to help people they could only dimly imagine.
Some donors didn’t die. Nowadays, one in five are living donors, who undergo a major and otherwise completely unnecessary operation, to give a kidney or part of their liver or lungs, to help someone in need. Mostly that someone is a close relative and they regard the donation as a privilege. But at times it is a casual acquaintance or even a total stranger. When asked why they would put themselves at risk they typically shrug and say simply: “They needed it more than I did.”
Despite all these differences, the power of transplantation has produced a strikingly uniform response among donor families. Among all the hundreds of donor families I have met, I can scarcely remember one who regretted the decision. Almost all say it was the one good thing to come out of a terrible time.
It is those who didn’t donate who often have regrets. At meetings about organ donation people will come up, with tears in their eyes, to say, “I wish I’d done that.” Five, ten, sometimes twenty years earlier a family member had suffered brain death. No one approached them about donating or they were too upset to think about it or at the time the idea frightened them. Now they feel that somehow they let that loved one down.
Not that donation takes away the loneliness. More often than I like to remember, I will meet a young couple who say quietly something like this: “A few months ago our daughter’s school had a presentation on transplantation. She told us that if anything happened to her she’d want to be a donor.”
They pause to pluck up courage and my heart sinks, knowing what is coming. “A few weeks later,” they add, “she was killed coming home from school on her bicycle. We didn’t hesitate.”
People like that speak of the peace of mind the decision has brought them and the way it has helped them heal. “It’s given a meaning to her death,” they say. “It produced something good instead of everything being a waste.”

If you want to be an organ and tissue donor, you must tell your family. Here’s why:

In the absence of any previous discussion, a family in the waiting room of a trauma hospital is often bewildered. The circumstances of sudden death are always searing but, in addition, family opinion may be divided, some members who need to be consulted may be away, emotions can be running out of control. Misconceptions are commonplace. Some people are convinced that if they sign a donor card the doctors will not try as hard to save them. Some think their church is against transplantation. Others say of someone who has just died, “I don’t want her to be hurt anymore.”
Everything is working against calm thought. A mother may have to call her husband at work to tell him their child was hit by a car. A father may have to tell his children their mother is not coming home.
Making a major, irrevocable decision there and then about something they have never seriously thought about is too much for many people. They say ‘no’ and often regret it for the rest of their lives.

Do you know why the need for donated organs is so urgent?

The need is urgent because the potential supply is so limited. In the great majority of deaths, where the heart stops beating, the organs deteriorate too quickly to be transplanted. Most donated organs come
from the small number of people, whose brain has stopped working and are truly dead, but who are on a ventilator that can keep their organs viable for a short time. By contrast, almost anyone can donate tissue – corneas to restore sight, skin to cure burns, bone to straighten spines, ligaments so that invalids can walk again. A donation produces on average three or four organs, saving three or four families from devastation, in addition to tissue that can help up to 50 people. Most people in their whole lives will never again have as great an opportunity to change the world for the better as they have at that moment. With that much on the line, I often wonder what possible debate there can be about what is the right thing to do.
Material on this blog often comes from Reg Green’s published articles and books.
This preface is from “The Gift that Heals” (www.authorhouse.com)

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Transplants, once medical miracles, are now routine

Close to half a million people in the United States have had an organ transplant. Millions have had a tissue transplant: skin, bone, corneas, heart valves, tendons. Yet, although transplantation is an everyday procedure in hundreds of hospitals around the world, public opinion
still treats it as though it were on the fringe of medicine. Few people think about it at all until they become personally involved. It then takes over their lives.
The sobering fact is that any one of us could need a new organ or tissue to save our lives — and virtually every one of us could be a donor.
Many people who become involved are ordinary men, women and children who one day were told that unless someone donated a new heart or liver, kidney, lungs or pancreas they could not expect to live much longer. At that moment, they realized, perhaps for the first time, that probably someone else would have to die to give them the organ they needed. Some of them have been sick all their lives, never knowing a normal day, going in and out of hospitals and aware that the end could come at any time. Others, including some world-class athletes, are seemingly in perfect health but are struck down without warning by a virus. Some are people whose lives, though not threatened, are miserably constricted or in chronic pain: blind, suffering from severe burns and
bent spines, unable to walk or pick up their children.
Into their world comes transplantation like a lifeline, some would say a miracle. It is not simply the best cure. For most of them it is the only cure. And because of the rapid advances in medical science, more and more people can benefit from it – sicker people, older people and people with more complex problems.
It is the most egalitarian of cures, leaping over all the normal social barriers. White men are walking around with black men’s hearts inside them and vice versa. Asians are breathing through Hispanic lungs and vice versa. And — dare I say it? — Democrats see the world through Republican corneas and vice versa.
Transplantation is not a cure-all. As with any surgical procedure, complications of all sorts are possible, the powerful medications that recipients have to take so the body will not reject the new organ can have serious side effects and patients, who were sick enough to get to
the top of the long waiting lists, have often developed other diseases that undermine their health, regardless of the revivifying effect of the new organ.
Even so, the results are astounding. However many times it happens, an inert organ, that has been taken from someone already dead, and springs suddenly into life in another dying body, still seems
to most of us to have more in common with science fiction than regular medicine.
Success rates have generally advanced steadily year by year and dramatically over the decades. Results vary widely depending on the organ but about 95 percent of patients who have had a
kidney transplant are alive after one year, 80 percent after five years and 60 percent after ten years. About 90 percent of heart patients are alive after one year, 75 percent after five years and 55 percent after ten. For lung patients the figures are 85 percent, 50 percent and 25 percent.
Given that all these people were terminally ill, that many were close to death at the time of their operation and that, over the years, some proportion of them will die from unrelated causes, the distance transplantation has come speaks for itself.
The waiting lists are the most obvious indicator of the distance it has still to go. The people on those lists live perpetually on the edge, always aware of a winner-takes-all race between a wasting disease and a cure over which they have no control. Every day 22 of them die. In mid-2015
around 120,000 are waiting for an organ, compared with fewer than 20,000 twenty years earlier.
But seen from another angle, those ever-lengthening lists are a measure of the progress of transplantation.
As techniques have improved across the board, demand for the procedure has skyrocketed, moving it in a few decades from experimental to common therapy.
The limiting factor, always, holding up everything, is the shortage of donated organs – and that limitation is a recurring theme of this blog.

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July 2, 2015 · 12:29 am