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Archive for July, 2008

Life affirming shakes

I’m writing today from Los Angeles, where I’m attending a convention for my day job (which has nothing to do with living organ donation stuff).  And wouldn’t you know it, the city has delivered me an experience to remember — my first earthquake!  It was “just” a 5.4 on the Richter scale, but from my desk chair in my 28th-floor hotel room, and with no previous experience to connect it to, I was in no way underwhelmed. It was one of those poignant moments when we are reminded that the earth is a fragile and changing place, with an agenda that doesn’t necessarily match up with the hyperimportant one its human occupants bring to it.  Every day is a gift.

A shout out to any readers, living donors, and others living and walking here in So. Cal.  Hope all your knick knacks are still in place!

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Let’s hear it for my hometown!  Two great items to share with our living donor community and its extended members of transplant recipients, families and friends, and health care professionals.  Both nuggest come from my original stomping grounds here on the planet: Des Moines, Iowa.

First, today in the Des Moines Register there’s a terrific article by columnist Marc Hansen about Team Iowa at the U.S. 2008 Transplant Games, focusing particularly on Jim Steinberg, who received a kidney in 2004 from his former college roommate.  It reports on some of the touching moments JIm witnessed at the games, including seeing the parents of a lovely deceased donor teenager meet with the recipient of their child’s heart, and ask to hear the heart beating in the recipient’s chest.

I was so proud of Team Iowa at the games.  Their group was huge. They wore smart green track suits and they graced the games with that signature Iowa openness and kindness I love so much.  They wore extremely goofy tall corn hats.  I almost wanted to suit up in green and join them, a proud homecoming of sorts. But I stayed true to my Team Northwest colors in honor of Joe, who lives in Portland now.

Second, I have been watching eagerly (and with a small competitive fire under my tush) the activities of the My Angel Foundation, a relatively new nonprofit (like mine) sparked by a transplant between two family members (like Joe and me) from Iowa (like Joe and me, woo hoo!) that has made some amazing strides in getting established and actively making a difference.  (Okay, comparison ends there — we’re still getting things ramped up at Greatest Gift.)   If you enjoy inspiration, and you care about transplantation issues, you should most definitely check out what they’re up to, which is predominately focused on spreading the word on organ and tissue donation. 

Especially note the fondation’s blog called Revive Hope, written by founder Ted Cochran and two of his knowledgeable friends.  How can you not love this mission statement:

Revive Hope’s focus is to revive hope by creating inspiration. This blog will have postings of inspiring stories about individuals directly affected by organ and tissue donation, provide information about organ and tissue donation, and inspire those who view the site to give hope through compassion!
Got an in spiring story to share? Here’s a great place to do it!

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Want to help tell the world about the importance of organ donation?  Here’s a way I hadn’t thought of before I learned of it at the Transplant Games:  A custom organ donation license plate!  Unfortunately, my home state doesn’t have such a plate, but Nancy Ellis, Community Relations Manager of Life Connection of Ohio, has shared with me the list of states that do.  Click the following link to download a word doc that has the list with sample pictures: license_plates_usa.

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That little innie or outie, the universal symbol of every single human’s original, life-giving connection to their mother’s corporal self: The belly button.  We all have one.  We never really think about it as having a purpose, other than maybe to hold a little dangly piercing on pop stars.  And yet increasingly, transplant surgeons are finding a new way of using the navel as a portal to our bodies, re-opening it for the second time in our lives to allow the gift of life to be transported through it.

AP Photo/Joseph A Pangrace

AP Photo/Joseph A Pangrace

Today the Associated Press ran a widely picked-up story on the most recent single-incision naval kidney removal at Cleveland Clinic.  Eleven of these surgeries have been performed there so far, greatly reducing scarring and recovery times for the kidney donors.   A single incision is made at the bellybutton, and everything happens through there.  Including extraction of the organ — which blew me away.  How, I wondered, can you get a whole kidney through a tiny incision mid belly?  Turns out, once the kidney has had its blood supply removed, it shrinks up to be small enough to pass through.  Crazy vivid awesome.

I personally benefited from the same kind of advance, but on the liver side.  I was the world’s first laparoscopic-assisted liver re-section, and as with the guy in Cleveland, that means a smaller scar — just a simple 4.5-inch straight line down my mid-section.  Dr. Alan J. Koffron at Northwestern University inserted a scope through my bellybutton to do all of the cutting and prepping of my right liver lobe — the incision down my chest was made only to remove the organ.  If any of you have heard of other centers doing this technique (I hear Pittsburgh has started) do let me know!

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Wow.  Honestly, it’s about all I can think of to say about the amazing experience I just took part in this week. Wow.  For all of you who were there, all 6,000 of you — the 1,500 athletes, the 159 living organ donors, the thousands of you who came in honor and remembrance of your loved ones who gave the gift of life, the families and friends who came to cheer on their atheletes — I just want to say thanks for making these Transplant Games the event that they are.  I will never forget this week!

Many of you might be seeing this blog and hearing about the Greatest Gift Foundation for the first time.  I encourage you to check out the “About,” “My Story,” and “Greatest Gift Foundation” tabs up above, and to contact me any time through comments or through email if you’d like to get in touch.  I’d love to hear from you no matter what it is you have to sound off about!

(Note on comments:  to block spam, I manually approve any comments submitted by first-time commenters, so if you make a comment it might take a day or so for it to appear.  Don’t let that stop you!)

Thankfully, after all that excitement, I don’t have to hustle back to work.  Instead, some friends and I are hiking a 14,000-foot peak in the Colorado Rockies this weekend.  A blissful way to end a blissful week.  I’ll post from Denver tomorrow and Friday.

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Watching the athletes today, there were several times where it was easy to forget that every single one of them has received a life-saving organ transplant:  A heart, lungs, kidney, liver, bone marrow, or even combinations of these things.  Some multiple times.  Every single athlete, from the guy bowling high 200s to the tot running the 400-meter relay to the 17-year-old swimmer racing to six golds, represents a story of pain, courage, terror, suffering, sickness, worry, waiting, and, in the end thanks to the grace of donor families, and donors living and passed, a second chance at life.  Abso-fricking-lutely incredible.

It’s hard to believe closing ceremonies are as soon as tomorrow night. 

A few more pictures that didn’t fit my day three themes of track/field and basketball:

Showing his team spirit, fish style

Showing his team spirit, fish style

Florida's Kim Jacques with her silver for the 1500-meter speed walk

Florida's Kim Jacques with her silver for the 1500-meter speed walk

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Joe’s Team Northwest not only made it to the Elite 8, but even went on to the Final Four, where in a hard-fought battle they lost the Bronze to a marvelous Team Illinois.  Georgia took the Gold, and Michigan the silver. 

Team Liberty in their Elite 8 match

Team Liberty in their Elite 8 match

 

Team Liberty with the Team Northwest sasquatch mascot

Team Liberty with the Team Northwest sasquatch mascot

Team Illinois v. Team Michigan

Team Illinois v. Team Michigan

Georgia v. Northwest

Georgia v. Northwest

 

Team Georgia - Gold winners!

Team Georgia - Gold winners!

 

My brother with the tall guy (woo hoo!)

My brother with the tall guy (woo hoo!)

At half time, Northwest and Illinois were tied in the race for the Bronze.

At half time, Northwest and Illinois were tied in the race for the Bronze.

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