Archive for September, 2008

If you save one life, it is as though you save the world.
—The Talmud


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I am bowled over with emotion tonight.  Writing this from a corporate meeting in Tremblant, Quebec, alone after an evening out with co-workers, suppliers and clients, I am overcome with a thousand feelings and aware, as ever, of how small a community I have to talk to about the thoughts surging through me.  It reminds me how alone we are as living donors, and yet how the universe offers to connect us as we listen.  I’m swimming in a jumble of gratitude, sorrow for the world, awe of human kindness, and love for my fellow donors. 

On one hand, I’ve been thinking so much lately about Cristy, a woman I met online who attempted to donate a kidney but met with a tragic outcome — a removed organ that could not be transplanted because it “died” after extraction from her body.  And therefore, a desperately excited and hopeful recipient and donor awoken wfrom anesthesia with the unexplainable news that no life-saving organ was inserted, a pair of forever joined souls struggling to understand what went wrong and why.  And I’ve been thinking about how little support exists to help them, and what, if anything, I could do, and our foundation could do, to change the paradigm.

On the other hand, I made one of those indescribable connections tonight, when, out of the blue, one of the attendees at my work conference here in Quebec pulled me aside  at dinner and whispered to me…. “I hear you are a living donor.  I’m also one – I gave a kidney anonymously a couple of years ago.”  I had spent hours talking to this person over the course of our convention here, about work and other topics completely unrelated to organs and transplantation, and it had never come up.  We’d been in each other’s company for a couple of days with zero awareness of our connection.  It was chance that this person had overheard someone else talking about my role as an organ donor, which led to them bringing it up to me.  The donor never told anyone related to work and avoids publicizing it, so wants to keep it under wraps.  But tonight, over a glass of wine at a blissfully private moment, they told me — the whole story about why they did it, how it went, and the impact it has had on their life.   We both appreciated immediately how this connects us as humans on this massive planet, and by how well we can instantly understand our shared experiences before and after.  I struggled not to lose my head, emotionally, until I was here, alone in my hotel room.  We need, as donors, so desperately to connect to share these moments.  Our gift comes to define us and fill our souls, no matter what the outcome of it, and yet there are so few who can understand it.  These connections are so precious to me.

It’s late, and I worry this post will come across like silly blathering.  But it’s honest — I’m seriously just overwhelmed right now by what it all means. 

I’ve noticed with a lot of glee that my daily visitor count is increasing over time, so I know more people are finding this blog and checking it out. If you’re one of those new readers, and if you’re a living donor or somone impacted by one, I hope you’ll take a moment to let me know your’e here, either by email or by dropping a comment.  It means so much to me that you are reading this blog.

And to Cristy and the donor I talked to tonight, you make the world go around for me.  God bless you for being here, and for the gifts you have so freely given to the world at such a great price.

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A basic Google search of the daily news will typically yield at least one story a day about living organ donation, often in small, community newspapers that still devote ample “ink” to telling stories about the humanity that surrounds them.   (The daily appearance of these stories isn’t surprising, given that there are roughly 17 living donor kidney transplants a day in the U.S., and another one or so living donor liver transplants a day. ) 

But I especially love when I find living donor stories ekeing their way into the the really big papers, the ones that more often devote their precious page space to stories to major topics of broad national interest, like economic collapses, wars, famine, hurricane damage, and the popularity of Sarah Palin’s eye glasses.  So hooray to the Wall Street Journal for this September 23 story on pay-it-forward, “daisy chain” kidney donations, such as one that just happened at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.    I’ve written about this topic before… one potential donor, not a match for his or her loved one, goes ahead and donates anyway, to a stranger who does match.  This in turn inspires someone who loves that stranger to donate to another one, and on and on as people get the organs they need and get off of the waiting list. 

As I watch with interest a seeming decline in the number of living donation surgeries around the United States, and an ever-growing list of transplant candidates in need, this kind of story gives me hope.  This quote from the WSJ story suggests it gives hope to the medical community as well:

“This is one of the most exciting things I’ve been involved with in 30 years in this field.”  – Gabriel Danovitch, director of UCLA’s kidney and pancreas transplant program

Props to Troy, my good friend who works at the Wall Street Journal, for the heads up on this one!

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My bags are packed for a rather whirlwind ten days. I begin in New York City for the weekend…

  • State of New York:
    • 276 living donor transplants conducted so far in 2008
    • 182 deceased donor transplants
    • 9,268 people waiting on the transplant list 


    …then go on to Montreal, Quebec, for the week…

  • Province of Quebec:
    • 46 living donor transplants conducted in 2007
    • 403 deceased donor transplants in 2007
    • 1,106 people waiting on the transplant list 


    …and then wrap up the following weekend with some of my dearest friends in Iowa.

  • State of Iowa:
    • 21 living donor transplants conducted so far in 2008
    • 29 deceased donor transplants
    • 489 people waiting on the transplant list 

Everywhere we travel on this planet, there are people waiting for the gift of life and brave, generous, compassionate people considering giving that gift.  If I had my way, I’d meet everyone of them every where I travelled.  As it is, I’ve been lucky to meet a few of them, and to learn quite a bit about the local transplantation scene along the way.   This particular set of travel won’t include any stops at transplant centers, unfortunately, due to my “day job.”  But as with every time I travel, I stop to do a little research about the situation there to round out my knowledge. It’s all going into a database that I hope becomes useful to the transplant community and my readers over time.

If you’re one of my fellow transplant community friends and you see me traipsing about in your town, give a wave! Better yet, send me your insights – I love to learn, the better to share.

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I have Minnesota Public Radio and my linked-in mother both to thank for alerting me today to the passionate actions of Robert Redford’s son, James Redford, in promoting transplant awareness.  Seems his story is everywhere lately — he’s a liver transplant recipient, non-profit founder, and, like his father, a filmmaker, and one of the many things he’s done in support of the cause was a film called “Flow,” “a touching depiction of an encounter between a donor family member and a recipient.”  So cool.

[Side note: if you thought blogging about Pope Benedict attracted traffic to my humble little blog, just imagine what the name “Robert Redford” could do to get people here! (Robert Redford! Robert Redford!)]

At Jamie’s Web site for the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness, one of the features I noted with interest is a section called “Connect with Others.”  He offers links to three resources chat group resources, which I’ll check out and, if they seem to be active and relevant, I’ll add to my links at left.  Meanwhile I’ll try writing to Jamie to see if he can add the Greatest Gift Foundation‘s living donor registry project to his list, as well as Nelson Freytes’ terrific Transplant Cafe site, which is growing larger and more active by the day.  

As you may already know, one of the major activites of the Greatest Gift Foundation will be to connect would-be and past donors one-on-one for networking and conversation.  We’re already actively doing this today. If it’s something we can help you with, of if you’re interested in joining our roster of donors who are willing to connect with others, let us know by dropping us an email

Meanwhile, I’m thrilled to see Jamie Redford contributing to the cause with his star power and talents.  That’s a sun I’m eager to dance in.

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It’s funny — I knew when I was there that the Transplant Games were something special. I knew it when I got home back in July. I would have told you earlier today, if you’d asked, that “Yep, they were definitely something special.” But tonight, when I watched the full-length official video on YouTube, bawling through half of it and smiling ear to ear through the rest, I was reminded that they weren’t just special. They were monumental to me and my own healing post donation, and they were monumental to my my family’s healing.

Living donors, donor families, and transplant recipients, I can’t recommend this event enough. Your next chance is in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2010. It’s so far away, but will be here in the blink of an eye.

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Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

I was happy to learn via this blog post today that the current leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, is a registered organ donor, yea! He reportedly signed up as one several years ago, when he was a cardinal.  It’s largely a gesture, really, because the Pope’s body will be buried intact, just like the Popes before him.  But it’s a gesture that I, for one, honor and welcome!

The full post was about the Catholic Church’s official position on organ transplantation, which is overall a favorable one, except for some tension among some Catholic leaders on the tricky issue of brain death.  This got me thinking about how other religions view the topic of organ transplantation.  If you, like me, are thinking, “gee, how could I quickly understand the positions of dozens of different religions on this topic, without having to commit to any strenuous research?” then, voila! I have the answer for you!  The amazing online organ transplantation documentary called “The Gift of  Lifetime” has published a brief digest that summarizes the position of several religions — Amish, Shinto, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Greek Orthodox, Baptist and more. 

I’ve done my readers a disservice by not mentioning the Gift of a LIfetime site sooner.  It’s one of my favorite Web sites on the topic of organ transplantation, hands down, and had a permanent spot on my featured links list on my old Chopped Liver blog.  I’m adding it now to the permalinks on this site too, to the right.  It deserves a full blog post of its own to cover everything there, but two stand-out features I’ll mention right away are “The Interactive Body” link that walks you through an animated explanation of transplantable body parts, and the “Transplant Journey” centerpiece, a lovely motif of stories written by a group of journalists about real people as they wait for the gift of life or cope with the loss of loved ones who become donors.  

Meanwhile, while it rains it pours… my Google alert on the topic of “organ donation” pointed me to this post from a Jewish woman who lost a daughter, and subsequently published a blog rich with information on bereavement in the Jewish tradition.  She writes the following, which, as a disclaimer, I am in no position to confirm as accurate or deny as inaccurrate:

Being an organ donor is permitted according to all Jewish denominations once death has been clearly established, provided that instructions have been left in a written living will. Orthodox and Haredi Jews consult their rabbis before making the final choice and decision. In Israel many traditional Jews have not allowed the harvesting of deceased relatives’ organs in the mistaken belief that this is forbidden to Jews. Jewish law does not, however, permit donation of organs that are vital for survival from a donor who is in a near-dead state but not yet declared dead.

If any of you have further knowledge about religious points of view about organ donation, I would love to learn from you!  Drop a comment or send an email.

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