The Gift of Life
There are more than 113,000 people waiting to receive organs in the United States right now, people in need of hearts, lungs, kidneys, and livers. Eighteen people die each day waiting for an organ.
Debbie Shearer wasn’t concerned with statistics. Her mind was on George Shearer, her 22-year-old son who died after sustaining injuries in a car accident and succumbing to infection in the hospital. George wanted to be an organ donor but could not, due to the state of his body when he died.
“I had always been signed up on my driver’s license as an organ donor, but never put much thought into being a living donor,” Shearer says. “When I realized that being a living donor was an option, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more. Knowing that I could donate one of my organs in memory of George was something I felt very strong and passionate about.”
Debbie flew from her home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., to Birmingham, Ala., where she underwent surgery to have her kidney removed and given to Rosa Sanders, whose kidneys had failed from high blood pressure. The goodwill that began with Debbie continued to ripple, and soon, five more patients had received kidneys from living donors.
In order to become a living—or altruistic—donor, each donor undergoes a series of tests to make sure they—and their kidneys—are healthy, says UAB Living Donor Coordinator Maryann Bonventre, RN, BSN. “If they are not, we will not approve them to be a donor,” Bonventre says. “The kidney transplant program at UAB is comprised of a multidisciplinary team, and we always make decisions in the best interest of the potential living donor.”
The decision to become a living donor is not a small one and isn’t free from pain, Shearer notes. “Being nervous is normal, and honestly it is painful,” she says, “But the pain gets better with each day. It is almost like childbirth; during the moment, it is extremely painful and you say to yourself, ‘I will never do that again.’ But after you hold your child, you forget the pain because the life you hold in your arms makes it all worth it, and you quickly forget. The same is true for donating a kidney. Once you see or hear how well the recipient is doing, you immediately forget about the pain; you extend your open arms and embrace your recipient because this too is a new life you are holding! If I had another kidney to donate, I would do it all over again.”
For patients who are not ready to become a living donor—or who are not healthy enough, “the simple process of designating yourself as an organ donor on your driver's license can also save or improve the lives of so many people,” says UAB Living Donor Coordinator Maryann Bonventre, RN, BSN. Registering as an organ donor is easy and can be done in moments online.
Today, Debbie is as passionate as she was when she made her choice to donate in 2006. She volunteers as an organ donor advocate with the Alliance for Paired Kidney Donation, screening possible organ donation candidates. “It is so nice to be able to answer the question ‘well, if you believe in it so much, have you donated?’ I can reply ‘Well, yes as a matter of fact I have!’”
Debbie is also in touch with Rosa, her recipient, and the chain of kidney donors and recipients that sprung forth from her donation in George’s memory. “The most amazing part for me is that I was blessed enough to meet not only my recipient but also her precious daughter who paid it forward for her—and the rest of the chain too,” Shearer says. “I have this amazing extended family now. Knowing that together we all made this possible is better than just a gift—it is life for another person, and what could beat that? This is a gift that will continue to grow and grow.”
UAB has the largest comprehensive transplant program in the Southeastern United States, performing 100 more transplants each year than any other program in the region. Almost 300 kidney transplants are performed each year, and half come from living donors. UAB’s experience in performing living donor transplants ensures the highest level of care and better outcomes for patients.
Now kidney and pancreas transplant patients can experience a state-of-the-art environment to match UAB’s leading-edge care at the new UAB Kidney & Pancreas Transplant Clinic. The clinic features four examination suites and 14 examination rooms, designated rooms for private consultations, and an atmosphere that focuses on modernity and comfort. Learn more about the new clinic here.
To celebrate the gift of life, UAB and the Alabama Organ Center hold a Celebration of Life Picnic each April, where donors, recipients, and their families gather to give thanks and celebrate life. The 2012 picnic is Saturday, April 21, from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm at the UAB Mini Park.
Donate Life Month lasts all April long, featuring activities across the country aimed at educating Americans about organ donation, encouraging them to register as donors, and celebrating those who have saved lives through the gift of donation.
As far as Debbie Shearer’s son George’s legacy, it continues to live on. “If I had another kidney to donate, I would do it all over again,” Debbie says. “As a matter of fact, my husband has just started the process as an altruistic donor, and we can’t wait for George’s Chain of Life part II to start saving more lives!”