The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Partners with Gift of Life to Raise Awareness of Organ Donation

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April is National Donate Life Month.

Christopher Ennis received a heart transplant at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia when he was 1 month old. Today, Christopher is a healthy four year old.

Each person who signs up to be an organ donor could potentially save eight lives through organ donation, restore sight to two people through cornea donation and improve the health of up to 50 others through tissue donations.

Did you know there are currently 1,988 kids in the United States on the transplant wait list, in need of a new organ to survive?

Carol O’Brien and her son, Riley, know this startling reality all too well. Riley was born with his heart on the wrong side of his body resulting in complex congenital heart disease. Riley’s only chance for survival is to receive a new heart and set of lungs. Riley has been waiting for new organs for nearly a year and a half. After celebrating Riley’s 3rd birthday this past Monday, Carol realized that he has now spent more time on the transplant wait list than off it.

Yesterday, Carol shared these words at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia during an event to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation in recognition of April as National Donate Life Month. In collaboration with Gift of Life Program, her remarks stressed the need for donors both living and deceased, and encouraged the public to pledge their support by signing up to become an organ donor.

The Transplant Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is one of the largest pediatric transplant centers in the country, and one of a handful with the surgical expertise to perform a heart/lung transplant. The delay in securing Riley’s organs reflects the shortage of donors. Today, there are 64 children at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on the transplant wait list, and another 1,988 are waiting nationwide.

Carol was quick to remind the community that their story isn’t unique, and the challenges faced by Riley are far too common. Recent wait list numbers show that the need for organs is greatly outpacing availability. There is a decline in tissue and organ donation across the country. This decline highlights the need for Donate Life Month and other awareness campaigns, but also illustrates the reality faced by waiting families.

Carol asked the audience if ever faced with that type of tragedy to, “Please seriously consider donation. Not only will you be giving a child another chance at life, but you would also be giving your child the chance to live on through your generous decision.”

Also at the event, Children’s Hospital Transplant Center director Kimberly Olthoff, M.D., said that many don’t know that some organs, like the kidney and liver, can be donated by a living person. Live donors choose to give away a part or full organ. These donations can be made for someone the donor knows, or for a complete stranger. “I am always amazed and awed by these donor families and these living donors. The strength, kindness, determination, courage and love that they show make me realize that we have heroes among us,” added Dr. Olthoff.

Yesterday’s event concluded with a very emotional “Tale of Two Tims” by mom Tina Raymond. Tina first shared the story of her son Tim, who planned on growing up to be an architect. Tina’s son died from respiratory complications due to last year’s H1N1 epidemic. Lungs did not become available for Tim until it was too late. He had been on the waiting list for more than 126 days and his body was not able to recover.

Ten months earlier, a family friend’s adult child, also named Tim, was pronounced brain dead after a stroke. The family friend had not asked their son previously about his wishes surrounding organ donation, so they chose not to donate. Had Tim's illness occurred prior to the death of 'the other Tim,' they would have seen first-hand the need for organs and the special gift it can become. Tina’s pain and grief were still fresh, but her words serve as a reminder of the unpleasant reality. “He fought for his life like a true warrior, and his only chance was a donor,” Raymond recounted. Tim lost his battle, but his mom wages on in his place to spread the word about the dire need for donors, both living and deceased.

Each person who signs up to be an organ donor could potentially save eight lives through organ donation, restore sight to two people through cornea donation and improve the health of up to 50 others through tissue donations.

Become An Organ Donor.

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Rachel Salis-Silverman
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
(267) 426-6063
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