Saturday, February 19, 2005

Starting Month # 3...Never Forgetting...

Folks -

Today is the start of my third month with my new transplanted liver, whom I call ''Dora.'' I feel so strong today it's amazing to me that two months ago my life was in jeopardy.

Not a day goes by when I don't say a prayer of thanks and call for blessings for my anonymous donor and her family.

When my family and I celebrate today - with a modest toast of sparkling cider - we won't forget that as we commemorate the two-month mark since my Dec. 19 surgery, another family is reminded today of the loss that day of a special woman, passing on at the much-too-early age of 53.

The gift of life from this incredible family is the only thing that allows me to still walk the earth today. It's likely that many of this wonderful woman's organs, perhaps tissue, bone and corneas, have renewed the lives of maybe a dozen others in the same way that I have been reborn.

I can only wish that the collective heartfelt thanks from us all can offer solace to the donor's family.

My thought-for-the-day calendar says it better than I can:
''Some people make the world more special just by being in it.''

I don't want to sound corny, but, given my second chance in life, I struggle each day about what I can do to make the world a more special place. Usually, I fall flat on my face. But sometimes I can at least feel that I'm inching the ball forward.

On Jan. 19, one month after my transplant, I acted on my oft-spoken intention and signed up for real to be an organ donor myself. I challenged readers of this blog to do likewise. I'm happy to say a few folks followed my lead, but we barely made a dent in the ever-growing organ-donor shortage.

To mark the two-month period, I've written to some New Jersey legislators asking for changes in a bill to give tax relief to residents who become living organ donors.

I also made a suggestion that came to me as I recovered from surgery in the hospital. To promote the tremendous need for organ donations, I suggested that NJ State Troopers be required to hand out with each ticket they write a separate piece of paper promoting the cause of organ donation. The paper - in English and Spanish - would detail how to go about signing on to the cause. Seems to me it can only help and it can't cost that much.

Legislation was introduced last May (Senate bill S1495 and companion Assembly bill A2953) in Trenton to allow NJ resident taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 of unreimbursed costs associated with being a living organ donor. The organ receipient's insurance covers the full cost of testing and the surgery for donors. It's illegal for donors to be compensated for their organs. But this bill allows a break from state taxes for such costs as travel, lodging and lost wages on a once-in-a-lifetime basis.

I think this is a great idea and should remove an impediment for would-be donors, who quite rightly shouldn't have to take on financial hardship while giving the gift of life.

When I learned last November that I needed a life-saving liver transplant as soon as possible, my efforts were put into finding a living donor, to avoid being placed on a huge waiting list for an organ from a deceased donor. Along the way, I learned a lot about the process and that's why I'm calling for changes in the pending legislation.

Doctors at NYU Medical Center told me that, on average, they put about six potential living donors through rigorous two-day physical examinations before they find an acceptable donor. That means for each living donor transplant, there are potentially five people who will have incurred significant ancillary expenses, but wouldn't qualify for the tax break as the legislation is currently written.

What's more, no NJ hospital does living donor transplants for livers - meaning, at a minimum, there's an immediate cost of traveling out of state for potential donors.

I urge each of you reading this to contact your NJ legislators in support of my proposed change and push for them to endorse an amended bill. For those of you living elsewhere, similar bills are pending in other state legislatures - track down your elected officials and get them on board for this noble cause. Urge them to support the notion of state police spreading the word on organ donation, too.

In my situation, many fabulous people - both good friends and relative strangers - pledged to be living donors. I'm still stunned by this amazing gesture and, am most grateful to those, who in the course of consulting their doctors about being a donor, uncovered their own medical problems and had them treated. Had they not stepped forward on my behalf, their conditions may have gone unnoticed.

Of course, my ailing liver rapidly deteriorated in early December making me too sick to be eligible to receive the partial liver that a living donor would supply. That news turned my world upside down initially, but the seriousness of me illness sent me to the top of the recipient list and into an orbit where I eventually rendezvoused with my precious donor who I honor today and everyday.

For her, her family, for my wife, Nancy, and our little ones Alex and Tasha, and for all of those who've supported us throughout, I'll keep trying to push ahead on the issue of raising organ donor/liver disease awareness.

It's the best way to honor my sweet donor's memory, and with your help, maybe we can make the world more special for others in need.


How to be a donor:
How to e-mail your NJ legislator:

"Don't take your organs to heaven...heaven knows we need them here"


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