Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year! Use Your Leap Second Wisely!

At 7 PM Eastern time, we will be granted an extra second. Use this 61 second minute wisely - do not adjust your clocks! Kiss the one nearest you!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Dear Senator Frist...Let's Boost Organ Donations

Folks - I've just sent an email to Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Senate Majority Leader, urging him to introduce legislation to create an ''opt-out''policy for organ donation in the U.S.
As you may know, Senator Frist is a transplant surgeon by trade. He seems to be the perfect person to champion this vital cause.
An ''opt-out'' policy is used in many European countries and, most recently, was accepted by a vote of the people of Argentina. It assumes that everyone is an organ donor on their death unless they specifically refuse to be, or ''opt-out.'' In countries where this policy has been implemented, the waiting list for donations has been reduced considerably - in other words many lives have been saved.
When was the last time Congress had the ability to do something that has the direct ability to save so many lives?
Right now, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. are on the transplant waiting list and many will die before organs become available.

I urge you to join me and send an email to Senator Frist to call upon him to introduce ''opt-out'' legislation. Click on the link and then go to About Sen. Frist - Contact Sen. Frist - scroll to bottom and send email.

It can literally save lives. No time to waste - the clock is ticking. Urge everyone you know to send a similar email.

Everything's Coming Up Roses

Hi Folks -
Today's the anniversary of my Homecoming with Dora, my new liver. The year's circle is complete. Ironically, I'm home from work with a little stomach bug, but in fabulous health otherwise. I'm looking forward to a visit tomorrow to our local Shrine of St. Joseph, where I made one of my first strolling trips last year after being sprung from NYU Transplant Center, where I spent 23 days last December.
One of the quirks of my hospital stay was a desire to say the Hail Mary in Spanish each day. I learned it in high school, but hadn't thought about it in years. For some reason, though, it came to me as a major priority in the hospital. Upon returning home and visiting the shrine a day after my release, I had the bizarre experience of finding several people in the usual deserted chapel praying the Hail Mary - aloud in Spanish - a language not widely spoken in our little town. I knelt and joined them.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas season and are enjoying Hannukah and Kwanzaa and looking forward to great New Year.

Everything's coming up Roses
I've learned, by chance, that DonateLife is having a float in the Rose Bowl parade. It airs at 11 AM on Monday Jan. 2 on several different TV stations - tune in. We missed the deadline for adding a memorial rose to this year's float in honor of my donor - but we'll do so in coming years.

I've made signing up donors a priority New Year's Resolution this year and will strongly advocate the establishment of an ''Opt-Out'' program for the U.S., much like other countries have. It's nice to see that the issue of organ donation and giving the gift of life will be at the forefront of New Year's Celebrations nationwide.

Much in the local news about organ donor and a very close friend has told Nancy and I that she is signing up after learning of my experience. Perhaps the oddest tale is that of the so-called Angel of Death - a male nurse who has been convicted of what he considers mercy killings of terminally ill patients in hospitals in NJ and PA. Now, the Angel of Death is giving the Gift of Life via a kidney transplant.
There had been a lot of controversy over the issue - in part because he would have to be allowed to go to NY for the operation. A judge has ruled he can make the donation, but only after he is sentenced to prison and must appear before his victims' families in court. There was concern over whether a person in prison is donating under free will, but the judge, in my view, ruled properly. Any donation of a healthy organ should be accepted.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Re-Birthday Wish - And A Plug

Our friends at Greasy Kid Stuff the great Saturday 10 AM-noon music show on
sent out a re-birthday holler to David on Dec. 17, played Happy Doesn't Have To Have An Ending by They Might Be Giants, and gave a plug to our call for a New Years' Resolution to
become an organ donor.
It's a mostly tolerable 2 hours, with some great songs you've probably never heard before THURL RAVENSCROFT - You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch; KELLY HOGAN - Senor El Gato; MR. T - Treat Your Mother Right; GENE AUTRY - When Santa Claus Gets Your Letter; FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE - I Want an Alien for Christmas etc.
The Birthday Hollers are about 1 hour to 75 minutes into the broadcast.
Enjoy and keep listening to the famous Eyeball Skeleton!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Return To NYU - Which Floor Is It?

Folks - We went back to NYU for a most enjoyable visit - the holiday party for the Transplant Staff and organ recipients. No liver was not served. It was nice to see all the doctors and nurses who took care of me last December - and since. Several organ recipients were there with their spouses and it and everyone looked so good, it was hard to tell the patients from their spouses. Shari, who had an active PR campaign before a donor was found, was there - with her husband. They carried through with their original wedding date - just a short while after her release from the hospital. Alex and Tasha met with doctors, including the chief, Lewis Teperman, who made them laugh. The big hit was seeing my old roommate Jean - who looked 20 years younger a year after his kidney/liver transplant. I jokingly called him ''doctor'' because he looked so fine in his suit and tie and robust smile. We went up to visit the nurses on the floor and I didn't honestly know what floor it was that we had to go to - I had never gone under my own power before.
We had a busy day in NYC, watching the Radio City Christmas Show, seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center before heading back to the local firehouse for a magic show and a visit with the real Santa Claus. Alex said he's the real one because he gets everthing he asks him for. This year, he showed up with a list - two sides of a page! The usual magician - Great Scott - was a big hit - part Vaudeville comedy, part cheesey but great magic. I thought the kids would be sick from all the belly laughs! The best line of the night was when Alex pointed out that Great Scott looks just like Dr. Teperman. It's true - and well, Lew is a magician of sorts. That just conjures up images of endless colored handkerchiefs being pulled out of my belly prior to transplant.
Wildly emotional days. Friday was the one-year anniversary of the day that I turned down the liver from the 80-year-old non-traditional donor. The recipient's wife sent an email wishing us the best and we continue to pray that Mike gets stronger each day. The firehouse party was the same event that Nancy had to shuffle the kids to and became a wreck at last year - comforted wonderfully by friends and strangers - and was the start of many campaigns by our incredible neighbors. It felt so great for me to be able to attend this year and to thank everyone for everything they did last year. We had a nice gathering of friends over on Saturday for a cozy party.
Nancy gifted me with a re-birthday bracelet, which I will always wear with my DONATE LIFE/DONE VIDA and LIVESTRONG bands.
Dora is treating me well and we're all looking forward to many, many long years together.

Happy Re-Birthday, David

''This is the call we've been waiting for...''
With those words, at 6 AM, a year ago today, I woke Nancy with a telephone call from my hospital room at NYU.
I had known for almost two hours that a donor had passed away who was a match for me and I would get a new liver that day.
A year later, at 6 AM, I headed out the door for a 3.5-mile walk in the sweet air, joined by deer romping in the snow, and said my thanks as I do every morning. I thought my tears today would become icicles on my cheeks. The I-Pod's random brain brought me Van Morisson's ''A Brand New Day.''
As this day goes on, spare a thought with me for my 53-year-old anonymous female donor and her family - for everyone on a transplant list - and for organ donors and their families everywhere.

More later...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Wonderfully Different Days

Folks -
Sometimes my life is so different it seems like all the craziness of last year happened to somebody else. It was last week a year ago - Pearl Harbor Day - December 7, 2004 ''a date that will live in infamy'' in our house - that I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. Nancy and I had gone to Beth Israel in NYC for an early appointment with Dr. David Clain, who drew blood from me that was to be frozen and shipped to Paris so that experts there could try to figure out what rare type of hepatitis was beating me up - turning my liver into chopped liver, bloating me with fluid buildup and painting my skin and the whites of my eyes jaundice yellow. (My blood never made it to Paris - and Nancy and I haven't made it back yet, but we will - not frozen).

Dr. Clain had run through the warnings signs we'd heard before - if I seem incoherent, if my handwriting gets illegible - it's a sign of my body breaking down and I need to get to the hospital immediately. For Nancy and I, the joke was familiar: How would she know for sure - I'm big on being incoherent and archeologists couldn't decipher my handwriting (a journalistic defense - If I can't even read my notes, no judge will be able to!).

Well, my body gave unmistakeable signs it was time to get me to the ER - STAT! After dinner, with the kids out of the room, thankful - I brought up blood and also had tell-tale tarry stools. Nancy called our neighbor, Ellen, who smoothly whisked the kids to her house to play before the ambulance arrived.

All things considered, I didn't feel so bad. I had even convinced Nancy that she should transfer the regurgitate into a take-away container so that we could bring the ''evidence'' to the hospital for examination.

We can laugh about it now, or at least I can. Nancy transported the vile vial and, of course, no one wanted anything to do with it. The ambulance people thought she was the sick one for carrying it around.

The town's EMS volunteers rushed me (Nancy aboard) to Overlook Hospital, where doctors saved my life that night. I remember constantly chatting with one of the ambulance attendants and somehow we learned that our kids were in the same first grade class. The crew seemed obsessed with how tall I was, saying I barely fit in the ambulance, even though I'm only 6'-1'' - making me wonder how they transport really tall people.

All I remember of Overlook was a doctor feeding a long scope down my throat that felt extremely rough - like the worst sore throat you've ever had. They were looking for the cause of the bleeding. What i didn't know is that they saved my life that night after the doctor had told Nancy, my sister and my sister-in-law that my body was breaking down and that ''this is how we loose people with liver disease.''

Miraculously, they stabilized me and a bidding war of sorts broke out as to whether I was going to NYU (where I had been accepted recently into the transplant pool) or to UMDNJ in Newark, where we were trying to get into the pool, which had a shorter waiting list. In the end NYU won the day.

All I know of it was Nancy telling me that I was heading to NYU and heading out in the evening on a gurney, thinking how beautiful the sky and stars looked as they rolled me into an ambulance for the sirens-blaring trip to Manhattan.
The drivers and crew didn't know the best way, so I had them call Nancy, who was racing behind us - and she directed them via cellphone in one hell of a wild ride. By early evening, I was in the transplant unit, where I would stay until leaving my new liver on Dec 30.

Fast forward to a year later...
At the hour that was fading away in the Overlook ER, I was now on live CNBC television giving a commentary on the oil market for ''Wake Up Call'' viewers.

At the hour that I was hurtling down the Turnpike in a lane-swerving ambulance, grooving to the siren, I was inside a packed school auditorium, watching Alex and all his fellow second-graders signing their holiday songs. Somewhere in the crowd - I looked for him but didn't find him - was my hero EMT, John - unless he was out saving someone else that night.

We're doing all the holiday things with special joy this year. Tasha had her dance performance for her YMCA dance and tumbling class (sometimes very hard to tell the difference!) on Sunday afternoon. She was adorable, acting out the Night Before Christmas with her troupe. Last year, I must have looked like a scary freakazoid in the crowd as the pictures (taken by dear friend Char, who was missed this year!) will attest. I look like I am from a different planet, or at least am a different species than the rest of my crew.

We rushed from the Y to the local senior citizens center where Alex's Cub Scout pack was doing its holiday sing-a-long and decorating trees. A wonderful time. In last year's madness, Alex missed the holiday sing.

But in one of those wonderful moments - like so many that made Nancy and I weep with joy and count our blessings so often on her daily hospital visits - the Scouts came by our house and sang carols on the lawn for Alex, Tasha and the family. Alex was so excited, he rushed to put on his uniform to join in, only to find that this was a special command performance. Just part of an amazing time that will stay with us forever - and this year we're all around to enjoy it together.

In transplant news - NY Times reports of two dialysis patients - an odd couple of men with nothing in common, who met during Brooklyn treatments - ended up getting sister kidneys from the same donor. The donor was in Colorado - but the Type A kidneys weren't needed in that donor region and made it to NY to the unusual ''kidney brothers'' who were hospital roommates and couldn't even agree on what news channel to watch.

Just heard today from Diane - a friend and great supporter - who has a relative who recently had a successful transplant. As she notes in a Christmas card - another great reason to sign up as a donor.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Good Enough For Argentina, Why Not For U.S.?

Friend Margot sends in this item from CNN reporting Argentina has new organ donor policy - everyone is presumed to be a donor unless you specifically opt-out. Let's get an opt-out policy in the U.S.!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Very Happy Thanksgiving

Last year, at Thanksgiving, the whole family of Birds came to our little house in our 'rural oasis' of a town. I was bloated with ascites, which swelled my ankles and my belly and was as yellow as SpongeBob SquarePants or - with my bald pate - Homer Simpson. From the jaundice, which turned the whites of my eyes yellow, to my dizziness from a coincidental and unfortunately timed case of vertigo, I was, in a word: Scary. Several family members urged Nancy to cancel, but it was vitally important for everyone to come. It was just weeks after we had learned that I needed a liver transplant and I had a message for the whole family. Before eating off a plate elevated by a riser, so I wouldn't have to dip my dizzy head too much, I vowed that I knew that I - that all of us - would beat ''this liver thing'' and that life would be better than ever. My spirit and attitude - I called myself ''Yellowman'' after the reggae artist and we played some of his music - eased the unspoken fright of my siblings and Nancy and we had a joyful time. We all prayed then - and every day since - for a wonderful outcome.
And with much joy again, remarkably, we all managed to assemble again here for Thanksgiving - Maryann in from London, neices and nephews flying in from far off colleges and my brother's whole crew down from Boston. I reminded them of my pledge, and this time we prayed for continued health and happiness for all we know and for folks awaiting transplants, for their generous and wonderful donors and their families, and for their doctors.
There's one pledge I made at Thanksgiving last year that hasn't been carried out, but purely on a ceremonial basis. I pledged that Nancy and I would renew our vows - we will - and in our own way, we do so every day.
Thanksgiving Day brought extra happiness, with an amazing story in that morning's paper. Two elderly men in our nearby area needed kidney transplants. Both of their wives were interested in donating to them, but were found to be incompatable. By a stroke of luck, the two wives were perfect matches for the others' husbands. The operations were successful, all are in good health and these strangers brought together by fate were planning to celebrate a very special Thanksgiving.
The papers have been full of transplant news recently. I was very proud to read an item sent by my sister, Kathy, that one of my NYU doctors, Devon John, is visiting African-American churches to promote the great need for organ donation in that community.
The New York Times recently had two pieces dealing with organ donations from live donors. In one, a doctor found herself using a pay-service which matches altruistic donors with folks needing transplants. There are strict guidelines about how this can be carried out - it is illegal - and quite rightly so - to pay for organs. The doctor had no qualms about using the service, which basically connected her with a total stranger, who was altruistically willing to give the gift of life.
This website started last November to promote my need for - at the time - a partial liver. I later got too ill and required - and, miraculously - received a full liver from a deceased donor. Several people, some we knew, some we didn't know at all, came forward to express an interest in being a donor. Nancy and I are still blown away by the level of interest and just flat-out blessed commitment from these folks - who were willing to undertake a risky and incredible procedure to save my life. In my view, each of them - though we never got to proceed with the preliminary testing - saved my life just by being there for me. I wrestled with the notion of putting someone through such an incredible, elective operation and was tremendously relieved when I got too sick and the decision was taken out of my hands.
In the second story, the NYTimes ethics column dealt with a letter from a woman who is estranged from her sister - she described their childhood together as torturous - at least as I recall it. Now, the sister is in need of a kidney and the writer of the letter is the only living relative. Should she donate, or stick to her wish not to do so? The ethics adviser noted that such issues are fairly common and that doctors can often find a convenient medical excuse, if needed, to overcome family politics. In our brief involvement with the living donor, it was repeatedly stressed that donors must be acting of their own free will and purely on an altruistic basis. With a family match not possible in my case, the motivation threshold for a donor would likely be even greater. Since my situation has been relayed to many people, we've heard of people in similar situations - often self-employeed and with few health benefits that would cover required recovery time - or sole breadwinners in the family that can't afford not to be putting in extra hours. Family pressures of parent or other siblings who aren't matches add to the strain and stress. God bless those people who have to struggle with such matters. May we never have to be put in such a situation. As the ethicist said - aren't families great?
The fabulous HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm, the funniest thing on TV, though certainly not everyone's cup of tea, has been dealing with this issue lately, in a way that only it can. The dispeptic Larry David (the brain behind Seinfeld) is expected to donate a kidney to his best friend. But, true to form, he's trying to scheme his way out of it. As luck, and great scriptwriting would have it, the friend's only blood relative ends up in a coma - remember this a comedy - and Larry stakes out his bedside waiting for him to pass. In the meantime - and this is where I thought it goes beyond the pale - the plot has Larry attempting to bribe the head of the local organ donation organization to use his influence and move his moderately sick friend higher up the list so that Larry gets off the hook.
The organ donation community is extremely sensitive - and rightly so - to any suggestions of favoritism. The story line even brings up the old item about how Mickey Mantle supposedly justed the queue to get his liver - true or not then - the rules - at least as I chose to see it from my experience - are never bent. The guidelines are clear and simple - with so few organs available - they are distributed on the basis of the most critical need.
Hopefully, Larry will find a way of the situation that does justice to his comic talents and to the integrity of the organ donation community everywhere.