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With Thousands in Need of Transplants, UCSF Intensifies Efforts to Promote Organ Donation

By Robin Hindery

To coincide with National Donate Life Month in April, UCSF is stepping up its already aggressive efforts to raise public awareness about organ donation, both on and off campus. From a student-led campaign to enlist organ donors and a series of seminars to a flag that will hang at the entrance to UCSF Medical Center, the coming weeks will offer numerous reminders that while the University’s transplant programs have saved the lives of thousands of patients, thousands more remain in desperate need of new organs. More than 21,000 Californians are waiting for an organ transplant, according to Donate Life California, the state’s nonprofit organ and tissue donor registry. About one-third of those in need of a transplant will die before receiving one.

Helping to raise awareness of the importants of organ, eye and tissue donation at UCSF are, from right to left,Sarah Blevins, administrative assistant, Heart and Lung Transplant; Cindy Galbraith, manager Liver Transplant; Judy Lillie, analyst, Kidney Transplant; Catherine Rush, kidney donor; Delno Rush, kidney recipient. Lisa Omer, financial counselor, Kidney Transplant and kidney donor; Bernard Hochendonor, kidney recipient; Mario Sanchez, financial counselor, Heart and Lung Transpalnt; Aracelia Mendez, financial counselor, Heart and Lung Transplant and Karen Rago, RN, executive director Service Lines and director Heart and Vascular Center and Heart and Lung Transpalnt Program.

“We have to lead by example, and really, we can never do enough,” said Amy Peele, UCSF’s director of transplant services. “Our job will never really be over because we owe it to our patients to keep working to find transplants for them.” UCSF Medical Center is home to the country’s third-largest solid organ transplant program, and has earned national recognition for its success in converting potential donors into actual donors. The hospital will be honored later this year by the US Department of Health and Human Services with the Medal of Honor for Organ Donation, an award given to hospitals for achieving and sustaining a donation rate of 75 percent or more among eligible donors. UCSF also received the award in 2007. “UCSF has done remarkably well in increasing its number of donors over the past few years,” said Jill Noonan, RN, JD, a donation services liaison for the California Transplant Donor Network (CTDN), an independent organ procurement organization that UCSF helped establish in 1987.

Timing is Critical

“With transplants, timing is everything, but you are also dealing with families who are facing one of the worst moments in their entire lives,” Noonan said. “It’s quite a balancing act, and UCSF’s nurses and physicians are just outstanding in the manner in which they approach the whole situation.” Noonan noted, however, that since the medical center is a teaching hospital, “the players change quite frequently.” So she and her CTDN colleagues conduct frequent training sessions with new nurses, physicians and residents “to get everyone on the same page.” Of course, a well-trained hospital staff is just one of the things that keep UCSF’s transplant program running smoothly. Even more vital is public awareness – and participation – when it comes to organ donation. First-year UCSF medical student Patricia Zheng has started an organization on campus with the ambitious goal of enlisting the entire University community as organ donors. The group, Coalition of Organ Donation Exponents (CODE), is running a campaign throughout the month of April to encourage people to sign up as organ donors through the Donate Life California website. The CODE campaign is part of an intercollegiate competition sponsored by CTDN. CODE also has organized a series of three on-campus seminars in April, featuring a UCSF transplant surgeon, transplant pharmacist and double-lung transplant recipient Rowan Jimenez. Jimenez was a touring musician and avid rock climber until his previously mild form of scleroderma, an autoimmune disease, manifested in his lungs in late 2006 and placed him in dire need of an organ transplant. He sought treatment at UCSF, one of the few centers in the world experienced at performing lung transplants in scleroderma patients, and in September 2008, he made it off the transplant waiting list and onto the road to recovery. Zheng, who worked as an intern at the National Kidney Foundation last summer, said she hoped stories like Jimenez’s would help give the subject of organ donation a human face. “I have always been amazed by the ability of organ transplants to change lives,” she said. In addition to the CODE e-campaign and upcoming events, a “Donate Life” flag at the entrance to the medical center will offer a daily physical reminder of the importance of organ donation to all those who enter the building. The flag will remain in place through the end of April. “It’s all about getting out awareness, so that people sign up to be organ donors and make their wishes clear before they’re in a situation where a family member has to make the decision for them,” said Karen Rago, RN, administrative director of the UCSF Heart and Vascular Center and executive director of service line administration. Rago’s point was poignantly illustrated in late March when four men on California’s transplant list were saved by organs from slain Oakland police officer John Hege. Hege, who was fatally shot on the job on March 21, was registered through Donate Life California, and his liver, heart and kidneys were successfully transplanted in the days following the shooting. In a written statement, Hege’s family said they supported his decision “completely and proudly” and took comfort in the knowledge that some good had come from an otherwise tragic situation. “Even in death, [Hege] gave to the lives of those in our community whom he had always loved and supported,” the statement said.

Decades of Transplant Success

In 2008, UCSF celebrated its 45th year of transplantation, with more than 10,000 successful operations under its belt. Kidney transplants make up about 80 percent of transplant procedures at the medical center, making it the world leader in kidney transplantation. n April 2008, the UCSF Heart and Lung Transplant Program performed its 500th procedure. Earlier that year, data from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients had showed that survival rates among UCSF heart and lung transplant patients exceeded the national average. In addition, the University continues to work aggressively to expand its living donor transplant program, which consists of kidney and liver transplants. The medical center is currently the second-largest center for living-donor kidney transplants in the country.

Related Links:

UCSF Transplant Surgery

UCSF eCampaign for Donate Life California

California Transplant Donor Network

UCSF Celebrates 45th Anniversary of Transplant Service
UCSF Today, Sept. 25, 2008

UCSF Marks a Milestone with 500th Transplant in Heart and Lung Program
UCSF News Release, April 24, 2008