Annual UCSF Pediatric Transplant Picnic Celebrates Life

By Leland Kim


Several hundred people gathered for a picnic at McNears Beach in San Rafael to celebrate something much bigger than just the end of summer. Each family there was celebrating the life of a loved one who has undergone an organ transplant surgery at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

Bradrick Thurman, 19, right, has remained close with Chris

Mudge ever since he had his transplant surgery as an infant

at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Justin Erickson catches up with Chris Mudge, organizer of the

UCSF Transplant Picnic on Aug. 24.

The annual event, now in its 18th year, also is a way for former patients to reunite with each other and the medical staff who saw them through so much of their childhoods.

“When I first came to the hospital, I had a 2-percent chance to live, and I survived,” said Bradrick Thurman, who was born with a rare life-threatening autoimmune disease.

Thanks to the team at UCSF, Thurman not only survived, but 19 years later, he’s excelling as a college student studying psychology. “I feel really special for being put here,” he said. “And I feel like I was put here for a purpose now that God let me survive what I was going through.”

Justin Erickson was almost 10 when he needed liver transplant surgery due to biliary atresia, a life-threatening condition in which the bile ducts are blocked.

“I was terrified, downright terrified,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I was going to die.”

He spent almost a year at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital following his surgery, but he gradually recovered. Now, Erickson is a 30-year-old husband and soon-to-be father.

“From where I started as a child to where I am today, there’s no words for it,” he said. “You accept what you’ve been dealt, and you hope your child is healthy and happy.”

Picnic organizer Chris Mudge, who retired from UCSF just over a year ago, helped take care of both Thurman and Erickson when she was a pediatric nurse practitioner. Last year, the transplant picnic was renamed “The Annual Chris Mudge UCSF Pediatric Transplant Picnic,” to honor Mudge’s work and dedication to the transplant patients and their families.

“It’s been a privilege to take care of these kids and watch them grow up to be happy and successful young adults,” she said. “In the early days, the picnic was just a small gathering. We are grateful that it has become what it is today.”

Advances in Transplant Surgery

Transplant surgery has come a long way: In the early days, a 50-percent success rate was considered good; now more than 90 percent of transplant patients are surviving.

“With advances in both the medications and our ability to intervene when we see there’s a problem, we can quickly adjust medication or treat infections which we didn’t have in the early days. It’s really remarkable how well patients can do with a transplant,” said Philip Rosenthal, MD, a pediatric liver specialist with the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

Did You Know?

Every month, more than 2,000 new names are added to the national waiting list for organ transplants, and about 18 people die every day while waiting for an organ transplant in the U.S.

Help give people a second chance at life by signing up to be an organ donor through Donate Life.

Founded in the 1960s, the UCSF Transplant Service is a world leader in clinical transplantation and has developed innovative techniques while producing superior outcomes. Patient care is integrated with research and education in a program that focuses on clinical application of the latest research findings and on training the next generation of transplant leaders.

Solid organ transplant is the main area of concentration, but as transplant science evolves, UCSF researchers are pioneering new approaches such as transplanting islet cells from the pancreas – instead of transplanting the full organ – to treat type 1 diabetes.

Today, UCSF is one of the busiest transplant centers in the country, known for taking challenging cases. Since the Transplant Service’s founding, UCSF has performed organ or islet cell transplant procedures in more than 11,000 patients, and survival rates consistently are above the national averages reported by the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.

At the helm are Nancy Ascher, MD, PhD, chair of the UCSF Department of Surgery, and John Roberts, MD, chief of the UCSF Division of Transplant Surgery, who in 1993 performed the first-ever live adult-to-child liver transplant operation. The majority of liver transplants – about 90 percent – come from cadavers.

Ascher and Roberts operated on Erickson, who had a special message for them at the picnic:. “You guys don’t know what you’ve done for me,” he said. “I know I don’t see you on a day-to-day basis but 20 years of life – 20 years of extra life you’ve given me – I can’t ask for anything else.”

Paying It Forward

One of the latest miracles is 2-year-old Matthew Ouimet who was born with primary hyperoxaluria, a rare medical condition characterized by the overproduction of molecules called oxalates. He underwent life-saving kidney and liver transplant operations in early June at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. He was discharged earlier this month after 73 days in the hospital.

Justin Erickson, 30, who had life-saving transplant surgery at UCSF

Benioff Children's Hospital 20 years ago, high-fives 2-year-old Matthew Ouimet,

who is only two months out from his transplant surgery.

“We are so grateful to UCSF and to Matthew’s donor,” said Matthew’s mom Kristi Ouimet. “Because of his selfless act, Matthew now has a chance at living a full life.”

Kristi Ouimet and her family have worked with the American Red Cross and Children’s Organ Transplant Association to organize drives encouraging people to become blood and organ donors. The Ouimets have also collected toy donations for patients at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

“Our Matthew is alive today because of organ donation,” said Kristi Ouimet. “We want to do what we can to encourage others to become donors so that other children like Matthew have the chance that he has.”

Photos by Leland Kim

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