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Gift of Life Donor Program – the region’s organ procurement organization (OPO) serving eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware– announced that the organization coordinated the recovery of 1,185 organs from a record 441 individuals in 2011, making this region the most generous in the U.S. and setting a new national record.
For the past 4 years, Gift of Life has averaged over 400 donors per year, and serving nearly 10.3 million people in the region, Gift of Life’s procurement of nearly 43 donors-per-million-population ranks among the highest in the world.
For the family of Jillian Shallock, this generosity meant a life-saving heart transplant. On December 1, 2010, 5 month-old Jillian was placed on the pediatric heart transplant list. Baby Jillian had been born with restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM) earlier that July—a condition which restricted the blood flow to the young girl’s heart. After several months, her parents, Billy and Shannon Shallock, decided to place their daughter on the waiting list for a new heart.
After nearly two months on the transplant waiting list, Jillian received her heart on January 25, 2011—aNew Year’s gift to start the young recipient and her family on the road to a new life. “It really is hard to think about what our life could have been like had someone not made the decision [to donate]—a decision that saved our daughter’s life,” says Shannon.
Another “first” for Gift of Life took place in fall 2011, when, for the first time in the Delaware Valley, a patient underwent a complex and intricate bilateral hand and arm transplant to significantly enhance the quality-of-life for a multiple limb loss. The procedure was performed by Penn Medicine’s Hand Transplant Program, which operated under the leadership of the Penn Transplant Institute, and was proudly performed in conjunction with Gift of Life.
Another milestone was an unprecedented increase in the number of individuals and families who said “yes” to tissue donation over the last 12 months, with more than 2,700 tissue donors. One tissue donor can save or enhance the lives of more than 50 individuals, and as a result, an estimated number of 45,000 people may be helped from life-enhancing procedures due to the generosity of others.
Additionally, 1,235 musculoskeletal donors provided life-enhancing bone allographs for orthopedic surgeries, skin for burn patients, and heart valves to repair defects in 2011. And Gift of Life is grateful for our 2,500 eye donors, whose corneas have been transplanted used to restore precious sight.
Gift of Life also helped Donate Life America reach its goal in 2011, of registering 100 million people in the United States as organ and tissue donors—nearly 4 million of these selfless individuals were registered in our region, in addition to countless families who have generously said “yes” to donation without previous designation.
But Gift of Life could not have achieved this alone: The hard work and dedication of the region’s 138 hospitals and 15 transplant centers has helped, and their perseverance and dual advocacy for families throughout the transplant process.
“We work closely with Gift of Life to help create the opportunity for meaningful donation, out of what is often a difficult, stressful situation for our donor families,” says Dr. Gerard Fulda, Chief of Surgical Critical Care for Christiana Hospital in Newark, DE. “Knowing the importance of these gifts helps our staff be dual advocates for both donor families and our transplant recipients.”
Gift of Life works hand-in-hand with medical professionals and continues to give hope to those individuals waiting for life-saving transplants, while supporting the families of our heroic donors—families like that of Francis “Franny” Gessler.
In the fall of 2011, the 30 year-old father suffered a fatal brain aneurysm during a pickup hockey game. His wife Christine and mother Fran were quickly by his side in the hospital, and knew that organ donation was something Francis would have wanted, as a generous and giving father, son and husband.
“We as a family are very religious and deep in faith, so all along, we had hopes for Franny’s recovery,” says Gessler’s mother, Fran. “But when we learned that there wasn’t hope for recovery, we looked at each other and we knew: Franny was the kindest, gentlest kid ever. He would want to save others, so the decision to donate was made. The knowledge that others are living through him is comforting.”
“Families like the Gesslers truly are heroes,” said Gift of Life President and CEO Howard M. Nathan. “We thank those individuals and their loved ones for giving others the gift of a second chance at life in 2011. Moving forward in 2012, we will continue to educate our community about the critical need for more organ and tissue donors and to support families awaiting these critical transplants with programs like our new Gift of Life Family House.”
Opened in summer 2011, Gift of Life Family House is a 30-room facility that provides temporary lodging and supportive services to family members of transplant patients in the Philadelphia region. Resources such as nutritious meals and transportation to regional transplant centers are offered at an affordable cost, to help assist patients and their families on their transplant journey.
Gift of Life is proud to note the excellence of its staff, who have worked hard to make transplantation possible, and offer expanded care for families, both with programs such as the Family House, and with the organization’s continued educational outreach. Gift of Life’s dedication to increasing donation means that donor families like Francis Gessler’s have given patients like little Jillian Shallock’s the gift of learning to walk, talk and grow with her three sisters and loving parents.
Of the 441 organ donors in 2011, 46% were registered as donors on their driver’s license or state-issued IDs. While this number is encouraging, more than 6,500 men, women and children in this region are currently on the waiting list for transplants, and more than 112,000 patients remain on the list nationally.
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