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Ron Boris Jr. waited over four years for one phone call â€“ a call that would save his life. After years of serious cardiac issues, Boris was placed on the heart transplant waiting list in late 2004 in the hopes of receiving his gift of life. That second chance arrived on April 25, 2009, thanks to the generosity of a donor and donor family.
"I have never enjoyed life more than I have since receiving my new heart," Boris, of Auburn, PA, said. "I learned not to take anything for granted and live every moment the best I can."
Gift of Life Donor Program â€“ the non-profit, federally designated organ procurement organization (OPO) serving eastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware â€“ announced that 439 individuals gave gifts of life through organ and tissue donation in 2009, making this region the most generous in the U.S. and setting a new national record.
The gifts given by those 439 generous organ donors allowed Gift of Life to coordinate a total of 1,114 life-saving transplants over the course of the year. With nearly 10 million people in this region, Gift of Life's procurement of 44 donors-per-million-population ranks among the highest in the world.
Transplants like Boris's can only occur through the generosity of donors and their families, who make the decision to save or enhance lives through organ and tissue donation. In 2009, this was a decision Nadine Faulkner, of Atlantic City, had to make after her husband of 13 years suffered a stroke and spent weeks in the Intensive Care Unit. When doctors told her that he was brain dead, she knew organ and tissue donation was the right decision, to make something good of an otherwise tragic situation.
"I know he would have wanted it," she said. "For me, he's still going on. I'll never forget him, and neither will others thanks to his donation."
The increasing number of donation opportunities locally is only possible through dedicated cooperation from healthcare partners, both at the 150 hospitals and 15 transplant centers in the region. Through their advocacy and diligence, these medical professionals have helped support the families of donors as well as give hope to those individuals waiting for a life-saving transplant.
Another milestone for this community, the number of tissue donations given over the past 12 months was equally unprecedented, with 2,458 tissue donors. This included 1,026 musculoskeletal donors who provided bone grafts, heart valves, skin, saphenous veins among other tissues necessary for life-enhancing transplants, as well as 2,263 eye donors, which allows for cornea transplants used to restore vision. The number of tissue donors has more than doubled over the past five years. Just one tissue donor can help more than 50 people through transplant allograph procedures.
"To be the national leader in donation and transplantation is a testament to the level of support this community shows, and we are grateful to all those individuals who made the generous decision to be an organ and tissue donor," Gift of Life President and CEO Howard M. Nathan said. "We will stay focused on those who continue to wait for their second chance and will continue to support those generous individuals who decide to save lives through donation."
This remarkable achievement occurred as Gift of Life spent the year celebrating its 35th anniversary. Over the past three decades, the OPO has helped coordinate more than 29,000 life-saving transplants along with approximately 300,000 of tissue transplants. Gift of Life plans to keep that momentum going, and the scope of work will continue to increase through outreach efforts and new programs.
One of the most exciting initiatives of 2009 was the groundbreaking that began construction of the Gift of Life Family House. Slated to open in the fall of 2010, the 30-room facility will provide temporary lodging and supportive services to family members of adult and pediatric transplant patients traveling greater than 30 miles to Philadelphia for their transplant care. In addition to lodging, the development of educational resources and services tailored for the needs of these family members is underway.
Working to increase organ donation and transplantation has not only been a local focus, but one that Gift of Life has taken on both nationally and internationally. Gift of Life, and specifically Nathan, have been working in collaboration with donation professionals around the world to combat donation abuses and promote best practices. This included multiple presentations at the biannual International Society for Organ Donation and Procurement (ISODP) in Berlin last October â€“ an organization which Nathan served as president for the past two years. He also provided expert testimony to the United Nations about combating organ trafficking and worked with healthcare professionals to promote donation in The Philippines in November. The organization â€“ through its educational arm, Gift of Life Institute â€“ has trained more than 3,000 donation professionals both nationally and internationally on best practices, using the same model that has made Gift of Life the world leader in procurement.
The work that needs to be done to save more lives, however, is far from complete. Currently, more than 6,000 people in Gift of Life's service region still await organ transplants, joining more than 105,000 patients who remain on the transplant waiting list nationwide. To help those efforts, Gift of Life encourages members of the community to register as donors, if they have not done so already. With online portals in all three states, it is quick and easy to add the donor designation today just by visiting Gift of Life's website.
For more information on organ and tissue donation, please call Gift of Life at 1-800-DONORS-1 (1-800-366-6771) or visit our website at www.donors1.org.