In the time it takes to read this column, four new names will be added to the more than 104,000 people currently on the national transplant list.
Everyday, 17 of them will die waiting for a life-saving organ that never came, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
If you take anything away from this column, please take this, Shannon DeVaney and Renee Andrae ask. Consider becoming a donor. Give it some serious thought. So many lives depend on it. People you know and strangers.
Shannon and Renee, both 43 now, went from best friends in kindergarten all the way through college graduation together in Washington state. All those sleepovers at each other’s homes, family vacations together and midnight talks about old boyfriends and new ones made them closer than sisters.
They knew that marriage or a job would one day separate them, and it did, but their history together ran so deep that weeks could go by between phone calls, yet when they heard each other’s voice it felt like only yesterday since they had last spoken.
So, when the phone didn’t ring in Shannon’s Woodland Hills home on the day Renee made the biggest decision of her increasingly fragile life, her oldest friend knew something had changed.
Why did she hear from Renee’s mother, second-hand, that her daughter had finally decided she couldn’t wait any longer for a deceased donor liver transplant, and had been accepted at a hospital that does living donor liver transplants?
They had talked about this for more than a year. Shannon, a biologist, had even flown up a few times to be with Renee. She had done the research.
“Knowing she wouldn’t receive a deceased person’s liver in time, I wanted her to have every option to live,” Shannon said. “This was her best option.”
There could be only one reason Renee hadn’t called. She didn’t want Shannon to feel an obligation to be a donor. Giving someone 60% of your liver was a big ask, even for your oldest friend.
“She never asked,” Shannon said. “She didn’t have to. I went online and signed up immediately to be tested as a donor.”
The results were not good. She and Renee had different blood types. They weren’t a match, but don’t worry there was another way, the surgeon said. It was called an organ transplant chain, and was one of the first of its kind for liver transplants in North America.
“I donated part of my liver to a stranger in exchange for another stranger donating hers to Renee,” Shannon said. “Donor chains are done for kidney transplants a lot, but are quite rare for liver transplants.”
In January 2022, with COVID-19 as a backdrop, four women went into the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle over a two-week period to save the lives of two of them.
The chain held. Two diseased kidneys were successfully removed and replaced by two healthy ones. The liver is the one organ in the body that rejuvenates and grows.
It’s been over a year now, and that 60% of Shannon’s liver she donated sure hasn’t slowed her down. She’s running the Santa Monica Mountains 100 Mile Race (SAMO 100) race that starts at 5 a.m. on Friday, June 9 — running all day and all night.
“It’ll be my longest run ever,” Shannon said.
Waiting at the finish line Saturday afternoon will be her oldest friend from kindergarten — alive and healthy.
For more information on organ donation go to donatelifecalifornia.org
Four more people just got added to the national transplant list.
Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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