Small Things Matter for Organ Transplant Recipients

By Edward F. Hollinger, MD, PhD

An organ transplant can only happen if there is an organ donor. When we encourage community members to consider becoming organ donors, we usually begin by describing how recipients benefit from transplantation. Mostly, we talk about the “big” things: a patient with cirrhosis from hepatitis C or liver failure from a Tylenol overdose who doesn’t die, a patient with kidney failure from hypertension who no longer needs dialysis (and statistically will live longer as a result), or a patient with end-stage heart failure who gets to see her children grow up because of a heart transplant. However, we often forget about the smaller but no less dramatic ways that organ transplants affect recipients’ lives.

During my transplant fellowship, I cared for a man in his mid-50s who had been a brittle diabetic since his teens. His diabetes eventually caused kidney failure, and he had to start dialysis. He was listed for and soon received a simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant. Because of his multiple medical problems, he had a difficult post-transplant course. He had several readmissions to the hospital, mostly because of nausea and vomiting from the damage that diabetes had caused to his stomach and bowel. We all felt that he was a bit depressed that he had not recovered as quickly as we had hoped (and he had expected). Continue reading

Gift of Life: An Organ Donor’s Story

In addition to overseeing Rush’s abdominal transplant program, Rachel Thomas has experienced the transformative effect of transplant firsthand.

Nearly seven years ago, Thomas — who is service line and program administrator, solid organ transplant, hepatology and nephrology — donated one of her own kidneys to be transplanted into her husband at the time, who previously had spent 13 years on dialysis due to focal segmental glomerulosclersosi (FSGS).

“We had a baby, and I knew the quality of life for my entire family would improve,” says Thomas, MBA, BSN, RN, CNN. “We’d been working our life around being at a dialysis center three days a week.”

Thomas underwent a minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure to donate her kidney, spent less than a day in the hospital and went back to work eight days later. She also had a second child after making her donation, and the entire family has remained in good health since, and although he and Thomas eventually divorced, she’s glad she could provide him with his life-changing gift.

“I’m grateful that my kids’ lives aren’t built around seeing their dad’s illness,” she says.

Not surprisingly, Thomas is a strong advocate for organ donation, especially for kidney donation by living donors. “Donations by living donors always have better outcomes and better survival rates than donations from deceased donors. Living donors also have an emotional investment in the other person, which enhances quality of life and survival,” Thomas says. “If my husband had received a deceased donor kidney, that would have been one less kidney out there for someone else, so I’ve kind of saved two lives,” she adds.

Thomas encourages people to register to be organ donors, which can be done online at Donate Life Illinois.