By: James Schurr, PharmD Candidate c/o 2014 and Jennifer Miao, PharmD Candidate c/o 2014
With very special thanks to Jessica Melore and Jennifer McDermott, PharmD, BCPS of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
Jessica Melore was 16 years old, a senior in high school, and co-captain of the tennis team when her life took a drastic turn. While sitting in a restaurant with her family one night, she almost collapsed. Jessica said, “I started to feel dizzy and light-headed and when that subsided I started feeling pressure pains going from my chest to my neck and a heaviness in my arms.” It wasn’t until she reached the hospital that she learned that she was experiencing a massive heart attack from a blood clot. Although the left side of her heart was destroyed by the heart attack, Jessica somehow pulled through and returned to school with an implanted device that pumped blood throughout her body for her, known as a left-ventricular assist device (LVAD). This machine kept her alive while awaiting a heart transplant.
Nine months later, Jessica finally received the call that a heart was ready for her, just days before her high school graduation. The transplant was a complete success, allowing her to graduate and go on to attend Princeton University three months later. Jessica’s donor was an 18 year-old girl named Shannon, who died in a car accident in 1999. Shannon loved writing and horses. She was also an organ donor, and her decision allowed Jessica a second chance at life. “The reason I’m alive is because she joined the donor registry,” stated Jessica.
This experience opened Jessica’s eyes to the critical shortage of organs in the United States. She remarked, “There were so many friends that I made in the hospital who died before they got a heart in time or by the time they finally received one they were too sick to sustain it.” Jessica quickly became active in the field of organ and tissue donation, and today she continues to increase awareness as the Program Manager of Transplant Education, Outreach, & Advocacy at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell, one of the largest transplant centers in the country, which performs over 200 transplants a year.
In the United States, a name is added to the transplant waiting list every 10 minutes with an average of 18 people dying each day waiting for a transplant. And while 90% of Americans say they support organ donation, only 30% know how to become a donor.1 While this lack of awareness contributes to the organ and tissue shortage, many people also choose not to register as donors due to myths about organ donation that are perpetuated in pop culture and the media. A frequent misconception is that doctors will not try as hard to save the life of an organ donor. In reality, these patients receive the best possible medical care. As an educator on organ donation, Jessica explains that “the team treating a person coming into the hospital is entirely separate from the transplant team and their number one priority is to save your life.” One donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and save or improve the lives of up to 50 other recipients through tissue and eye donation.1 Ultimately as Jessica says, “organ donation is about life, not death.”
The Pharmacy Perspective
By: James Schurr, PharmD Candidate c/o 2014
Student Pharmacists have the opportunity to make a significant difference in patients’ lives as a member of the transplant team. While on rotation at New York Presbyterian Hospital, I had the good fortune of taking an elective rotation in renal transplantation at Weill-Cornell Medical Center. One of the responsibilities of the rotation was counseling patients on their new medication regimens after their transplant surgery. I always tell people that this experience changed my life forever. This was a group of patients who were given a new lease on life after suffering for years with chronic kidney disorders from such debilitating conditions as diabetes mellitus, polycystic kidney disease, and renal cell carcinoma. They were motivated to be active in their care, and they carried themselves with a sense of optimism and humbled gratitude I have never seen before. Gone were the days of dialysis and replacing them was a better tomorrow.
What this rotation taught me went far beyond the intricacies and pharmacology of their medications, but instead the powerful and lasting effects we have on others’ lives. The generosity of the organ donors changed these individuals’ lives forever. In fact, one of the most profound impacts on me as a student was how, after finishing counseling patients on their medications, they would wish me luck in my journey as a pharmacy student. After going through one of the most life-altering experiences they would ever know, they were so grateful for their gift, that they wanted to give too, if only in good wishes.
It is from this experience that I saw how organ donation transforms peoples’ lives. Thanks to the rotation, I don’t see organ donors and patients as numbers or statistics, but as the lives that are touched, the hope in the smiles of those who received life, and the generosity of those who gave it. It may not be the easiest subject to talk about and can be uncomfortable for some, but after seeing this world I implore every single person to find it within themselves to become an organ donor.
Transplant Healthcare Provider Perspective
By: Jennifer McDermott, PharmD, BCPS of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
As a transplant clinical pharmacist caring for kidney and pancreas transplant patients, I have the joy and honor of being a part of the transplant patient’s journey from struggling with chronic disease and often facing both complications and their own mortality from illness to living a full life after organ transplantation. Being a part of this transformation is life changing, not only to the patient but also to me. It is unfortunate that several myths exist about organ donation since the need for organ donors has never been greater. Over 120,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant, and, each year, thousands of people die while waiting for a transplant because of lack of donors. By being an organ donor, you can give as many as eight people a second chance at life. Before I became involved in transplants, the question of being an organ donor only came up when I was getting or renewing my drivers’ license. But, limited information on the implications was provided. I now see the overwhelming benefit that organ donation has on a daily basis, and not only have I registered as an organ donor, I have also ensured that my family members are as well. Register to be an organ donor today. Help make a difference by giving the Gift of Life!
- Understanding donation. Donate Life America web site. http://donatelife.net/understanding-donation/. October 2013. Accessed March 25, 2014.
How to Register as an Organ Donor
Stop by the Organ Donor Drive on April 14th, from 8am-4pm, D’Angelo Center, Main Floor
Sign up on your driver’s license at the DMV