Organ donation numbers hit records

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Scott Elliott, right, looks to his nephew Billy Elliott and thanks him for giving him the gift of life, the donation of the majority of Billy's liver last winter.

Organ donation is often called the gift of life.

“But that gift wouldn’t be possible without people registering as donors,” said Jessica Peterson, media and public relations specialist for Lifeline of Ohio.

Peterson said in 2018 central and southeast Ohio broke multiple records in both registering organ donors and in organ donations.

“And we want to be breaking our records each year, but usually we just beat one– last year we broke four,” she said.

Southeast Ohio in 2018 boasted130 people who shared their organs for transplant after their deaths, resulting in 410 organs transplanted from donors and saving 366 lives. The number of people who were organ donors increased by 5 percent between 2017 and 2018. The number of those registered as organ donors has also been rising steadily in Washington County, from 55 percent in 2015 to 58.5 percent on Jan. 1 of this year.

But more than numbers, the sentiments of giving life, healing and sight are ones which ring home for many Mid-Ohio Valley residents.

Tracey Reifer, who received a new liver in 2015, got to stick around for the birth of her third grandchild.

Scott Elliott, who received a live liver donation less than a year ago, is back to keeping up with his 7-year-old daughter, now in second grade.

Both faced liver failure, watched as their families struggled and their bodies shut down.

Both were saved by the decision of another to donate.

“Being on the list was hard, I had to accept that me being able to live by transplant meant that somebody else was having to die,” explained Reifer. “But towards the end, I started really deteriorating. By then my body was retaining fluid, I was pretty much bed-ridden, and I was yellow and skin and bones.”

She was thankful to receive a call within seven weeks of waiting to find a donor, not having to reach out to friends to consider live donation.

“The only thing that topped the feeling of that call was the feeling after I woke up from the surgery,” she said. “I was very fortunate that a match was found so quickly, and that he elected to give.”

Reifer has since credited her current relationship with a third granddaughter to the man who chose to let doctors reuse his organs after death.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about who can donate. I learned my donor was on dialysis for his kidneys, but his liver was fine, and it’s working well in me,” she said. “So many people think they can’t donate because they’re too old, or have diabetes but leave that call up to the medical professionals.”

Reifer had to wait seven weeks on the national list for a liver transplant, but when Scott Elliott’s family realized how sick he was, there was no time to waste.

“I was always a registered organ donor on my driver’s license, but now I get it,” said Amy Elliott, recalling how this time last year she was preparing for a very different reality without her husband, and the father of her child. “To save a whole life and keep a father with his family, a community member and a business owner… Billy didn’t have to step up.”

Scott Elliott, 67, of Devola, received more than half of his nephew Billy’s liver on Feb. 22, 2018–just weeks after Scott and Amy were told on Jan. 24 that Scott was on the brink of death.

“When I went to Pittsburgh they said if I did not have a transplant within three weeks I would die,” explained Scott. “But then after we had scheduled the first surgery date they were chasing my health and had to cancel that date.”

Fighting infections and internal bleeding as his body shut down, the family waited for the smallest window in which to operate.

“And even on the final day, they told Amy I only had a 10 percent chance of surviving,” Scott explained. “They called Billy and said get up to the hospital and they did the surgery that afternoon.”

Billy Elliott, 28, of Marietta, saw the donation as a no-brainer.

“When I heard he was sick, I was pretty upset,” he recalled. “When I heard that they needed a live donor I figured why not get the workups and tests to see if I was a match.”

Multiple test, x-rays, blood tests and psychological evaluations vetted Billy as a healthy candidate to give Scott the majority of his liver.

But Scott sees that donation as more than just an essential organ replaced in his body.

“It truly is a life-changing event,” he recalled, getting quiet as he spoke of the perspective shift.

He described a day in August last year, just months after his surgery, when he stepped out into the woods near his home.

“I was out there, listening to the birds, took my chainsaw and was able to cut firewood for my family and my mother,” he said. “I’ve always been blessed with opportunities like that, but now I take more advantage of those. It has changed the way I look at everything.”

His advice to those facing organ transplant; get insurance in order, begin procuring a live donor list immediately and pay heed to doctors’ orders on post-surgery care.

Now both Billy and Scott have regrown full-size livers, and Amy sees Tracey Reifer’s story as one to cling to when envisioning a longer future for her husband.

“She’s my hope because she’s more years out and so healthy,” said Amy.

Reifer sees her advocacy for organ donation as a duty, to not only encourage more organ donors but also share hope with families facing transplants.

“We have a local group and I’m an advocate with Lifeline of Ohio,” she said. “MOV Gift of Life is also a support system to those waiting for their match, as much as we raise funds to educate people about organ donation we also raise funds to help local transplant recipients, living donors and candidates for transplant.”

On April 13, the nonprofit’s annual cabin fever rally will take place at the American Legion in Marietta.

“Baker & Baker has partnered with us this year and we have a fire and ice theme,” she explained. “We usually have a gun raffle with the dinner, but we’re raffling off jewelry and have other details coming.”

Reifer said to follow the nonprofit’s Facebook page or visit MOVgiftoflife.com for more details in the upcoming months.

By the numbers:

Washington County residents registered as organ, eye and tissue donors.

• 2019 (as of Jan. 1): 58.5 percent registered.

• 2018: 57.8 percent registered.

• 2017: 56.7 percent registered.

• 2016: 55.7 percent registered.

• 2015: 55 percent registered.

• Overall, Ohio (as of Jan. 31) has 59.7 percent of its population registered.

Records broken in central and southeastern Ohio in 2018:

• 130 people shared the gift of life through organ donation (a 5 percent increase over the last year.)

• 410 organs were transplanted from donors, which resulted in 366 lives saved through organ donation. This is an increase over the previous year.

• 594 people shared the gift of healing through tissue donation (a 25 percent increase over the last year.)

• 249 people shared the gift of sight through cornea donation (a 47 percent increase over the previous year.)

Source: Lifeline of Ohio.