LOS ANGELES, Feb. 14, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Today is not only Valentine's Day, but also National Donor Day. These two holidays not only celebrate the power of love, but also the power of selfless giving through organ, eye and tissue donation. And for many organ donor families and recipients, like Karen Koch, February 14 has a deeper meaning.
"On February 14, 2001, I was hospitalized with heart failure and diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy," said Koch, who was also a float rider on this year's Donate Life Rose Parade Float. "I also learned that I would eventually need a heart transplant."
14 years later, Karen received a new heart from a woman in her 20's, who gave the ultimate gift of life to her and many others. Today, Karen celebrates two years and one month of a new chance at life, thanks to her donor's heart.
Through the work of OneLegacy, Karen was able to be matched with a donor and receive her life-saving transplant in 2015. OneLegacy is one of the largest organ, eye and tissue recovery organizations, and the largest health transplant program in the country.
Currently in the U.S., there are more than 119,000 people waiting for a life-saving organ donation, and more than 22,000 live in California. Many of them are waiting for a heart.
"At any given time as many as 4,000 people in the U.S. are on a waiting list for a heart or heart-lung transplant, but there are simply not enough donated hearts available," says Tom Mone, president and chief executive officer of OneLegacy. "A person may wait months for a transplant, and last year alone, approximately 650 individuals (16%) had to be removed from the list, due to death or becoming too ill to transplant. But this does not need to be the case."
In the nearly five decades since the first human heart transplant in 1967, heart transplantation has changed from an experimental operation, to an established treatment for advanced heart disease. More than 3,000 heart transplants are performed each year in the United States, thanks to thoughtful donors who have given their permission for organ donation and the support of their families.
Becoming a donor is easy and can be done by registering at the local DMV or online through www.donatelifecalifornia.org.
For someone to become a deceased donor, he or she has to die in very specific circumstances. Most often, a patient comes to a hospital because of illness or accident, such as a severe head trauma, a brain aneurysm or stroke. The hospital's medical team does everything possible to save the patient's life, but sometimes the injuries are too severe and the patient dies. The patient is then placed on artificial or mechanical support, which keeps blood with oxygen flowing to the organs. The organ, eye and tissue donation process is initiated only after the patient is declared brain dead by a team of independent doctors.
Just like it happened with Karen Koch, potential heart transplant recipients go through a careful screening process by a team of heart doctors, nurses, social workers, and bioethicists; who review the candidate's medical history, diagnostic test results, social history, and psychological test results. This process ensures that the patient will be able to survive the procedure and then comply with the continuous care needed to live a long, healthy life.
Once approved, the potential recipient is placed on a transplant list until a donor becomes available. Donor hearts are then given to the best possible match, based on blood type, body size, degree of illness and the length of time the recipient has been waiting.
"Heart transplantation is truly a blessing and a marvel of modern medicine," said Mone. "Families of those who become donors take comfort in knowing that their loved one's donated heart can give someone else a second chance at life and a sense of peace, knowing that some good has come from their loved one's death."
Over the past 15 years, OneLegacy has increased the number of organ donors by 82 percent, from 264, to nearly 500 donors per year. Karen Koch is a living testament of the power of organ donors in changing people's lives.
"With my new heart, I am creating new memories", said Koch. "I feel better now than I have had in such a long time. I am grateful for having this second chance at life and I hope I will be able to meet my donor's family in the near future."
To learn more about Karen's remarkable story and her participation in this year's Rose Parade, please visit www.donatelifefloat.org.
OneLegacy is the nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives through organ, eye and tissue donation in seven counties in Southern California: Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and Kern. Serving more than 200 hospitals, 11 transplant centers and a diverse population of nearly 20 million, OneLegacy is the largest organ, eye and tissue recovery organization in the world. For more information, call OneLegacy at 800-786-4077 or visit onelegacy.org
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