Organ Donation, Transplant at U-M Keeps NHL Referee's Son on the Ice

Dec 01, 2010, 10:59 ET from University of Michigan Health System

O'Halloran family helps promote fundraiser for transplant recipient summer camp: "Little Chill" is an outdoor hockey game at U-M's Big House Dec. 5

ANN ARBOR, Mich., Dec. 1, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- At 3-years-old, Devin O'Halloran was up on skates, learning to glide across the ice just like his dad, who is a National Hockey League referee. But even then, his parents knew their little boy faced much bigger challenges than learning to maneuver around a rink.

Devin was born with a rare disease that prevented his body from producing an enzyme that keeps his liver healthy. For Devin, the disease ravaged his little body even more rapidly than expected.

At just five years old, Devin received a liver transplant from the University of Michigan Health System.

"I've been healthy ever since. I remember the day of the transplant, riding in a wagon to the operating room with my mom and dad. Dad got to come into the O.R. with me and I remember telling him I love him right before I went under," says Devin, who is now 20 and a student at Northwood University in Midland, Mich.

Devin did get to play hockey and now works as a referee, just like his dad. For the O'Hallorans, it's fitting that hockey is the draw of a Dec. 5 fundraiser for the University of Michigan Transplant Center's Camp Michitanki, a summer camp for kids who've had transplants.

The game, dubbed "Little Chill at the Big House," will feature two games and four AAA hockey teams playing outside on the ice at Michigan Stadium -- one week before the "Big Chill," the sold-out outdoor game between U-M and Michigan State's hockey teams.

Tickets are only $5 and available by calling 734-763-5665 or visiting

"Honestly, there's a lot of kids that want to go to camp and a lot of families can't afford it after a transplant," says Devin, who attended the camp and later became a counselor. "At Camp Michitanki, you get to hang out with every other kid who has had some sort of organ transplant, and you realize they're just normal kids. They get to feel normal, because everyone else has a scar just like them."

The kids who go to Camp Michitanki really illustrate the miracles made possible through organ donation, says Jeffrey Punch, M.D., U-M's Jeremiah and Claire Turcotte Professor of Transplantation Surgery and Chief of the U-M Division of Transplantation.

"I think seeing transplant work for the young really emphasizes what a miracle it can be," says Punch. "One organ donor can save many lives, up to eight or more individuals."

Nationally, there are more than 108,000 people on a waiting list for an organ. That's about the number of people who could sit in the Big House to watch the upcoming Little Chill.

Punch says he hopes this event will continue to spur more people to sign up to donate organs after their death.

"Transplant surgery is very successful, but there are not really enough organs to go around. The waiting list is going to get longer, given that we put more people on the list than we transplant each year. So we need to get the message out about the good that transplant can do," Punch says.

U-M has one of the oldest and largest transplantation programs in the country and U-M surgeons perform transplants of hearts, lungs, pancreases, livers, kidneys, and corneas. About 400 to 450 transplants are done at U-M annually, mostly kidney transplants followed by liver, heart, lung and pancreas.

Dan O'Halloran, Devin's dad, says it's impossible to sum up the gratitude he has for the donor and the donor's family. It's a priceless gift.

"Devin's been given a second chance at life. It's a reminder every day when he takes his medicine that he's got a gift that he has to take care of," says Dan O'Halloran. "You know, the donor's family had a child that passed away at a young age and that would be the most difficult thing I could imagine going through. For them to give a gift like they gave to us and to Devin, you know I don't know if there's any words that are adequate to say thank you for that."

Signing up on the Michigan Donor Registry is simple. Go to Gift of Life Michigan is the state's federally-designated organ and tissue recovery organization and acts as intermediary between donors, their families and hospital staff. Gift of Life Michigan, in collaboration with the Michigan Eye-Bank, provides all services necessary for organ, tissue and eye donation.

"This gift of life has made all the difference in the world to me," says Devin, who says he wants to do all he can to promote organ donation. "I talk to my friends at school and make sure they are organ donors because they know what I've been through and they know how hard it is for me and for all the other people out there that need a transplant.

"Receiving an organ makes you look at life in a completely different way. I try to do all I can to life my live fully, because I know I'm on my second chance," says Devin.

About U-M's Transplant Center: Since the first transplant in Michigan took place at the University of Michigan back in 1964, more than 7,652 patients have benefited from our program.

SOURCE University of Michigan Health System