Saving a life

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 Messenger photo by Dedra Cordle
Morgan Mathews poses with Dr. Mitchell Henry who performed her liver transplant seven years ago. Henry is a surgeon at the Ohio State University Medical Center, whose Comprehensive Transplant Center helped sponsor the picnic.

Several hundred people came to a picnic at the Ohio Historical Society on Aug. 17 to share their tales of survival, to give hope and to spread the word about something very important to them – organ donation.

"One person’s decision to say ‘yes’ to organ donation made the difference in all of these people’s lives," said Marilyn Pongonis, the director of communications at Lifeline of Ohio.

Take the story of 26-year-old Licking County resident Morgan Mathews.

Mathews was diagnosed as an infant with a rare genetic liver disorder caused by two recessive genes.

"I was monitored my whole life at children’s hospitals throughout the state," she said.

Shortly after enrolling at Marshall University, Mathews had to be pulled out of school because her health was rapidly deteriorating.

"My health was going downhill quickly," she says, "and I was getting sicker over a long period of time."

Then a family’s decision to donate their 17-year-old son’s organs after a fatal automobile accident changed the life of Mathews.

She received a new liver  more than seven years ago and had the chance for a healthy life.

"I am thankful everyday for my donor," she said.

After receiving a clean bill of health, Mathews set off to finish her schooling at Ohio University and she has even competed in the National Kidney Foundation’s United States Transplant Games four times.

The Transplant Games occur every two years, with the latest being on July 11-16 in Pittsburgh. Mathews competed in three of the 12 events offered, medaling in badminton (gold) and table tennis (bronze).

"Those games are just a big celebration of being healthy," Mathews said.

However, many people are not quite as fortunate as she was to receive a transplant.

"There are 99,000 Americans waiting for an organ transplant, with 28,000 of those living in Ohio," Pongonis said.

She believes myths that surround organ donation help foster apprehension to say yes to the donation choice.

"Some people think that if they put there were an organ donor on their licenses, or to register for it, they wouldn’t receive the proper medical attention and that is simply untrue.

"The hospital’s medical professionals are focused on saving lives. They have nothing to do with the transplantation process."

In fact, Lifeline of Ohio coordinates the donation of human organs and tissues for transplantation.

"The hospitals don’t recover the organs," Pongonis said. "Lifeline is assigned to cover particular areas to facilitate the process of donation."

Pongonis said one does not have to be deceased to give a life-saving organ; they can be living donors who choose to help save a life.

"I gave because I was grateful for what I was given," Luke Davis said. Davis is a transplant donor who gave a kidney to an ailing woman. "They say it is so noble to give an organ, but I think it is much nobler to be a recipient."

Pongonis said there are three ways to choose organ donation. The first is going to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and having it put on your license; going online and registering with various donation Web sites; and filling out a mail order form through Lifeline of Ohio’s Web site.

"There is a very small percentage of people who would be eligible to give their organs to another, but if you fell into that percentage, wouldn’t you want to help somebody?"

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